Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: Causes and Treatment

Most pet parents get terrified when they see their dog start making loud snorting sounds as if it is trying to remove something that is blocking its airways. This is quite understandable especially if one is not truly familiar with reverse sneezing in dogs. Not only do we begin to question our pet parenting skills, we are also fearful of what might happen to our pet dog if such a condition recurs. The good news is that, like human sneezing, reverse sneezing in dogs is considered a very common respiratory event. It is not a disease per se, but it can mean something is definitely off with your pet. Knowing what canine reverse sneezing can help you provide relief for your pet.

What is Canine Reverse Sneezing?

According to the American Kennel Club, canine reverse sneezing is a fairly common occurrence. It is known as the inspiratory paroxysmal respiration or mechanosensitive aspiration reflex. It is believed that, like human sneezing, reverse sneezing is a dog’s way of trying to get rid of an irritant found in its respiratory passages, most likely the nasal passages.

Reverse sneezing is oftentimes characterized by very peculiar behavior in dogs. It tries to stand and extends its neck and head. The dog will then pull back its lips before inhaling forcefully and repeatedly through its nose. This is followed by loud gagging or snorting sounds. The entire episode typically last 10 to 15 seconds, although it’s not uncommon for some dogs to exhibit shorter or longer episodes.

While reverse snorting is quite common among dogs, it is rare in cats. And while it is perfectly normal to feel alarmed by it, your dog is actually fine both before and after the reverse sneezing episode. In an otherwise healthy dog, one that doesn’t have any known medical condition like heart disease, reverse sneezing is considered normal.

Reverse sneezing should also be differentiated from sneezing and gagging. Sneezing is simply the process of removing irritants in the nasal cavity by blowing expelling these irritants in a very forceful blow. Reverse sneezing requires the dog to inhale as deeply as it can to remove the irritants that may be present in the area just above the soft palate and behind the nasal cavity that ordinary sneezing cannot dislodge. On the other hand, gagging is typically the natural behavior to remove irritants from the back of the throat or the larynx.

What Causes Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

There are a number of theories that have been forwarded to explain this phenomenon in dogs. The mechanism, however, is a lot similar to human sneezing whereby the sneeze reflex is triggered or stimulated to help dislodge and expel anything that is irritating the nasal airway passages. These can be anything from powder, dust, dirt, pollen, or other irritants. In some cases, reverse sneezing has also been documented in dogs that have become over-excited or over-stimulated.

Exposure to environmental irritants and even airborne molecules found in everyday objects and activities can irritate the nasal passages of your dog leading it to reverse sneeze. Again, this is as normal as you sneezing if something irritates your nasal passages. When your pet goes outside it may sniff certain objects that contain substances that can irritate its nasal passages. Dust and pollen are two of the most common culprits in such situations.

Your pet can also reverse sneeze when it smells something really strong such as perfumes, colognes, cleaning agents, and the like. Even baby powders can also irritate dogs’ nasal passages. Not all dogs react, though.

Reverse sneezing in dogs can also be taken as a sign of an underlying disease process. For example, dogs with known allergies will definitely have reverse sneezing as the inflammatory changes occurring in the nasal passages stimulate the sneeze reflex. The same is true with dogs that may have upper respiratory infections, masses or foreign material lodged in the nasopharynx, or any form of anatomical abnormality in this part of the dog’s body.

There are also cases of nasal mites that can enter the dog’s nasal passages and wreak havoc in the area. Not only do these parasites reside in the nasal passages, they can also sometimes migrate to the sinuses as well. Nasal mites are typically transmitted between dogs and as such this cause of reverse sneezing is most common among boarded dogs or canines that are in close contact with other hounds.

Some dogs have also been shown to reverse sneeze after exercise, play, or even after meals. Some may reverse sneeze immediately after taking a long nap or even while asleep. It’s not really known what causes dogs to reverse sneeze in such circumstances, although irritation of the nasal airway passages is almost always a safe bet.

A dog collar that is too tight or even a dog pulling on its leash can also produce spasms in its soft palate and throat, making it reverse sneeze. It is also possible that a sudden change in environmental temperature can trigger these spasms.

Related Post: Best Dog Collars

Are there Dogs that are More Prone to Reverse Sneezing?

Some dogs are more prone to reverse sneezing than other breeds. The behavior is most common along miniature dogs, toy breeds, brachycephalic breeds, and terriers. Brachycephalic dogs like bulldogs and pugs are known to suck their soft palate into their throats. Small dog breeds typically have smaller airway passages especially the nasopharynx and the trachea or windpipe. It is possible that these anatomical differences can make them more prone to reverse sneeze than other dogs.

What Causes Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

How Different is Reverse Sneezing from Tracheal Collapse?

Whereas reverse sneezing in dogs is typically an attempt to get rid of an irritant in the nasal passages, tracheal collapse is generally considered a life-threatening condition that results from an abnormality in the cartilaginous rings of the dog’s trachea or windpipe. This can be brought about by the incomplete formation or development of such rings or the weakening of the various structures associated with such rings.

