Reverse sneezing (also called pharyngeal gag reflex, inspiratory paroxysmal respiration or mechanosensitive aspiration reflex) is a phenomenon observed in dogs, particularly in those with brachycephalic skulls. It is a fairly common in dogs. Its exact cause is unknown but may be due to nasal, pharyngeal, or sinus irritation (such as an allergy). With this condition, the dog rapidly pulls air into the nose, whereas in a ‘regular’ sneeze, the air is rapidly pushed out through the nose. The dog makes a snorting sound and seems to be trying to inhale while sneezing.
Is it dangerous?
Although it can be alarming to witness a dog having a reverse sneezing episode, it is not a harmful condition. The dog is completely normal before and after the episode.
How to recognize Reverse Sneezing
In a regular sneeze, air is pushed out through the nose. In a reverse sneeze, air is pulled rapidly and noisily in through the nose. For some dogs, it’s a more or less normal event. Just as sneezing is a part of life, reverse sneezing is also a part of many dogs’ lives. The sound that accompanies reverse sneezing is kind of a sudden, startling sound that makes many dog owners think their pet is either choking or having an asthma attack.
A dog who is reverse sneezing typically stands still with his elbows spread apart, head extended or back, eyes bulging as he makes this loud snorting sound. The strange stance on top of the strange snorting sound is why many dogs end up getting rushed to the veterinarian or the emergency clinic by their panicked parents. Episodes of reverse sneezing can last from a few seconds to a minute or two. As soon as it passes, the dog breathes perfectly normally once again and behaves as if nothing happened.
Reverse sneezing is caused by a spasm of the throat and soft palate. The spasm is triggered by an irritation to the throat, pharynx, or laryngeal area. The most common triggers are excitement, exercise intolerance, a collar that’s too tight, pulling on the leash, an environmental irritant like pollen, perfume, or even a household chemical or cleaner, room sprays, or even a sudden change in temperature. Rarely, there can be a respiratory infection or chronic post-nasal drip that causes the condition. Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs and Bulldogs, with elongated soft palates, occasionally suck the palate into the throat, which can also cause an episode of reverse sneezing.
Even though reverse sneezing is not dangerous to your dog it is important to rule at any other problems that might be causing this. The diagnosis is based on medical history and clinical signs. Try to make a video of the symptoms when going to your veterinarian and pay attention to when the reverse sneezing occurs. If you can figure out what’s triggering your pet’s reverse sneezing episodes, you can work to reduce or resolve the problem. Your veterinarian will rule out other causes of abnormal breathing and snorting, such as an upper respiratory tract infection, collapsing trachea, nasal tumors or polyps, foreign bodies in the nasal passages or mouth, and so forth. Occasionally your veterinarian will perform blood tests, allergy tests or radiographs to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
Most cases of reverse sneezing require no medical treatment. If your dog experiences a reverse sneezing episode, you may gently stroke the neck and try to calm the pet. Once the dog exhales through the nose, the attack is usually over. In certain cases, your veterinarian may choose to prescribe anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine or decongestant medications to help with your dog’s condition.
When and why to the veterinarian?
If the reverse sneeze isn’t harmful why or when do I need to see the veterinarian? If your pet’s reverse sneezing becomes a chronic problem or episodes are becoming more frequent or longer in duration, I recommend to make an appointment with your vet to rule out things like a potential foreign body in the respiratory tract, nasal cancers, polyps or tumors, nasal mites, a collapsing trachea, kennel cough, or a respiratory infection.
If your pet is experiencing prolonged episodes of reverse sneezing, bloody or yellow discharge from the nose, or any other accompanying respiratory problems, it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Just as dogs sneeze intermittently throughout their lives, most dogs have at least a few reverse sneezing episodes during their lives as well. In the vast majority of cases, the episodes are temporary and intermittent, resolving on their own, and leave the dog with no aftereffects to be concerned about.
Some more video information about reverse sneezing
A video example of a Bulldog reverse sneezing
A sneeze on command
photo by Bildertante Sylvia
Read on more on Bulldog Health here