How To Stop Reverse Sneezing In Dogs

The first time you hear your dog reverse sneeze you are bound to think the honking and gagging sounds mean they are choking and are in big trouble!

Fortunately, reverse sneezing in dogs, although noisy and scary, is not going to kill or even harm your dog.

Reverse sneezing in dogs is an uncontrollable and forceful inhalation of air through the nose accompanied by a weird honking, gagging, snorting noise.

It’s similar to a regular sneeze, only in reverse – the air is drawn in rather than forced out.

However, while the reverse sneeze isn’t ‘harmful’, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t investigate why they are making this dreadful noise in the first instance.

Chronic reverse sneezing is a clinical sign that your dog (or cat) does have a respiratory condition that will require investigation.

In this article, we explain what causes it and how you can stop a reverse sneeze spasm once it starts.

Make sure you watch the explainer video at the end, where Dr Leigh goes into depth about what you are seeing and hearing and will demonstrate how to stop an episode.

What Is That Choking Sound My Dog Makes?

A reverse sneeze (otherwise known as inspiratory paroxysmal respiration) is a sudden, uncontrollable and forceful inhalation of air through the nasal cavity.

It is quite common in dogs, particularly those that are brachycephalic breeds due to congenital abnormalities associated with their skull and nasal passages.

Occasionally we see a cat reverse sneeze, but this is rare.

Reverse sneezing is a reflex, so dogs can’t control it any more than they (or us!) can control regular sneezing.

You might find that once your dog starts, it will continue to have a run of these reverse sneezes for a while, maybe a day or two.

If you are unsure what this noise sounds like, take a listen to this video where Mordecai the French Bulldog demonstrates.

Is My Dog Choking When They Reverse Sneeze?

First, if your dog is gasping, making no noise and/or is going blue this is a sign of respiratory distress and is a medical emergency.

You need to open their mouth and clear the airway.

Give your dog nose to mouth breathing and go to a vet immediately.

If your dog sounds like the dogs in the video above, then they have a reverse sneeze and, no, they are NOT choking.

Causes Of Reverse Sneezing Episodes In Dogs

Just like a normal sneeze where the air is forced out, a dog’s reverse sneeze is often caused by irritation of the pharynx, larynx and throat area. This causes a spasm reflex.

Irritation can be caused by:

  • Allergies/irritants in the air i.e. diffusers, smoke, air fresheners.
  • Polyps or tumour masses in the airway
  • Foreign material i.e. pieces of grass, sticks, insects or fluff.
  • Respiratory infections that increase secretions in the nasal cavity.
  • Tooth or sinus infections
  • Change in temperature or humidity ie. going from warm moist inside air to outside cold dry air can cause the nasal mucosa to become dry and irritated.
  • Excitement and/or exercise – thought to be related to an increased respiratory rate increasing airflow.

Brachycephalic dog breeds such as French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Pugs and Shitzu have a shortened snouts and an elongated soft palate.

These dogs often suffer from reverse sneezing because their soft palate flips into the airway creating irritation and reflex spasm.

When Do I Need To Worry And Go To A Vet?

For the vast majority, reverse sneezing in dogs tends to be a one-off occurrence that we may never know the reason for.

At a guess, there will be something in the environment that has triggered this response.

Even if it persists for a few days, there is no need to stress.

However, for Brachycephalic dogs like French Bulldogs, Pugs, Bulldogs etc, it is a very good indicator that your dog requires Boas surgery.

 

You can learn more about this is in the article Why Your Dog Can’t Breathe: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.

 

If this is a problem that recurs daily then you really do need to seek veterinary advice. Also seek advice if you notice any blood or discoloured nasal discharge.

Our vets are available 24/7 to help you decide what is required and if further tests are needed.

Because cats don’t seem to suffer from reverse sneezing as dogs do, if your cat starts doing this then a trip to the vet is warranted. It may be a sign of asthma, infection or a foreign body.

How To Stop Reverse Sneezing In Dogs

Sometimes it can be a bit of trial and error finding a technique that will stop the breathing attack when it occurs.

Often you will notice your dog’s eyes bulging and they get quite anxious.

It is scary, it’s a reflex spasm that they have no control over.

Whatever you do stay calm. You don’t want your dog to freak out anymore because of you.

Often the sneezing will stop on its own.

If it doesn’t, here are some things that might help stop this breathing pattern- you may have to try a few.

The main treatment to stop reverse sneezing in dogs is to get your dog to swallow so that whatever is causing the irritation is disrupted:

  • Lift their head up and rub their throat area
  • Offer them some food or a treat
  • Open their mouth and gently manipulate their tongue – don’t get bitten!
  • Lift up their ear and blow firmly in it
  • Cover your dog’s nostrils very briefly to make them gasp for breath

french bulldog reverse sneezing after exercise

How Vets Diagnose The Cause Of Reverse Sneezing Symptoms

As mentioned earlier, this type of abnormal breathing isn’t harmful per sae, but it can mean that your dog (or kitty) has other problems going on.

When the sneezing episodes continue or become an issue then it is wise to have your vet clinically examine your dog.

They will ask a lot of questions to try and determine what may trigger this respiratory event.

Keep A Diary

It is worthwhile keeping a diary of when reverse sneezing occurs so that you can assist your veterinarian:

  • What time of day did it occur?
  • Were you inside or outside?
  • What were the weather conditions or were you using air-conditioning?
  • Were there any behaviour changes i.e. was your pup extremely excited or being extra boisterous?
  • Were there any smells or pollutants in the environment i.e. someone was smoking, you have a candle burning or were using insect repellent?

If you own a dog with brachycephalic syndrome then the advice is for your dog to be assessed for BOAS and to have BOAS surgery performed.

If the suspicion is allergies, your vet may recommend an allergy test or treatments such as anti-histamines.

In some cases and often when we see this in cats, the vet will recommend an examination of the nasal passages, pharynx and larynx under general anaesthesia using a flexible scope.

This allows them to visualise areas impossible to view with the naked eye.

They will be looking for signs of chronic infection, nasal tumours or polyps and foreign bodies.

VIDEO: Dr Leigh Discusses Reverse Sneezing And Shows You How To Stop It

 

Does Reverse Sneezing Hurt Dogs?

Most normal, healthy dogs will experience an episode of reverse sneezing at some stage of their life.

While reverse sneezing doesn’t hurt your dog, it’s worthwhile keeping in mind potential causes so that if it continues you can ask your vet to investigate.

Some of the triggers definitely can hurt your dog in the short and over longer-term.

Needless to say, if your best mate is experiencing any respiratory symptoms that are causing difficulty in breathing, or if the reverse sneezing is accompanied by a blood-tinged or thick nasal discharge, then yes, your pet does need to be examined by a veterinarian.

Remember, keep calm and contact Your Vet Online if you would like us to discuss potential causes.

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