For new dog owners, "reverse sneezing" can be scary. Your pup suddenly stops, extends its neck and begins to wheeze. The snorting sound can last a few seconds or up to a minute. If you don't know what's going on, and if it's painful for your dog, this can be a stressful experience.
The good news is that reverse sneezing (also known as "backwards sneezing" or by its technical name, "inspiratory paroxysmal respiration") is a fairly common occurrence that isn't harmful for dogs. It's more likely to affect smaller dogs and brachycephalic breeds (i.e. "short-headed") such as English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingeses and Boston Terriers.
To find out more about reverse sneezing, and what we can do for our dogs during an episode, we spoke to our resident "Ask a vet" expert Dr. Walt Ingwersen.
"Reverse sneezing is caused by an irritation in your dog's soft palate," says Dr. Ingwersen. It's a way for the dog to get rid of dust, particles or other substances that get caught in their throat area. Sometimes it's caused by over-excitement. Dr. Ingwersen points out that he often sees reverse sneezing in dogs who like to chew grass as bits of fiber get stuck in the nasal cavity.
"Although it can be dramatic to witness, reverse sneezing is not dangerous for dogs," says Dr. Ingwersen. For dogs with an elongated soft palate and compressed faces (i.e. brachycephalic breeds), it can be a helpful way for them to reorient their anatomy. If something is stuck back there, the dog will fix the problem by reverse sneezing it out or swallowing.
Like most symptoms, says Dr. Ingwersen, you should consult a vet if the reverse sneezing is consistent and persistent. It's also a cause for concern if there's nasal or eye discharge. It should also be noted that reverse sneezing is different from tracheal collapse (a condition often seen in toy breeds) which is more of a "honk" and sometimes accompanied with gagging. This is a serious condition and you should inform a vet as soon as possible.
To help your dog get back to regular breathing, Dr. Ingwersen recommends gently massaging your dog's throat. "If you have a syringe, you could squirt a bit of water into your dog's mouth to prompt them to swallow." Ultimately, you don't need to do anything as your dog will go back to normal once they're finished. In the end, reverse sneezing induces more panic for pet parents than the dog going through it.