How To Recognise A Reverse Sneeze? Is My Dog Choking?

The first time you hear your dog reverse sneeze you are bound to think they are choking or are in big trouble! Fortunately, for the majority of dogs, a reverse sneeze although noisy and scary is not going to kill your dog.

It’s a weird sound, a mix of honking, gagging and snorting. Ask your vet to demonstrate…it’s good for a laugh.


What Is That Choking Sound My Dog Makes?

Many dogs make choking sounds just like in this video of Mordecai.

A reverse sneeze is a sudden, uncontrollable and forceful inhalation of air through the nose. It’s basically a sneeze, only the air is drawn in rather than forced out.

It is quite common in dogs, and occasionally we see it in cats, but this is rare.

This is a reflex, so dogs can’t control it any more than we can control a sneeze.

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.

What If My Is Dog Making Choking Sounds?

First, if your dog is gasping, making no noise and/or going blue this is an emergency. You need to open their mouth and clear the airway. Get your dog to a vet immediately.

If your dog sounds like the dogs in the video above, then they have a reverse sneeze, read on….

Causes Of A Reverse Sneeze

Just like a normal sneeze where the air is forced out, a 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
  • Polyps or masses in the airway
  • Foreign bodies i.e. pieces of grass, stick, insects
  • infections
  • Change in temperature or humidity ie. going from warm moist inside air to outside cold dry air

Brachycephalic breeds (like Mordecai and the other dog in the video) who have shortened snouts and elongated soft palates often suffer from reverse sneezing because their soft palate flips into the airway creating irritation and reflex spasm.

When Do I Need To Worry?

For the vast majority of dogs, this may 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. It may last a few days, but really there is no need to stress.

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 my 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, if you notice any blood or coloured 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 like 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

I’m speaking from experience here, Mordecai has just started to have issues with reverse sneezing. Sometimes it can be a bit of trial and error trying to get him to stop!

Often you will notice their eyes bulging and they get quite anxious. It is scary, it’s a reflex 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 – you may have to try a few. The main idea is to get your dog to swallow:

  • 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!
  • Cover your dog’s nostrils very briefly

Most dogs have an episode of reverse sneezing at some stage of their life. Remember, keep calm and contact Your Vet Online if you would like us to examine your dog or cat.

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Dr Leigh Discusses Reverse Sneezing In A Facebook Live


What Is This Dreadful Noise?
Learn all about the reverse sneeze, what it means and what you need to do as an owner.
Check out this article for more information

Posted by Your Vet Online on Monday, 16 April 2018


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