What is Reverse Sneezing, and Is It Dangerous?

February 26, 2010

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.New Ad Sidebar - no bag 2

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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  1. Connie mallon says:

    My beagle does the scarey breathing
    And i think hes dying thank u for you for this info

  2. Edward says:

    Thank you this was a big help to us

  3. DOnna Gaskins says:

    Thanks this was very helpful

  4. Bronwen Dodson says:

    My 6 yr old chi x did this after her extraction of 2 teeth and a clean last Tuesday. 18 months ago she had a lot of teeth extracted and didn’t have any reverse sneezing or gagging. I know how to help her but it’s upsetting. I think I may need to take her to the vet again just in case.

  5. Nan says:

    OMG…..my little Chihuahua mix just did this earlier this morning and I saw my life passing before my eyes! I thought he was either choking on his biscuit or having a seizure. I started smacking him on his back and holding him upside down, trying to do the Heimlich maneuver on him. I think he now thinks I was mad at him and hitting him because he’s acting a little traumatized. I just got him 4 weeks ago from the rescue shelter where I volunteer and he’s a little shy and under confident. I think I’ve traumatized him. I was seriously getting ready to take him to the vet. Thank you so, so very much for this article. Bullwinkle and I feel much better.

    Nan & Bullwinkle

  6. Susan says:

    So helpful to know!! I would get worried at times. Thank you

    1. Derek says:

      i am a smoker but i have been smoking around my dog since he was a pup nothing has changed he just started doing this out of no were sounds like he is coughing up a furball

  7. Very helpful! I feel relieved now that I know how to help and that it’s not so serious, thanks.

  8. Maggie Cutrer says:

    Great info, thanks. I have wondered about this for a long time.

  9. Alex says:

    Would just like to share my solution to ending reverse sneezing:
    After weeks and weeks of testing for illnesses and trying to find a solution, my cat’s reverse sneezing was solved by a diet change. I couldn’t believe it was so simple. I had been feeding him science diet and he developed this reverse sneezing slowly and it got worse to the point I was considering driving him to a specialist. One day I read an article that RS could be triggered by allergies to food products, immediately switched him to a brand that is limited ingredients (duck + potato) and haven’t heard a reverse sneeze since!!!!
    It really had been so stressful for me I am so relieved I wanted to share. If your vet isn’t finding a solution, check the diet and environment! Don’t believe reverse sneezing should be endured by your poor pup or kitty! Just like humans, it is not normal for them to have a chronic sneeze.

  10. kris Traughber says:

    I am experiencing this with one of my small dogs it used to happen every now and then but has been happening like every half hour or so and seems to happen at random.he hasnt ever done this before and its just started is there something I can do to find out if something is in his throat or his nose without taking him to vet? Im very worried and to me it dont seem like hes getting air at all when he tries to take a breath he starts the attack again. Please any info is helpful, thank u

    1. Alex says:

      If your vet doesn’t find a solution (mine didn’t) Please check the home environment for allergens and try a different brand of food! If you read the labels they really put a lot of things from different animal species in pet foods (i.e it says “chicken” but when you read the label it has chicken, fish, pork liver, etc.); a switch to a limited ingredient diet where you can eliminate the food they are allergic to ended reverse sneezing for my pet!

  11. Holly Boone says:

    This was so helpful with my boxer! Thank you for the article.

  12. Danielle says:

    My Chihuahua has been doing this “reverse sneezing” for months now, and it used to be a few times a week, but now she’s been doing this a few times a day. Sometimes she will have an episode, and then stop only to turn around about 5 minutes later and have another episode. I am convinced that the cause of them is dental work she had done about 1 yr ago. She had 12 teeth pulled, and about a month after her surgery this started. My concern is that it is getting worse.

    1. Evelyn Parker says:

      I did the same thing with my shihtzu. Had all of her teeth removed except the 4 little ones that protrude in the front and ever since then she does this sneezing so hard sometimes I’m afraid she’ll break her jaw. She’s 14 now. It doesn’t last long so I grab her up and hold her until it’s over. Good luck

  13. Dannielle says:

    I have had a few dogs that have/had this problem. Lucky for me I figured out how to stop the attacks within a few seconds!!! It has worked on all three dogs even the one that did it most often and seemingly mote severe than the other two.

    All I did was (this sounds bad but is not)… I put my hand in a position that someone would do if they were going to choke someone. Then I gently press on both sides of their neck and while twill applying very little pressure pull away from them while letting go. It only takes about 1-2 seconds. But sometimes it takes 2-3 times to get them to stop. I guess I can explain it another way… Its a quick gentle squeeze like a person pondering something would do to their chin or beard. Lola. It works instantly most of the time and always works within 10 seconds!

