It’s a common scenario in the veterinary clinic: an owner rushes their dog to the office for severe respiratory distress, and by the time they arrive, he is completely normal.

“But Doc,” they say, “he was having a fit and couldn’t catch his breath! I thought he was going to pass right out!” When I get them to describe the sound their dog was making, more often than not, it turns out to be what we refer to as a reverse sneeze.

What does a reverse sneeze look like?

While witnessing a pet in the midst of a bout of reverse sneezes is frightening at first, it is important to remember that he is not in any respiratory distress.

Just as a regular sneeze is your dog’s way of clearing irritants from the front of his nasal cavity, a dog's backward sneeze is his attempt to clear irritants from the nasopharynx, or the back of the nasal cavity. What results is a series of rapid and repeated snorting sounds that can be quite alarming if you’ve never heard them before.

Credit: Village Animal Clinic

What causes reverse sneezing in dogs?

If you notice that pet’s reverse sneezing fits are increasing in frequency, she may have a contributing underlying condition. These include:

  • Nasal mites
  • Nasal foreign bodies, such as grass or grass awns
  • Rhinitis
  • Nasal masses
  • Allergies
  • Lower airway disease
  • Elongated soft palate

If this is the case, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so that she can perform a thorough exam to determine if an underlying cause is at work. It may be helpful to try to catch some of the action on video to confirm that reverse sneezes are what is occurring.

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How is reverse sneezing treated in dogs? 

If your pet occasionally has a bout of reverse sneezes, it is nothing to worry about. In fact, most veterinarians agree that nothing needs to be done about it. You may feel the need to intervene, but the episode will pass just fine on its own. Feel free to go about your business and not make a big deal about it. If you'd like, you can try gently petting your dog to help him calm down. But unless an underlying condition is suspected, treatment is usually not necessary. 

The first time you hear a reverse sneeze, it is likely to cause quite a fright. Remember, your pet is not in respiratory distress – he’s just clearing the air!

Nov 12, 2012
Pet Health

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