If you have a Bulldog in your life, chances are you have already experienced the somewhat frightening experience that can be seeing your dog reverse sneeze for the first time. In many cases, a bout of reverse sneezing can send the pooch’s pet-parent into a panic, while in others it can be interpreted as a regular sneeze or even go completely unnoticed. Since Bulldogs are prone to respiratory problems in general, it is not surprising that the behavior can propel many concerned and confused dog-owners to take their four-legged buddies to the veterinarian. But is it necessary? Why do Bulldogs reverse sneeze in the first place and is it a reason for their owners to worry?
The Root of the Behavior
A pharyngeal gag reflex, or in other words a reverse sneeze, is a fairly common respiratory condition in dogs. It isn’t actually a sneeze but a spasm resulting from a soft palate irritation. During the spasm, the dog’s airway narrows temporarily, making it more difficult for your dog to breathe. The phenomenon occurs more frequently in small breed dogs and is even more common among Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers who, due to their physical build, tend to have smaller windpipes. The event can look quite alarming. Your canine companion starts to breathe rapidly, stiffens his body, then seems to start choking and producing a snorting noise. Usually, it is accompanied by the extending of the neck and rapid inhales through the nose several times in a row. It can also look like your four-legged buddy is trying to expel a furball and is having trouble breathing. This generally lasts a couple of seconds and after the episode ends the dog goes back to feeling and acting normal and as if nothing had just taken place.
Regardless of breed, reverse sneezing can be triggered by a variety of things and situations. The most common ones being physical irritation, for example through pulling on the leash too hard or wearing a tight collar, allergies to pollen or perfume, as well as viral infections. These are most likely the culprit if the reverse sneeze occurs after any of the above. Other common reasons include excitement or too much exercise. However, in Brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs, reverse sneezing can occur more often. Though the actual reason for that is unknown, it is likely related to the fact that Brachycephalic breeds often have elongated soft palates that may irritate the throat or get inhaled into the throat. In most cases, no treatment or intervention is necessary and the reverse sneezing resolves on its own after a couple of seconds. However, since Bulldogs are more prone to respiratory problems than other breeds, being on the safe side is highly recommended. When your Bulldog reverse sneezes for the first time - don’t panic but do record it on your phone and take him to the veterinarian to confirm it is in fact what was happening. The veterinarian will conduct a general check-up, provide you with information on reverse sneezing or treat your dog in the event that it needed.
Encouraging the Behavior
Although the reverse sneezing episodes may be alarming to witness, remember that in itself it is not a life-threatening or harmful condition and it does not require intervention. However, most likely it is not a pleasant experience for your dog either and regardless of the frequency, it can make him feel caught off guard each time it happens. Therefore it is important to do whatever is in your power to ease the episodes. Starting off with remaining calm and talking to your dog in a relaxed voice. In addition, you can try to gently blow on his face or lightly massage his throat. If your dog’s episode doesn’t pass within 30-60 seconds or becomes more frequent, do take him to the veterinarian as there might be more going on with his health.
A visit to the veterinarian is crucial for diagnosis and treatment of potentially harmful conditions that may seem similar to reverse sneezing in terms of appearance but pose an actual health risk. These would include conditions such as a respiratory tract infection, difficulty breathing, collapsing trachea, or a Brachycephalic Airway Obstructive Syndrome, all of which are much more serious and can even be fatal. If your Bulldog has never reverse sneezed before but started to recently, make sure to take note of the circumstances to help pinpoint the trigger and, if possible, to avoid it. If the reverse sneezing onset is sudden, frequent, or occurring in an older dog, make sure to take your four-legged family member to the veterinarian for a check-up to rule out nasal tumors or viral infections.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While Bulldogs and other Brachycephalic breeds tend to reverse sneeze more often than other breeds due to their physical build, it does not immediately rule out all the other potential causes. In addition to exercise, excitement and physical irritation, a dog’s reverse sneezing may be triggered by a sudden change in temperature. Some owners observe that their furball’s reverse sneezing episodes occur primarily in the winter time and are less frequent during the warmer weather. Depending on your dog’s health, symptoms and medical history a veterinarian may choose to prescribe allergy medication, anti-inflammatory or decongestant medication to ease your canine’s condition and make him feel a bit better.
Even though reverse sneezing is not as serious as it looks since it is similar in symptoms to a lot of life-threatening conditions it should not be left ignored. It is better to be safe than sorry, so take your furry buddy to the animal clinic to rule out any potentially life-threatening reasons for the episodes. If provided, follow any recommendations given by the veterinarian that are specific to your dog's needs.