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What is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

reverse sneezing blog editedHave 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.


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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Katherine Stine April 5, 2013, 11:37 am

    Thanks for this information. As a new dog owner I was not sure what was happening, but now it makes sense to me, although I will be watching Betz carefully in case it does become chronic.

  • Nancy Curtis April 9, 2013, 5:42 am

    I have 4 Doxies and one has started this “reverse sneezing” she gets like she is in a paralyzed state. I have had her to 2 vets because she also has a discharge from her nose. They X-rayed her and her lungs and all are clear but I sure don’t like the discharge. Now they want to do a CT on her nose? Reading your article has opened me up to some questions, Thank you.

    • VetDepot April 9, 2013, 9:09 am

      Hi Nancy, we definitely recommend continuing to follow the advice of your veterinarian. He or she knows your individual animal and can evaluate her symptoms. Best of luck.

  • Victoria B. April 9, 2013, 6:59 am

    I just recently found out what this reaction was and I was relieved to know it wasn’t life threatening. I have 5 dogs, including a Maltepoo and a Cairn Terrier. They are the smallest of the pack and the only two that do it. What a relief too; all of them are rescues and two of them have chronic illness and their meds cost me $200 a month.

  • Sandy April 9, 2013, 11:08 am

    Great article. This happens to my 4 yr old male Irish Setter when he sneaks into the grain room and steals the barn cat’s kibble. It’s the perfect setup between the anxiety of being caught and the unfamiliar kibble to create this situation. It’s been a concern but corrects itself within a short time period. Now I understand what is happening. Thanks!

  • Jane April 10, 2013, 11:38 am

    Thanks for the information. My now 3 year old chocolate lab used to do this fairly often when she was very young, and it did worry me a bit. She seems to have outgrown it! Great information!

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