Is Reverse Sneezing Dangerous? – Aquadale Veterinary Clinic (Massillon, Ohio)

Has your dog ever made this funny sound?

Called a reverse sneeze because the dog rapidly inhales air rather than exhaling (such as in a normal sneeze), the episodes can be extremely upsetting because it looks and sounds as if your dog cannot breathe. However, reverse sneezing is a completely normal reflex, although it can occur more often in certain breeds such as brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds like pugs and shih tzus, and also in dolichocephalic (long nosed) breeds such as collies and greyhounds.

Different types of sneezes?

Dogs can have a multitude of spasms and reactions that are all normal bodily processes. Sneezing is usually marked by a rapid exhale through the nose, with the dog’s head moving down and forward – sometimes far enough that their nose can touch the ground. A reverse sneeze is the opposite, the dog’s head moves backwards as they inhale, and you hear the trademark snorting sound.

The reverse sneeze itself is a type of spasm. Officially called a paroxysmal respiration, it occurs when something tickles the soft palate or pharyngeal area. In response:

  • The muscles spasm and the airways can narrow, making it slightly more difficult for your dog to take in air.
  • The dog can stiffen, extend their neck and dramatically “suck” in air through their nose to expand their chest and help clear the offending issue that caused the tickle in the first place. This is also what creates the snorting sound you hear.
  • Typically episodes last from a few seconds to a few minutes, but are harmless. Dogs are usually completely normal before and after a reverse sneeze.

Certain factors can trigger a reverse sneezing episode such as allergies, environmental irritants (perfumes, cleaning solutions, etc), physical irritation caused by pulling against a collar, excitement, and rapid temperature change (going from a warm house out into cold air) among other things.

What can I do if my dog is reverse sneezing? 

There are many suggestions on how to help your dog, some more effective than others. Some things you can try are:

  • Rubbing the bridge of your dogs nose gently.
    • This can help your dog clear any irritants that might have passed through their nasal passages.
  • Covering your dogs nostrils with your hand to make them take in more air through their mouth.
    • This can help stop an episode quickly, but your dog may resume the reverse sneeze once you remove your hand.
  • Get your dog to swallow.
    • This can help by potentially clearing out any irritants that are sitting at the back of the throat and causing the spasm. You can feed your dog, or blow in their nose gently and rub their throat to elicit the swallowing reflex. Just take caution when blowing in your dogs face, some dogs dislike the sensation and can respond with aggression. If you know your dog does not appreciate this, then feed them a handful of kibble and give them a drink of cool water to get them swallowing instead.

The best thing you can do during a reverse sneeze episode is to remain calm. If you get overly anxious your dog could get even more worked up as well. Think calm and soothing thoughts, and try one or more of the above tips for stopping an episode. Even though it can feel like a long time, most attacks only last a few seconds to a minute or so, and reverse sneezing causes no long term damage.

One last thing to note, however, is that reverse sneezing can be a sign of other respiratory ailments. So if you notice your dog is having episodes more often, or they are lasting longer, then it might be a good time to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying issues.

Good luck, and gesundheit!