What the heck is going on? My dog is reverse sneezing!

It was last Fall that I went to pick up my two dogs from an afternoon at doggy daycare when Maddie started having an “attack.” The first thing that came to mind was that it was asthma, or maybe a version of kennel cough. The daycare owner (whom we trust) quickly said it was “reverse sneezing” and “no big deal.”

Ack! No big deal?? It kind of sounds like my dog might die!!

Turns out my reaction wasn’t at all uncommon. Many a dog is rushed to a veterinarian with symptoms of reverse sneezing, a fairly innocent occurrence that rarely requires treatment.

dog reverse sneezing What the heck is going on? My dog is reverse sneezing!

photo credit: ccho via photopin cc

So, what IS reverse sneezing?

“In a regular sneeze, air is pushed out through the nose. In a reverse sneeze, air is pulled rapidly and noisily in through the nose. For some dogs, it’s a more or less normal event. Just as sneezing is a part of life, reverse sneezing is also a part of many dogs’ lives.

The sound that accompanies reverse sneezing is kind of a sudden, startling sound that makes many dog owners think their pet is either choking or having an asthma attack. A dog who is reverse sneezing typically stands still with his elbows spread apart, head extended or back, eyes bulging as he makes this loud snorting sound. The strange stance on top of the strange snorting sound is why many dogs end up getting rushed to the veterinarian or the emergency clinic by their panicked parents.

Episodes of reverse sneezing can last from a few seconds to a minute or two. As soon as it passes, the dog breathes perfectly normally once again and behaves as if nothing happened.” – Dr. Karen Becker via Healthypets.com

Of course, my dog was completely fine a few moments later, as indicated above. And the next time she had an “attack” of reverse sneezing, the same was true. The only difference? I was calm, so as a result, Maddie was a bit more calm.

What causes reverse sneezing?

The main cause of reverse sneezing for dogs is irritation to the throat or laryngeal area. This can happen when a dog gets overly excited or pulls on a leash. It can also be caused by a collar that is too tight. Additionally, inhalant irritants like strong odors, smoke, pollen, etc. can cause this response. Some report sudden changes in temperature, i.e., their dog going from a really warm home to a really cold outdoor area, can cause reverse sneezing as well. Paying attention to which types of irritants trigger the dog’s reverse sneezing can help.

How can you help your pet?

  1. Pay attention to the trigger. For my dog, I’ve narrowed the trigger down to getting overly excited and/or leash pulling. When she hasn’t seen someone in a long time, or if she is outside on a leash and gets overly excited and pulls, the reverse sneezing can begin. Trying to avoid those triggers helps.
  2. Remain calm. Like I mentioned, the first time it happened, I sort of freaked out. Maddie was probably startled by this sudden and new physical occurrence, and me also being startled certainly didn’t help.
  3. Try to soothe your pet. In addition to staying calm, stroking your dog’s back while they are having an episode, can help to soothe them through their short ordeal. You should stay away from stroking their face, and do not roll them over to pet their tummy until their breathing has normalized completely.

Do I need to see a vet?

I’m not a vet, and I don’t play one on TV.  While I love providing helpful tips, the information here is not intended to diagnose any ailments. If you aren’t positive if your dog is experiencing reverse sneezing, please seek out a veterinarian’s opinion. Prolonged bouts of reverse sneezing, discharge, or any other combination of respiratory issues could indicate something more serious.

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  • jana rade

    Actually stroking their neck, or getting them to swallow is supposed to help. It did work with Jasmine if I convinced her to take a treat.

    • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

      Interesting. Our vet said leave their face area alone. I had wondered if stroking their neck might help. I guess it might be different depending on the physical structure of the throat, nose, etc.

      • jana rade

        Frankly, the throat massage never worked for Jasmine. If I got her to take a treat, though, that did.

        The idea is to get the dog to swallow. This is from Veterinary Partner website: “Oftentimes, you can massage the dog’s throat to stop the spasm;
        sometimes it’s effective to cover the nostrils, which makes the dog
        swallow, which clears out whatever the irritation is and stops the

        • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

          That makes sense. I think it is different if it is a spasm versus some sort of irritation. My dog seems to get it only from over-excitedness or pulling on the leash, never from pollen or other irritants, so the throat rubbing might help slow down her spasms. Glad you found what worked for your dog!

  • beaglesbargains

    Luna reverse sneezes too. The first time I was just as confused as you! I just remain calm and try to soothe her. Should I be doing more?

    • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

      Sounds like you are doing the right thing. The vet says there isn’t much more you can do if it is just the reverse sneezing that is going on. See the comments that Jana made, she has some good info!

  • Jessica Rhae

    Gretel has breathing problems. I am not sure what is causing it (the vet wasn’t alarmed) but she makes a snoring sound a lot…even when she is not sleeping. My mind imagines that it is extra skin inside of her throat. Anyway, when we first adopted her she spent a lot of time exploring our house and sniffing dust bunnies. She would have these reverse sneezing fits lasting minutes where her body would go rigid and her eyes would roll back in her head. It WAS pretty scary. I took her to the vet and she gave her some medicine to help open up her airway – a bronchial dilator I think. I gave her that for a while and then stopped. It hasn’t happened since……and no, it is not because we are sweeping more 🙂

    • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

      We had a dog when I was a kid that needed a bronchial dilator when she was older because she would sort of wheeze/snore when she was awake – it helped her a lot. The rigid body/eyes rolling back thing sounds like reverse sneezing. It’s scary to see happen!

  • annstaub

    It’s funny because people would be freaking out and trying to describe the noise their dog was making but couldn’t. I think reverse sneeze must be the hardest dog noise to mimic ever lol.

    • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

      Yeah, the first time it happened to my dog I tried to mimic it to my husband and I think he had a hard time holding back his snickering. I’m sure vets have the same problem. 🙂

  • Emma

    Never heard of it and mom’s dogs have never done it but it sounds funny as long as it is not a serious problem 🙂

    • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

      I guess not all dogs get it, but it is a bit scary when it happens and you don’t know what it is. I hope at least this helps some people not to freak out if it happens to their dog!

  • http://www.dogsplendor.com/ Stefanie

    Hehe, I was trying to find a picture of a dog sneezing. Google it sometime, some of them are quite funny. 🙂

  • The State

    Use a harness not a leash!