Reverse sneezing in dogs is exactly what it sounds like: Your dog is sneezing in reverse. In a regular sneeze, your dog rapidly expels air through their nasal passages. But in a reverse sneeze, your dog rapidly inhales air.
Despite these mechanical differences, both regular sneezing and reverse sneezing are about as dangerous for your dog as your last sneeze was for you. A reverse sneezing episode will typically pass on its own in less than a minute.
But even though reverse sneezes aren't dangerous, there's a risk that pet parents will mistake a more serious breathing issue for a reverse sneeze. So, the first time you see your dog reverse sneeze, visit your DVM to have them officially diagnosed.
Similarly, if your dog's reverse sneezing episodes last for more than a minute or happen frequently (think several times a day, everyday), talk to your vet.
Learn more about reverse sneezes below, including how to identify reverse sneezing in dogs, what causes this phenomenon, and what to bring to your vet appointment.
What Happens in a Reverse Sneeze?
During a reverse sneeze — aka a paroxysmal respiration or pharyngeal gag reflex — something irritates your dog's upper airway. Your dog's body will respond by trying to get rid of the irritant in one of three ways: sneezing, coughing, or reverse sneezing.
Veterinarians believe that the method your dog uses depends on where the irritant is in their body. If the irritant is still in the nasal passage or sinuses, your dog will sneeze. If it's in your dog's throat, they will cough. And if it's in the soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth), your dog will reverse sneeze.
When your dog reverse sneezes, they will stop what they're doing, stand still, extend their head and neck, and emit a loud snorting sound. While it may sound like your dog is in distress, reverse sneezing isn't typically cause for concern. It usually lasts between a few seconds and a minute, and it doesn't typically require medical treatment.
What Causes Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?
Veterinarians aren't completely sure what causes reverse sneezing in dogs. The condition is extremely common, and there appear to be several potential contributing factors rather than a single cause. These can include breed predisposition, environmental factors, and underlying conditions.
While this condition can affect any dog, certain dogs are more likely to experience reverse sneezing than others. Reverse sneezing is more common in smaller dog and brachycephalic dog breeds, which have a shortened nasal passage and an elongated soft palate. Brachycephalic breeds include:
- American bulldogs
- Boston terriers
- Brussels griffons
- Cane corsos
- Cavalier King Charles spaniels
- Chow chows
- Dogos Argentinos
- Dogues de Bordeaux
- English bulldogs
- English toy spaniels
- French bulldogs
- Japanese Chins
- Lhasa apsos
- Neapolitan Mastiffs
- Shar peis
- Shih tzus
- Staffordshire bull terriers
- Tibetan spaniels
Many of the contributing factors that can lead to reverse sneezing are more common in brachycephalic breeds. Having an elongated soft palate leaves more surface area for irritants, and their shortened nasal passages put them at greater risk of developing some underlying conditions.
Environmental Factors and Underlying Conditions
Here are a few factors that can contribute to reverse sneezing in dogs.
- Foreign bodies: Objects that float through the air, like dust, dander, and pollen, can enter your dog's nasal passages, cause irritation, and lead to reverse sneezing.
- Allergens: Just like in people, allergies are common in dogs. Your dog can be allergic to food, parasites, or environmental allergens. To figure out what's causing your pet's allergies, you can try dog allergy testing. And you can help your dog become more resilient to allergens by supporting their immune system with an allergy supplement for dogs.
- Over-excitement: Especially common in brachycephalic breeds, some dogs will begin reverse sneezing when they get too worked up.
- Exercise intolerance: If your dog can't handle strenuous exercise, they may begin reverse sneezing anytime you try to take them for a run or participate in another physical activity. Exercise intolerance is more common in brachycephalic breeds and overweight dogs. If your dog begins reverse sneezing during exercise, stop. Give them plenty of water and hose them down or get their paws wet to keep them cool. Next time, try a more moderate form of exercise.
- Respiratory infection: An infection in your dog's respiratory tract, like rhinitis or sinusitis, can lead to reverse sneezing. These conditions are often accompanied by post-nasal drip, and you may need antibiotics from your vet to treat them.
- Nasal mites: Mites can take up residence in your dog's nose and cause sneezing, reverse sneezing, nose bleeds, facial itching, and head shaking. This condition needs to be treated by your vet. Your vet may need to take X-rays of your dog's nasal cavity or perform a CT scan. Most nasal mites can be treated with anti-parasitic medicine.
- Nasal polyps: These growths form in your dog's nasal passage and can cause sneezing, reverse sneezing, and nasal discharge. Your vet will need to diagnose and treat nasal polyps in your dog.
While the majority of reverse sneezing is not a reason for concern, some underlying causes of reverse sneezing in dogs will require veterinary care — which is why it's important to consult your vet when you first notice your dog reverse sneeze.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Reverse Sneeze and a More Serious Condition
In addition to the more serious health conditions that can cause reverse sneezing, there are a couple very serious conditions that pet owners might mistake for reverse sneezing at first glance. Learn to tell the difference so you can protect your pet.
If your dog has a collapsing trachea, they will make a honking sound when they cough — this is not to be confused with the snorting sound of a reverse sneeze.
Dogs that are reverse sneezing sound like they're sneezing and inhaling at the same time. Dogs that are experiencing tracheal collapse make a sound similar to a goose honk. They may also have labored breathing — even when they are not making a honking sound.
Tracheal collapse can happen in any dog, but it's more common in toy breeds and miniature dogs. It's also more likely to affect dogs who are overweight or have heart disease.
This is an extremely serious condition that requires immediate veterinary care.
If your dog is choking rather than reverse sneezing, they will make a gagging or hacking sound as they try to cough it up. If the choking is more serious, they may not make any sound but will instead paw at their face, move frantically, and appear panicked.
You need to take immediate action to prevent a choking dog from becoming unconscious. Check inside their mouth to see if you can see anything lodged in their mouth or throat. If you do, try to swipe it away with your fingers.
If that doesn't help, follow these instructions to perform the Heimlich maneuver on your dog.
What to Bring to Your Vet Appointment
Reverse sneezing isn't typically a cause for concern. But because reverse sneezing can be mistaken for other conditions or can be a sign of an underlying issue, you should take your dog to the vet the first time you notice them reverse sneezing.
Try to take a video of the incident so you can show your vet and get a more accurate diagnosis.
If your dog's reverse sneezing has already been diagnosed by the vet, but the frequency, duration, or severity of their reverse sneezing episodes has changed, it's time for a check up.
Take note of how often your dog is reverse sneezing and how long each episode lasts. Then, talk to your vet. They may want to run tests to see if anything has changed and rule out some underlying causes. If allergies are the main cause of your dog's reverse sneezing, your vet may be able to provide antihistamines to help.
Dogs and Reverse Sneezing
Reverse sneezing in dogs is extremely common. It's typically no big deal and will pass on its own without causing any harm to your dog. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to reverse sneezing, especially smaller dogs and short-nosed or brachycephalic dog breeds.
But in rare cases, reverse sneezing can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition. A serious condition, like tracheal collapse, can also be mistaken for a reverse sneeze — delaying your dog's treatment.Always consult your vet the first time you notice reverse sneezing in your dog and when the frequency or severity of your dog's reverse sneezing episodes changes. For more information on your pet's health and wellness, head to the Native Pet blog.