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What is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs All About?

What is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs All About?

Reverse sneezing, a widespread but often misunderstood canine behavior, is a type of respiratory reflex primarily caused by an irritation in the dog's throat or soft palate. Unlike traditional sneezing where air is expelled out, a reverse sneeze involves rapid and repeated gasping inhalations, causing a distinct, startling sound. Although alarming to witness, especially for unprepared dog owners, reverse sneezing typically isn't a cause for concern. 

This article aims to provide an in-depth understanding of this behavior, its causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention, offering peace of mind to dog owners.

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Symptoms of Reverse Sneezing

When a dog experiences a reverse sneezing episode, it's quite noticeable. The dog will usually stand still, extend its head and neck forward, and produce rapid and forceful inhalations. These inhalations often sound like snorts, wheezes, or honking noises. You may also observe your dog's eyes bulging slightly due to the effort involved in reverse sneezing.

Although these episodes can be distressing to watch, and a loud snorting sound isn't the most pleasant, they're usually brief and cause no harm. However, it's important for dog owners to distinguish between a reverse sneeze and other potentially serious respiratory conditions. Conditions such as kennel cough, asthma, or a collapsed trachea may initially present similar symptoms but require immediate veterinary attention.

Causes of Reverse Sneezing

The exact cause of reverse sneezing remains unclear, though various triggers have been identified. Environmental or seasonal allergies or irritants like dust, perfumes, smoke, pollen, or household chemicals can irritate a dog's pharynx or nasal passages and provoke an episode. 

Some breeds, particularly those with brachycephalic skulls like Bulldogs, Pugs, or Boston Terriers, have elongated soft palates or narrower nasal passages, making them more susceptible. Excitement, rapid eating or drinking, or a leash pulling on their throat can also induce reverse sneezing in dogs.

Approach to Treatment for Reverse Sneezing

Under most circumstances, reverse sneezing in dogs doesn't require any specialized treatment. These episodes are typically of a brief duration and do not subject the dog to any sustained distress beyond the episode itself. Essentially, while the sneezing may look and sound concerning, it generally doesn't pose a significant risk to your pet's overall health and well-being.

However, certain scenarios could warrant extra caution and a bit more care. If your dog experiences these episodes of reverse sneezing on a regular basis or if each episode extends for a prolonged duration, it becomes necessary to seek a consultation with a veterinary professional. Such patterns could be indicative of a more serious underlying condition that requires attention.

When you consult a vet, they are equipped with the expertise and knowledge to appropriately diagnose and treat any potential issues. They may run an allergy test and find that allergens or irritants in the dog's environment are triggering these episodes. In response to this, they might prescribe medications such as antihistamines or corticosteroids. These medications are designed to control and manage the body's allergic response to help reduce both the frequency and severity of the reverse sneezing episodes.

There are, unfortunately, cases where reverse sneezing becomes chronic, or is accompanied by additional symptoms such as nasal discharge or nosebleeds. Such situations are more serious and require immediate veterinary attention. These could potentially signal severe health conditions like foreign bodies stuck in the dog's nasal passage, nasal mites, or in extreme cases, even tumors in the nasal cavity. These severe conditions call for more in-depth medical intervention.

In such cases, your vet would likely conduct further tests or procedures to pinpoint the root cause and recommend a tailored treatment plan. It is important to note that early detection and treatment of these severe conditions can significantly enhance the prognosis for your dog, improving both their health and quality of life.

Preventing Reverse Sneezing

To prevent a potential reverse sneezing episode, identify and mitigate any potential triggers. If your dog reacts to certain smells or chemicals, try to eliminate these from your home. For dogs prone to reverse sneezing due to excitement or rapid eating, try to keep meal times calm and limit overly exciting situations. Regular vet check-ups are invaluable for early detection and mitigation of potential health issues.

Eliminate Allergens: Allergens such as dust, pollen, and mold can trigger reverse sneezing. Therefore, it's essential to keep your home clean, replace air filters regularly, and possibly use air purifiers. If your dog is allergic to certain foods, make sure to exclude these from their diet.

Avoid Strong Odors and Smoke: Some dogs are sensitive to strong odors, including household cleaning products, perfumes, and smoke. Try to avoid exposing your dog to these irritants.

Control Excitement and Stress: Over-excitement or stress can cause reverse sneezing in dogs. Try to maintain a calm and stable environment, avoid sudden changes, and use gentle, positive reinforcement training methods.

Manage Eating Habits: Rapid eating can lead to reverse sneezing. Use a slow feeder bowl if your dog tends to eat too quickly. Also, ensure that your dog is well-hydrated as dry throats can cause discomfort and potentially trigger reverse sneezing.

Regular Exercise: Regular, moderate exercise can strengthen your dog's respiratory system and reduce the frequency of reverse sneezing.

Regular Vet Check-ups: Regular check-ups with your vet can ensure early detection and treatment of health issues that could potentially cause reverse sneezing, such as respiratory infections or nasal mites.


While reverse sneezing is generally not harmful, understanding this peculiar behavior can help dog owners respond appropriately and ensure their pets' wellbeing. It's essential to recognize the symptoms, know when to seek veterinary advice, and understand how to potentially prevent these episodes.

Always consult with your veterinarian for any health concerns you have regarding your pet. The information in this article is intended to inform and should not replace professional veterinary advice.


FAQ on Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

What is reverse sneezing in dogs?

Reverse sneezing, also known as paroxysmal respiration, is a phenomenon where dogs exhibit a loud snorting sound, often mistaken for a cough. Unlike a regular sneeze where air is pushed out, a dog reverse sneezes by rapidly pulling air into their nose.

What causes dogs to reverse sneeze?

Several factors can contribute to a dog's reverse sneezing episode. Common causes include elongated soft palate, nasal mites, foreign bodies in the sinus passages, nasal tumors, or even allergies. Brachycephalic breeds and small dogs often exhibit reverse sneezing due to their unique facial structure.

How can pet parents help during a reverse sneezing episode?

Gently stroking your dog's throat or covering their nostrils can help calm the episode, prompting the dog to swallow and potentially stop the reverse sneeze. Redirecting the dog's attention or massaging the dog's face gently can also provide relief.

Is medication required for reverse sneezing?

In most cases, reverse sneezing is completely normal and doesn't require medication. However, if the underlying cause is allergies or nasal mites, a veterinarian might prescribe antihistamines or other treatments to address the root issue.

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