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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

Say What? All About the Reverse Sneeze in Dogs

A dog sneezing in the woods

A reverse sneeze may sound like something of a myth, but if you have ever encountered it, it’s unmistakable. It’s true that our dogs make weird noises, but the reverse sneeze is quite distinct. That “honk” and “wheeze” that comes on suddenly can cause great worry in a loving pet owner. It sounds, in fact, like your pet is gasping for air or having a seizure.

While it can be frightening to witness, in most cases the reverse sneeze is harmless. The team at the Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic takes a closer look at the reverse sneeze in dogs and what you can do to help your four-legged friend.

The Reverse Sneeze Explained

The reverse sneeze is also called a pharyngeal gag reflex or paroxysmal respiration. During a normal sneeze, the airway pushes out something that is an irritant through the nose. The reverse sneeze, however, pulls the air forcefully into the nose in such a way that resembles an episode of asthma or an allergic reaction. This process causes the dog to emit a honking sound. They may also stiffen and extend the neck, while attempting to inhale.

This phenomenon is more common in brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and those with flat faces. Some small dogs may experience reverse sneezing because of their smaller throats. 

When the Sneeze Is Alarming

Since the reverse sneeze is typically a few seconds in duration and only happens every so often, most episodes are harmless. There are some occurrences that can signal a greater health problem that needs to be examined.

  • Nasal discharge
  • Continuing cough
  • Rubbing at nose or face
  • Bloody nose
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fever

Some contagious illnesses like canine flu and distemper can cause coughing/sneezing. Other possible problems include tracheal collapse, nasal tumor, or a foreign body in the nose. Contact us if your pet is experiencing these unusual symptoms.

At-Home Care

If your pet is having a reverse sneeze attack, remain calm and speak to them in a calm and soothing voice. Encourage them to drink water, or open the mouth gently and press down on the tongue (unless they are prone to biting). You can also raise and lower the head, or raise the head and stroke the throat to stop the episode. 

We hope this overview explains what happens during a reverse sneeze. If you have any questions about reverse sneezing in dogs, or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us