Have you ever heard your pet make strange noises or episodes of snorting or gagging? These often alarming episodes could be a reflex commonly known as reverse sneezing or the pharyngeal gag reflex. A reverse sneeze can sound like honking or like the dog is inhaling a sneeze and can last several minutes. Although, it can appear life-threatening, a reverse sneeze is harmless and often does not require treatment.
The most common cause of reverse sneezing is irritation of the throat and soft palate that results in a spasm. During the episode, the pet will elongate the neck and the chest will expand as the pet inhales. The spasm results in the narrowing of the trachea, causing a decrease of air into the lungs.
Usually the spasms or sneezing episodes are caused by anything that can irritate the throat. This includes excitement, eating or drinking, pulling on a leash, exercise, viruses, mites, foreign bodies, post-nasal drip, and allergens such as pollens, perfumes, and cleaning products. Identifying the cause and removing the irritant can resolve symptoms quickly.
Small and toy breeds tend to be prone and also dogs that are brachycephalic (short-faced breeds such as pugs or boxers) because they have smaller throats. The majority of the time the spasms will resolve on their own, however, sometimes it can become a chronic problem. Then it is best to have your veterinarian examine your dog to try to determine a cause. Reverse sneezing caused by allergies can benefit from antihistamines or those caused by mites can be treated with an antiparasitic medication. In severe cases, your veterinarian might recommend rhinoscopy (examining the nasal passages directly) or a biopsy. Sometimes no cause is found.
Reverse sneezing in cats is less common and could indicate a more serious condition like asthma, which would most likely need to be treated with a prescription asthma medication for cats. It is recommended to always have your cat examined by a veterinarian when you notice these episodes.
Always contact a veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about reverse sneezing or your pet’s health.