“I swear he was going to die – he was gasping for air!”
I looked down at Quincy, who was currently doing a happy dance at my feet. His tail wagged furiously. His owner wrung her hands nervously. I had already examined Quincy and found him to be the picture of health, but his owner was still concerned.
“He’s been sneezing a lot the past few days – since we started our house renovations, and then this morning he started gasping – he couldn’t catch his breath.”
This is a relatively common scenario for a reverse sneezing “emergency”. Reverse sneezing is similar to sneezing in that it is a response to an irritated airway. It is pretty dramatic looking, but it is benign, much like a typical sneezing fit. It can occur in response to an irritant in the environment, such as dust. It can also occur seasonally, along with sneezing, in what is likely an allergic response.
I don’t get too worked up about reverse sneezing, or sneezing for that matter, unless it accompanied by nasal discharge, a bloody nose, or is so persistent that the dog is having difficulty resting, eating or otherwise living a normal life! If a dog presents with any of these other symptoms then a thorough work up is in order. This workup typically includes blood work, nasal X-rays and a nasal exam under sedation.
That being said, for all of the dogs I see with reverse sneezing, only a very small fraction of those ever have something serious as an underlying cause.
I looked at Quincy’s owner.
“Now don’t laugh, but did what he do sound like this?” I asked and launched into my well practiced imitation of a reverse sneeze. (A skill, by the way, that I did not learn in vet school!) Quincy’s owner beamed at me, “Oh yes! That is exactly what he did!” I reassured her that as dramatic as it looked, it was not dangerous, and thankfully, Quincy was going to be just fine.