The Root of the Behavior
Reverse sneezing sounds exactly like it is called, like your dog is rapidly breathing the air in and sneezing inwards instead of outwards like in a normal sneeze, producing a snorting noise. Usually with their head and neck extended and lips pulled back, a dog inhales rapidly through its nose several times in a row. This lasts only for a couple of seconds and should not happen too frequently. It can also look like your dog is trying to “cough something out” which in a way it is. When a dog sneezes in a “regular” way, it does so to expel an irritant from its nasal passages. A reverse sneeze is similar except the irritant is located behind the nasal cavities.
Though there are several possible causes for your dog to be experiencing reverse sneezing, most commonly it is caused by a spasm resulting from a soft palate irritation. The spasm causes the temporary narrowing of the airways and thus makes it more difficult for your dog to breath air in during that time. It can be triggered by the dogs’ pulling by the leash too hard or a tight collar.
However, reverse sneezing can also be caused by things that can and should be treated. It can be caused by allergies (for example pollen or perfume), viral infections, or other physical irritations (such as a cleft palate or nasal mites) but it can also be linked to a dogs’ excitement or exercise. Reverse sneezing can affect any breed of dog but it is more common in smaller dogs. Though in most cases it is not harmful, it can also sound like a symptom of a serious health condition depending on your dogs’ age, health background, and breed.
Brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, or Boxers tend to have more respiratory problems than other breeds and something like a reverse sneeze should not be confused with a dogs’ difficulty to breathe or a Brachycephalic Airway Obstructive Syndrome both of which can be life-threatening. If you’ve got an older dog who’s recently started experiencing reverse sneezing, it is also highly recommended to take him for a check-up to rule out the possibility of a nasal tumor.
Encouraging the Behavior
If you notice your dog reverse sneezing becoming more frequent or for lasting for longer periods of time it is time to take him to the veterinarian for an x-ray and a complete physical examination, as whatever he’s trying to expel isn’t being successfully discharged. It can also be helpful if you manage to record your dog experiencing the reverse sneeze to show the footage to the veterinarian. Taking him to the veterinarian will also help in determining and diagnosing if what your dog is experiencing is actually a reverse sneeze or one of the more serious health conditions mentioned above. Depending on the diagnosis, your veterinarian will prescribe the proper treatment for him.
Other Solutions and Considerations
It is important to remember that though the experience of seeing your dog reverse sneeze can be terrifying, it does not mean that your dog is choking or in pain. You should not panic or pick up and shake your dog. You should remain calm and try to soothe your dog by using your voice and observe him carefully. Reverse sneezing is a natural and common occurrence in dogs and if it is, in fact, reverse sneezing that your dog is experiencing, it should not last more than 20 to 60 seconds in total. If you feel like your dog is struggling and needs your intervention, gently open his mouth and lightly press down on his tongue to enable more airflow. Only do this if you trust your dog's response and know that it would not bite your hand.