  14. Paul Batease says:

    I own a female beagle who not only snores, but makes heavy breathing sounds , as well as the “reverse sneezing”, not to mention snoring while awake. She is 3 years old. When she has the reverse sneezing I coddle her, and give her comforting patting and hold her gently which helps. A lot of her other noises are for attention of some sort. I wish I knew how to read these noises so I could have her stop looking at me, as she does, with the noises making me feel guilty. She is spoiled, I admit. But she’s just too smart, or learned my reactions to her breathing “antics” I will have to call them. She doesn’t snore, or stops if I say something. An absolutely amazing and smart breed, I had no idea. She plays me like a fiddle, and knows the strings very well, mine at least.
    Do try to comfort them with the reverse sneezing. It seems to help a lot. Also, in regards to the nacho incident, the nacho can damage the pallette to some degree that can be extremely frustrating, is similar almost to a canchor, sore to a human. Oragel, or something of this nature, applied very sparingly, with a Q-Tip can help rubbed directly on the irritated. area only. I hope this helps

  15. James molloy says:

    My Chihuahua has had a bad spell of reverse sneezing today she’s not a usual self just laying on the settee just like we do when we have a cold, sometimes I cover her nostrils, this seems to help with the reverse sneezing, but today is a little bit concerned should I take her to the vet

  16. mitchel says:

    I think this is a great article on sneezing I have 2 boston terriers and my youngest is actually sneezing like we do alot lately he is short of breath I’m worried it could be something more than allergies

  17. Brendan Graber says:

    My 13 years old dog is having reverse sneeze, and I noticed a little bit of blood coming from both nostrils, am taking her to the vet for precautions.

    1. Ramiza says:

      This happened to my 1 yr old chihuahua earlier today, i was freaking out, he was having an episode of reverse sneezing, it was very bad, at the end there was a lil bit blood on his nostrils. idk if that’s normal? he’s fine now, i need to get him some Benadryl, he’s been having frequent reversed sneezing, i hope the benadryl helps!

  18. Karen Griffin says:

    Thank you for this informative and reassuring article. My dog reverse sneezes when she gets excited and sometimes after playing especially hard. It is worrisome to see her gasping for air, and I will definitely try the techniques mentioned here the next time it happens.

  19. Thank you so much for your clear concise and very understandable exclamation this is the second time I read it as I have a bichon who had breathing problems since she was about 2 years old I’m taking her to the vet so many times she is 14 now and going through some other health issues but just this morning is having one of those and coerce them into it

  20. ronaldo says:

    Great article about reverse sneezing

  21. Monica Rubio says:

    My dog Snickers is 10 years old. It worries me that it is more than that. I need to find an affordable vet. 🙁

  22. sadie says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, you’ve helped immensely!!!!

  23. Natalie Mora says:

    Thank you so much, I have a 1 1/2 year old Shih Tzu and he just had an episode and has had multiple in the pack which freak me the heck out every single time, I’m glad to know now that he’s not dying on me Lol! Thank you!

  24. Una mc elhone says:

    Thank you so much . My jack Russell just had a reverse sneeze it was really frightening !! I had just sprayed the room with air freshener & she run in after me . Guess what ? Tin is now in bin . Now I’m on alert 2 c if she does it again . Can’t thank u enough .

  25. Ginger Wardlaw says:

    Thank you for this information. My ShiPoo is 12 and he worries me that he is getting too old. He has poor dental health and doesn’t eat well anymore and then he started this tonight. I was wondering and monitored him while looking this up and it was over before I could finish. it was way different thab when he was about to (pardon me) throw up on my bed which happens with small dogs I have ownd for years. I will keep an eye on it just in case. Thanks for easing my mind.

  26. T. Gonce says:

    Thank You so Much for this info…. I have been terrified about her not being able to breeth…I’ve had her the the Vet twice an that was $300.00 wasted for nothing….an they still couldn’t tell me a thing…Thank You again…She is all I have…

    1. I take my 4 legged baby to the SPCA in my area for their vet services. I cant say enough good things about them. They don’t pad the bill with un-needed test only to find out it is something as simple as watch the carpet sprays and perfume/powder their little noses are always on the floor causes them to start the reversed sneezes.

  27. Rhonda says:

    Thank you so much. This article helped me and my Australian shepherd. He would go out and play in my back yard and dig holes and come inside reverse sneezing like crazy. He looked like he was choking or going to sick-up something. I thought something was stuck in his nose or throat. I tried giving him drinks but he refused. After reading your article and discussing it with a friend she said try an ice cube. My dog loved it and it helped clear his pallet thank you again.

