What is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

Reverse sneezing is a common condition that sounds a lot worse than it actually is.

You may not know what it’s called, but you do know that it scares the heck out of you when you hear and see it happening to your dog. Reverse sneezing, also known as Pharyngeal Gag Reflex or Paroxysmal Respiration, is quite common in dogs—especially breeds that have a flat face (Shih Tzus, Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, and Bulldogs). Your first instinct may be to grab your dog and run to the vet’s office. But before you freak out, you should know that a reverse sneeze will pass and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or two. Once it’s over, your dog will return to his normal, happy self.

What is a Reverse Sneeze?

When we sneeze, air is pushed rapidly out of our noses. That’s where you get the quick “Achoo!” sound (often followed by a vigorous nose blowing). But with a dog, that sneeze happens in reverse—air is pulled into his nose, resulting in a loud honking or snorting noise. Here are a few other signs that your dog is in the middle of a reverse sneezing fit:

  • Standing still with elbows spread apart
  • Bulging eyes
  • Backwards head motion

What Causes Reverse Sneezing?

A reverse sneeze is caused by a spasm of the throat and soft palate, set off by an irritation in the throat, pharynx, or larynx. It’s hard to pinpoint what can set it off, but a few of the most common causes include environmental odors (smoke, household cleaners, perfume, room sprays, dust, and pollen), exercise, weather changes, tight collars and sudden movement from a leash.

What Should You Do?

I know the feeling—you feel helpless when your dog shakes and snorts. It’s important to remember to stay calm, as your dog can pick up on your fear during this stressful time. You need to comfort him and keep his anxiety level to a minimum.

Here’s a list of what you can do to ease the sneeze and help keep your dog calm:

Calming voice: Talk to your dog in a soothing voice. The sound of your calm voice will help to reassure him.

Petting: Sit with your dog at his level and keep constant contact, petting his back, head, and ears.

Light throat massage: Gently and slowly message/rub his throat from top to bottom to stop the spasm.

Cover his nostrils: Cover your dog’s nostrils briefly (just a second or two). This forces your dog to swallow, which in most cases will clear the irritation and stop the sneezing. You may have to repeat this procedure two or three times for it to work—take your hand off your dog’s nose in between repetitions.

Head to the Vet?

For the most part, reverse sneezing doesn’t require a follow-up trip to the vet. In fact, all dogs will experience reverse sneezing sometime during the course of their lives. But a vet visit should be in order if these sneezes occur frequently or go on for longer than a minute in time, or if there’s yellowish or bloody discharge from the nose. When these symptoms are present, it could be that the sneezes are linked to problems such as nasal mites, kennel cough, nasal cancers, polyps or tumors, collapsing trachea, or a respiratory infection.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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