What is Reverse Sneezing, and Is It Dangerous?

By Linda Cole

Reverse sneezing in dogs and cats isn’t really a sneeze. If you’ve ever noticed your pet snorting, honking or gasping for breath, you’ve just witnessed a reverse sneeze. It is something we need to be aware of as pet owners because frequent reverse sneezing can be a symptom of other conditions that would require a vet’s attention.

A reverse sneeze, in more medical terms, is called pharyngeal gag reflex or paroxysmal respiration. This is a condition where a dog or cat will extend their neck and begin making gasping noises that sound like the pet is on their last legs. They may snort or even make honking noises all the while acting like they can’t catch their breath. Many people have done exactly what any responsible pet owner would do if they witness their dog or cat acting like they can’t breathe, and have rushed them to the vet. As life threatening as it sounds, however, a reverse sneeze is not a serious condition, and the pet will recover on its own without medical treatment.

The most common reason for a dog or cat experiencing a reverse sneezing episode is a result of something that irritated their soft palate (the soft, fleshy tissue extension off the roof of their mouth) and throat which in turn causes a spasm. In most cases, it’s nothing to worry about, but it can be upsetting when you see your dog or cat gasping for air. The irritation affects the trachea which then narrows, making it harder for the pet to get air.

To help your pet get through one of these spasms, you can gently massage their throat or cover their nose to make them swallow which should clear out whatever was irritating their throat. If that doesn’t work, you can offer them food or water, or take them outside. Holding down their tongue will help force more air into their nasal passage and can help. Just be careful the dog or cat doesn’t grab your finger in the process. The spasm is over when they stop sneezing. The pet will recover on their own even if they have an episode while no one is home. However, if your dog or cat is having attacks of reverse sneezing on a regular basis, this can indicate something else is going on, and a trip to the vet is advised.

A variety of things can cause your pet to have a spasm which results in a reverse sneeze, but a specific cause cannot always be diagnosed by a vet even for a dog or cat with a chronic problem. A dog who pulls on a leash, becomes overly excited, has been running around while playing, or eats and drinks too fast can be thrown into a reverse sneeze. Other causes include possible allergies, a dog not used to exercise, household cleaners, perfumes, air spray, dust or pollen not related to an allergy, viruses, post nasal drip, nasal cancer, nasal mites or something caught in their throat.

Signs to watch for that could indicate something more serious is causing the reverse sneezing include a discharge from the nose or a bloody nose, any kind of deformity around the nose area that doesn’t look right, a lack of appetite and energy, or any difficulty in breathing.

Boxers, Shih Tzus and dogs with flat faces have a soft palate that is stretched out more, and they can have bouts of reverse sneezing more than other breeds because they can actually suck the palate into their throat when they inhale. Smaller breeds are also more apt to be affected because they have a smaller throat. Cats don’t usually experience reverse sneezing like dogs, and if you have a cat who has bouts, it’s a good idea to have your vet check him out to make sure he doesn’t have asthma which does require treatment.

For most dogs, an attack of reverse sneezing is over in a matter of a minute or two and they will be just fine with no adverse affects at all. It looks and sounds worse than it is. It is important, however, to understand what a reverse sneeze is so you can be aware of other possible conditions that could be causing your dog or cat’s irritation if it becomes chronic. When you know what’s going on and how to deal with it, you can remain calm and help your pet instead of panicking over what appears to be a breathing problem and rushing to the vet’s office. Your vet will appreciate it, and so will your pet.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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11 thoughts on “What is Reverse Sneezing, and Is It Dangerous?

  1. Hi. I have a 6 year old american bulldog and after reading this seems to have had 3 of these episodes in the past hours. It seems like he is going to pass out hes gasping for air and seems very disorientated. Hes gums are a very pail pink colour and his heart races when it happens. Is this linked to reverse sneezing of is it something worse? Im quite worried

  2. I am so glad I found this post! I have a 4 year old Maltese that gets so excited when I come home that he has a “reverse sneeze”. I am so glad to know now how to help him. It really scared me.

  3. My cat doing this honking and she never done this before. I was using raid bug spray around my house to get rid of carpet beetles. So this is my 2nd cat who got allergy to this

  4. Thank you for this post I nearly died when I heard my 14 week old collie do this she had such a hissy fit after it happened running around barking

  5. My Boxer bull pup started doing this and she seemed to panic more than me, but by trial and error without knowing what it was, I would massage her throat and softly blow on her nose. This would stop it immediately. She actually looks for me now when she starts to “reverse sneeze” so I can help her through it. After it started happening more often i did the research, and I’m glad to know what it is, and that she is ok.

  6. I have a black lab mix and the first time she did this, I freaked out…recorded it. Next trip to Vet I played it and she said “reverse sneeze” immediately. Living in Nevada, a lot sage brush can affect your pets…Vet recommended a Benadryl if the sneezes become more frequent. Could just be allergies. I also rub her throat and remain calm so she doesn’t panic because I panic. She’s healthy, happy and occasionally makes a bizarre noise :)

  7. Im so glad i read this i almost passed out when my 2month old yorkie was doing jus this. …..he did it and then continued to play like normal :)

  8. I have a half boston terrier half pit bull, my frequently has reverse sneezing attacks. They only last a min or 2 but sometimes he will have 5 a day. Sometimes none. He does not have any discharge from his nose, eats regular and is full of energy! Should i be alarmed?

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