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Dog sneezing outside

The essentials

  • Reverse sneezing is harmless — While it sounds bizarre, reverse sneezing isn’t typically dangerous for your dog.
  • The cause isn’t known — While vets aren’t sure what the primary cause of reverse sneezing is, contributing factors include allergies, nasal mites, and other irritants that can aggravate your dog’s respiratory system.
  • All dogs experience reverse sneezing — Any breed, age, or size of dog can experience reverse sneezing, but certain breeds, like ones with a long snout, are more prone to reverse sneezing than other dogs.

Is your dog making a strange sound? Reverse sneezes have a unique sound that seems to be a cross between a cough and a sneeze. Both dogs and cats do this, but typically, it’s your pooch that’ll be making this unusual noise, and usually, it’s harmless.

What is reverse sneezing? 

The technical term for reverse sneezing is paroxysmal respiration, and for the most part, it’s harmless. Dogs simply suck in air rapidly rather than exhaling it. Veterinarians aren’t sure what causes reverse sneezing in dogs, but certain conditions can make reverse sneezing worse.

  • Long snouts. Dogs with a  longer snout, like a German shepherd, may be more prone to reverse sneezing due to a foreign body or tumors.
  • Also, short snouts. But, brachycephalic breeds (those with more squished faces) may also be more prone to it due to anatomical defects associated with their short snouts.
  • Nose mites. Much like ear mites, nose mites live in a dog’s nasal passages and sinuses. They are highly contagious and spread easily in multi-dog households.
  • Allergies. Dogs that deal with airborne allergies may experience more reverse sneezing than other dogs.
  • Asthma. Dogs that suffer from asthma may also experience more reverse sneezing than other dogs. It’s important to note that reverse sneezing doesn’t sound like an asthma attack, which may involve wheezing and difficulty breathing.
  • Foreign objects. Pollen, seeds, and other debris that your dog’s sniffer pulls in on adventures can cause irritation, which leads to reverse sneezing.

There can be instances where reverse sneezing can cause some harm. But, it is usually associated with other comorbidities, such as underlying heart disease or respiratory issues. Primary causes for reverse sneezing are rarely harmful.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

What does reverse sneezing sound like?

Reverse sneezing has been described as a honking sound mixed with a cough, and it sounds a bit different depending on the size of your dog. For example, smaller dogs may have a more pronounced “honk” while larger dogs may have a deeper coughing sound. Here is a video that demonstrates reverse sneezing in dogs.

@bruce_wang_maltese They sound strange but apparently reverse sneezes are perfectly harmless. #maltese #maltesepuppy #puppy #reversesneeze ♬ original sound – bruce wang maltese

How long do reverse sneezing episodes last?

Typically, reverse sneezing episodes only last a minute or so, and they come and go. More frequent and longer bouts of reverse sneezing can happen, and when they do, it may be good to speak to your vet to evaluate issues that may be exacerbating reverse sneezing and what can be done.

How do vets diagnose reverse sneezing in dogs? 

While vets can’t pin down the cause of reverse sneezing in dogs, your veterinarian can identify an underlying issue that may be exacerbating your dog’s reverse sneezes. Here’s how your vet may diagnose the cause of reverse sneezing.

  1. History. To begin with, your vet will consider your dog’s medical history and any previous issues they’ve had.
  2. Physical exam. Once your vet knows your dog’s history, they will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog to narrow down the cause. This may include tests that look at your dog’s airways.
  3. Testing (maybe). In some cases, vets may perform tests for sneezing and nasal discharge to figure out the cause and treatment.

Treating reverse sneezing in dogs

For the most part, reverse sneezing isn’t really treated. But, underlying conditions that contribute to it can be treated, thus lessening the frequency of reverse sneezing in dogs.  Here are a few ways your vet may treat conditions that are making your dog’s reverse sneezing worse.

  • Antihistamines. If allergies are the suspected culprit behind your dog’s noisy reverse sneezing, your vet may prescribe medication to treat the underlying condition.
  • Ivermectin and selamectin. These two antihelminthic drugs that kill parasites are used to eliminate and prevent nasal mites.
  • Anti-inflammatories. If your vet determines that inflammation is causing reverse sneezing, they may prescribe anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation in their nasal passages.
  • Decongestants. Phlegm and build-up can cause irritation and lead to reverse sneezing. Vets may prescribe something to help your dog clear out their respiratory system to prevent irritation.

How to stop reverse sneezing in dogs

Aside from treating the underlying issues contributing to reverse sneezing, pet owners can help their dog overcome an episode by doing the following simple steps.

  1. Gently close your dog’s muzzle and hold it shut.
  2. Place one finger over one nostril.
  3. Hold until the episode has passed.
@lulufei0 It’s a reverse sneeze,not crying.#dog #corgi ♬ original sound – lulufei0

Caution needs to be emphasized to owners who are going to attempt this to make sure they are gentle and they stop if their pet seems to be struggling to breathe for whatever reason.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Typically, the only real danger with reverse sneezing is the anxiety it can cause both owner and dog. The key is to remain calm, visit the vet to rule out any underlying causes for your dog’s reverse sneezing, and help them through it if it’s a source of distress. Reverse sneezing in dogs is usually harmless. For new pet parents, it can be alarming. For more seasoned dog owners, it’s TikTok creator material and nothing to worry about.

Frequently asked questions

How do you treat reverse sneezing in dogs?

Treating your dog’s reverse sneezing is mainly circumstantial. Pet parents need to know if there’s an underlying condition causing it and will have to treat it. Once that’s done, your dog’s reverse sneezing should resolve itself.

Should I be worried if my dog is reverse sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is typically harmless. Infrequent, short episodes aren’t likely a cause for concern, but more frequent and longer episodes may indicate an underlying condition.

Why has my dog started reverse sneezing so much?

Dogs that suddenly begin experiencing more reverse sneezing may be dealing with an underlying condition, like a foreign object in their nose (e.g. a seed from outside), nose mites, allergies, or a handful of other respiratory issues. Dogs that have a sudden increase in reverse sneezing should visit the vet to diagnose and treat any underlying conditions.

Is reverse sneezing dangerous or harmful to my dog?

Generally, reverse sneezing in dogs isn’t harmful or a reason to be concerned. When it’s more frequent and with longer episodes, though, it can indicate that your dog may be experiencing a health issue that requires medical attention.

Can reverse sneezing in dogs be prevented? If so, how?

Yes, reverse sneezing in dogs can be partially prevented by reducing exposure to potential triggers like allergens, irritants, or excessive excitement. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and minimizing exposure to dust and smoke can also be beneficial. However, it cannot be entirely prevented as it’s a natural response in many dogs.