A boxer dog sneezing in reverse

A reverse sneeze may sound like it belongs on a list of ridiculous, crowd-pleasing party games. But if you’ve ever heard the alarming, confusing sound of a reverse sneeze, you know it’s far from fun. It may not ever happen to your pet, but if they do show signs of this common condition, the Pet Experts encourage you to be prepared so you know what to do for them.

Does Your Pet Need Help?

A reverse sneeze refers to the pharyngeal gag reflex, and can sound like your pet is choking, snorting, snuffling, or gagging. An abrupt honking sound is a common characteristic. Lasting several minutes, a reverse sneeze can send an owner into a panic.  

Caused by an irritation in the soft palate and throat, a reverse sneeze is basically a spasm that narrows the opening of the trachea. The direct opposite of a regular sneeze, a reverse sneeze pulls air into the nose instead of pushing it out. A pet will stretch out their neck, expand the chest and gasped for air.

What the…?

Reverse sneezing not only sounds scary, it looks that way, too. You may never be at ease if/when this happens to your pet, but the first time is always the most terrifying. The important thing to remember is that it’s incredibly common and usually harmless. The vast majority of times, symptoms resolve themselves without lasting effects.

Understand the Causes

Typical triggers that irritate the throat include viruses, overexertion, foreign bodies, nasal mites, eating or drinking, pulling on the leash, post-nasal drip, and various airborne allergens. Knowing what triggers a reverse sneeze can drastically reduce frequency. Any time a pet changes their breathing pattern can potentially result in a reverse sneeze. 

Digging Deeper

Pets with smaller throats may be more prone to reverse sneezing, such as toy or flat-faced breeds. When seasonal allergens like pollen, perfumes or cleaning products are identified as triggers, pets can get relief through prescription antihistamines. 

Chronic episodes may necessitate a procedure called a rhinoscopy to examine the nasal passages.

How You Can Help

Staying calm is absolutely necessary to your defense against an episode of reverse sneezing. Because pets commonly react with anxiety, they will look to their owners to know they are okay. 

  • Offer soothing encouragement
  • Massage the their throat
  • Briefly cover their nostrils to get them to swallow
  • Gently press down on the tongue to increase airflow
  • Try to blow softly in their face

Most of the time, pets do not require emergency veterinary assistance. However, if the sneezing lasts longer than several minutes, or stops and starts again soon after, it can be a good idea to seek help. Look for signs of other respiratory problems, such as discharge coming from the nose to ascertain whether a trip to the vet is needed.

Serious issues can include tracheal collapse, respiratory infections, parasites, foreign objects, and more. The Pet Experts recommend taking a video of your pet’s reverse sneeze so we can assess your pet’s symptoms afterwards.

Just a Reverse Sneeze

As always, if you have additional questions or concerns about the phenomenon known as the reverse sneeze, please reach out to us at Naperville Animal Hospital.