  28. Jm adriano says:

    Thank you so much! Now Danilo sleep well. God bless!

  29. marie mac says:

    Hi! I am in urgent need of an answer or some help in finding an answer! Our dog ate a nacho chip around 6:40 pm on Monday, which was yesterday, and at first he started choking and couldn’t breathe, so I googled how to do the hymlich on dogs and went ahead with it. It worked to where he started breathing, but then started acting like it was stuck in the back of his throat and wouldn’t go down, and later started sneezing while shaking his head back and forth and hitting his face on the ground, and meanwhile, therewas some blood that came out! I thought he was better after he finally drank some water, but then about an hour later, he was doing it again! 🙁 What does that mean, and is it Serious enough to take him in? He weighs about 97 pounds and is a 13 yr old chocolate lab mixed with chesapeak bay. Please let me know ASAP! That would be great! Thanks! 🙂

  30. jacqui pattison says:

    Hi my Weimaraner bitch has Allergies, I gave her Cetirizine Hydrochloride made by Cipla. It caused her to have a “Reverse Sneezing Episode” I rubbed her throat
    & put her in her crate, within minutes she had her very first Eplilectic Seizeure. So far haven’t found any side effects linked to the medicine as is widely used on dogs. Wondering if you think the “Reverse Sneezing” could of brought it on ??? She has had 2 Anaphylactic episodes in last 5yrs she is now 8yrs.

    1. Rhonda says:

      My cat had alergic areactions that were so bad that we would have to drop her at the vets before she got any immunization and they would give her Benadryl and an IV bag of fluid for a few hours for every time we had another booster. The first time that Teek was at vet she had a seizure and I was so scared. Vet said all I could do was to be aware of allergies and keep medicine close at hand. Good luck.

  31. Tiffany says:

    ***Please HELP***
    I’m the loving owner of a jackchi (Jack Russell chihuahua mix). She’s almost 5 months but has started making these extreme noises (snorting, grunting, gasping for air) sounds during her sleep. It’s happening more and I’m concerned. I’m not sure if she’s always done this but I’m just aware of it as if a few weeks ago. I adopted her when she was 2 months old. I had a shih tzu poodle mix before and she did the reverse sneezing but I learned how to lightly pinch her nose and it stopped. What my dog is doing now I’m NOT familiar with and it really bothers me. Just today she’s done it 2x while sleeping once it woke me up. No discharge, bleeding, mucus etc just the very strange and scary noises

  32. mariah dover says:

    my chihuahua snorts like he gets air caught in his throat i think thats what its is but it might be asma or excitment

  33. Barb Smith says:

    I have a Maltese/Pom and she does this all the time. Every day several times a day. She acts like she is choking and cannot breath. Like a flap of skin is covering her airway or something. It really bothers me. I have tried the messaging her throat and nothing changes. I don’t know what it is. She does the honking noise and can’t breath through her nose. But also through her mouth too. Scares me to death.

    1. Jane says:

      Cover her nostrils until she stops. My chihuahua does this and i put my fingers on his nose holes and it forces air through his mouth and opens his throat and it stops.
      Just takes a few seconds usually.

  34. Christine Gutierrez says:

    Thank you sooo much for your valuable information. I am very grateful for all of this information. Every time it would happen to my baby chihuahua I would go into panic mode and near tears watching her gasp for air. I would also think that this would be her last breath and fear the worse. Praise God and your article, now I have a name for it and that she WILL be ok. Whew, thanks again, truly all of this was greatly appreciated!

  35. Frank Cristalli says:

    Very informative article, it is exactly what our dog is doing. Thank you!!

  36. Laurie Ruble says:

    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

    1. Karen says:

      Be careful with bug spray around animals, it can have a negative effect on them, as you have mentioned here. My sister ended up accidentally killing her guinea pig because she had a fly problem and sprayed bug spray excessively in her apartment. (a relatively small space, but even when I would visit her, the air was pretty thick with fumes) It was really sad. Poor Guinea pig.

  37. Becky says:

    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

  38. Jess says:

    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.

  39. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this! You cured my freak out.

  40. Lesley says:

    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 🙂

  41. Bill Roberts says:

    Thanks for this article. I was wondering what was wrong with my dog. He just started this today. I wont worry so much now. But will keep an eye on him.

  42. Anonymous says:

    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 🙂

  43. Anonymous says:

    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?

  44. sneezing says:

    I never heard how cats sneeze