A dog, mid-sneeze, standing in a forrest of falling leaves

If you have never heard or witnessed a reverse sneeze, you may want to consider yourself pretty lucky. 

This canine phenomenon that sounds much worse than it really is, the reverse sneeze can be startling, to say the least. However, most pet owners don’t know that this bizarre phenomenon even exists until they’re woken in the middle of the night by this unique noise.

The Research

A quick YouTube search for a reverse sneeze may be educational for those that have never heard of it before. Owners of dogs with this condition understandably mistake the sound for choking or respiratory distress. Snorting, honking, snuffling, and even gagging noises can be highly distressing. Most of the time, a reverse sneeze is completely normal.

Fine Print

A reverse sneeze, or paroxysmal respiration, is the exact opposite of a regular sneeze. Instead of forcing air out through the nose and mouth, a reverse sneeze brings air in and through the nose to remedy an itch or irritant.

But…Why?

A reverse sneeze can catch both dogs and owners off guard. If the point of a reverse sneeze is to rid the body of something irritating, why don’t they just sneeze normally? 

A regular sneeze focuses on the nasal passages, but a reverse sneeze affects the nasopharynx. This area lies at the back of the throat, which explains why many dogs sound the way they do when they’re sneezing in reverse. In this case, the irritant is located behind the nasal passages and above the soft palate.

Maddening Tickle

We can all relate to a tickle at the back of the throat that can’t be effectively soothed by a cough or a regular sneeze. It’s maddening! For dogs, this little tickle triggers spasms. They may stretch out their neck, lift the chin, and draw in a deep breath while narrowing the passage for incoming air to travel through. 

The subsequent snorting sound can sound terribly close to choking and may be caused by:

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Overexcitement
  • Pulling on the leash
  • Eating or drinking
  • Respiratory illness

If the reverse sneeze lasts longer than several seconds you can massage the throat to relieve the spasm. To facilitate the removal of the irritant at the back of the throat, your dog needs to swallow.

When To Be Concerned

Excessive, repetitive reverse sneezing should be examined, especially if there is discharge from the mouth or nose, appetite changes, and shifts in behavior patterns. Possible explanation for unresolved reverse sneezing can include infections, masses, anatomy, allergies or nasal mites.

Risk Factors

There are certain breeds at greater risk, such as brachycephalic breeds, beages, and yorkies. Some dogs may develop the reverse sneeze as they age, others may never experience it.

Depending on the cause, a reverse sneeze condition can be treated with corrective surgery or medication

Please let our veterinarians and staff members know if you have any questions or concerns. We’re always here for you at Highway Veterinary Hospital!