One of the most characteristic manifestations of tracheal collapse that makes it almost similar to reverse sneezing is the sound that dogs make. It is also paroxysmal or spasmodic in nature which is also what characterizes the snorting or gagging sounds that reverse sneezing dogs make. However, the sound is quite different in that tracheal collapse produces a more ‘honking’ sound than snorting or gagging. The sound is actually similar to a goose honking. It’s for this reason that vets call it the goose honk cough.

Tracheal collapse is also very common in small breeds, just like reverse sneezing. This can include Lhasa apsos, Toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Malteses, Shih Tzus, Pugs, and Pomeranians, among others.

Here’s how you can differentiate reverse sneezing from tracheal collapse. First, the sound is that of snort or gag and not a goose-type of honk. Second, the sound of reverse sneezing typically occurs with forceful inhalation. The sound produced by tracheal collapse, on the other hand, can occur either with inhalation or exhalation depending on the site of the tracheal collapse.

What Can I Do In Case My Hound Reverse Sneezes?

Reverse sneezing is not really a dangerous occurrence in dogs. However, one can surely understand the angst of pet parents once they see their pets gagging or somewhat ‘choking’. There have been many instances when pet parents had to rush their canine pets to the emergency vet clinic just because they don’t know what to do. If any, the thing you don’t want to be doing is to panic. The more that you panic, the more you will not be able to do anything for your pet.

Unfortunately, your anxiety also reverberates to your dog which can potentially worsen its reverse sneezing. So, take a few deep breaths and try to stay calm and composed. Many vets talk about conditioned panic responses in dogs that are regrettably triggered by pet parents who freak out every single time they see their dog reverse sneezing.

One of the things you can do if your pet suddenly reverse-sneezes is to lightly massage its throat. This should help calm your pet down and reduce the intensity of the spasms. Some pet parents actually find comfort by briefly covering the nostrils of their pets. If you’re going to cover your pet’s nostrils, make sure to do it very briefly, otherwise your pet cannot breathe. You can also try blowing softly in your dog’s face. These maneuvers will help your canine friend to swallow. This has been proven in many cases to help clear whatever is irritating your dog’s throat.

In cases where your dog reverse sneezes for much longer periods of time, you may want to insert your hand in its mouth and press its tongue. Be gentle when you do this so as not to inadvertently hurt your dog. Such a maneuver is believed to make your pet dog open its mouth a lot wider. This has the effect of moving air through its airway passages, especially its nose, a lot more effectively.

Technically, these measures are oftentimes not really necessary since reverse sneezing is a very common and normal occurrence in healthy dogs. The most important thing you can do is to be very observant of what can possibly trigger your pet to reverse sneeze. For instance, if the symptom mostly occurs after inhaling something, then identifying the triggering scent should be your priority. Once identified, you can then take measures to prevent your dog from getting exposed to such a trigger.

You should always remain calm whenever your dog is reverse sneezing. If it senses that you’re in a panic mode, it will feel more anxious. This will make its reverse sneezing worse.

Is There a Treatment for Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

If you have a pet that has been reverse sneezing more frequently and for a long period of time, there is a possibility that it is not only reacting to an irritant in its throat. Your best recourse is to bring your hound to your vet and share your observations with your veterinarian. He will be making a more thorough evaluation of the condition of your pet. As we have mentioned above, one of the most important differential diagnoses to be made is tracheal collapse as it shares many features with canine reverse sneezing.

Other diseases or conditions that must be ruled out can include kennel cough or chronic bronchitis, foreign body aspiration, allergies, nasal polyps or tumors, presence of nasal mites, nasal carcinoma, and respiratory infection.

Depending on the evaluation of your veterinarian, he may prescribe a variety of medications that may relieve some of the other symptoms or diseases that may be associated with canine reverse sneezing. For instance, if it has been ruled that the main cause of your pet’s reverse sneezing is closely related to an allergic reaction, then doggie antihistamines or even corticosteroids may be prescribed to either reduce the activities of histamine or reduce inflammation in your dog’s nasal and throat passages.

If the cause of the reverse sneezing is related to nasal mite infestation, your dog may be prescribed with Ivermectin, Selamectin, or even Milbemycin several times over a period of 2 to 3 weeks or perhaps even longer. Some vets actually give dogs some of these antiparasitics even without a definitive diagnosis simply because it is not really that easy to identify these mites.

For dogs that are reverse sneezing because of a foreign body that has been lodged in the nasopharynx, rhinoscopy may be provided if manual extraction is not possible. If the issue is an anatomical problem, surgical correction may be needed. This also works in cases of masses in the nasal cavity. Dogs that have respiratory infections can always be given with the appropriate antibiotics.

Reverse sneezing in dogs is a fairly common occurrence especially among certain types and breeds of dogs. While it is perfectly understandable that pet parents may worry for their pets, it is usually counterproductive as it can only worsen the problem. If your pet has been reverse-sneezing chronically, it is often wise to have your vet take a closer look.


  1. Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, Reverse Sneeze in Dogs, VCA
  2. Shelby Loos, DVM, Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: Is It Normal?, PetMD
  3. Dr. Jerry Klein, What Happens When a Dog Reverse Sneezes?, AKC

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