Reverse sneezing is a fairly common respiratory event seen in dogs that can be quite frightening for dog owners to witness. Some owners may think their dog is choking, suffocating or even having a seizure during an episode, but dogs do not lose consciousness, nor do they collapse.
Reverse sneezing, also known as paroxysmal respiration or pharyngeal gag reflex, is not actually a sneeze but a spasm that occurs when the soft palate and throat become irritated. It is termed “reverse sneeze” because the dog is inhaling air rapidly and forcefully instead of expelling air, as with a normal sneeze. This phenomenon is usually harmless and, in most cases, does not require medical treatment.
During a reverse sneeze, which lasts a few seconds up to a minute or two, the dog is usually very still with head and neck extended, mouth closed and the corners of the mouth pulled back. The trachea becomes narrow and it’s more difficult to get a normal amount of air into the lungs. The chest expands as the dog tries harder to inhale.
Corgi during a bout of reverse sneezing
These spasms normally end on their own and pose no threat to your dogs health. Once the episode is over, the dog resumes normal behavior. Smaller breeds are more prone to reverse sneezing and may have several bouts in a row or during a day.
Reverse sneezing can be caused by various types of irritants and even some dog allergies. Dust, pollen, mites, household chemicals and cleaners, perfumes, viruses, nasal inflammation and post-nasal drip are some causes. Some triggers of reverse sneezing are rapid eating or drinking, pulling on the leash and excitement.
Gently massaging your dogs throat may help to stop the spasms. Covering the nostrils is sometimes effective because it makes the dog swallow, which can clear out whatever is causing the irration. Try depressing the dog’s tongue if the episode does not end quickly, as this will open the mouth and aid in moving air through the nasal passages. You can also pick up your dog or take him outside for some fresh air.
If reverse sneezing becomes a chronic problem rather than an occasional occurrence, your veterinarian may need to look up the nasal passages (rhinoscopy), and may even need to take a biopsy to determine the cause of the problem. Sometimes, however, no cause can be identified.