Everyone sneezes sooner or later. People do it and so do many other animals, including cats and dogs. A sneeze is the body’s way of naturally expelling an irritant. But there’s one other condition, known as a reverse sneeze, which might be a little bit more mystifying. If your dog has fits of sniffing so hard they’re snorting or making a weird sound, you might be alarmed. Some pet owners think their dog is choking, having a seizure, or that they suffer from asthma. But reverse sneezing isn’t usually something to be afraid of. What is a reverse sneeze? Why do Chihuahuas do it? Is it dangerous? What can you do about it?
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The Root of the Behavior
Sneezing can be uncomfortable and annoying, particularly for people who have a cold or seasonal allergy. But it’s an important biological response that helps clear irritants from your nose. Anything from dust, pollen, pet dander, pepper, or mold can irritate your nose. The same is true for dogs. While not as common as allergies in humans, allergies in pets can happen. Your vet can diagnose allergies in your dog. Sneezing is a kind of reflex that expels air. A reverse sneeze is another kind of reflex, which also works to try and get rid of an irritant, but it does so by inhaling air, not expelling it. Reverse sneezing may also result from irritants in the throat, larynx (the “voice box”), or pharynx (the space that connects the nose and mouth to the esophagus). Any dog can reverse sneeze, but small breeds like Chihuahuas, and dogs with smooshed faces, called brachycephalic, tend to reverse sneeze more often. There are a number of things that may cause reverse sneezing. Allergies in dogs can cause reverse sneezing. Any irritant, just like those that affect humans, including dust, dander, mold, smoke, perfumes or cleansers, and various plants or pollen, and even foods can cause allergic reactions in dogs.
Allergic reactions can include skin irritation, itchiness, inflammation, and even digestive problems like diarrhea and vomiting. You can help figure out the cause of your dog’s reverse sneezing by keeping track of when they do it. If they only do it outside in the spring or summer, for example, it may just be a common allergen. If you are concerned about your dog’s reverse sneezing or your dog is displaying other symptoms, don’t hesitate to see your vet. They can help diagnose allergies or other conditions, and some treatments are available. Additionally, reverse sneezing can also be caused by excitement, over-exertion, a collar that’s too tight, pulling too hard on a leash, and even sudden changes in temperature. Reverse sneezing is generally harmless. However, there are more severe conditions that can cause reverse sneezing.
Encouraging the Behavior
For the most part, reverse sneezing is just a reflex and isn’t a cause for concern. But sometimes, your dog might become anxious during a fit of reverse sneezing. In that case, there are several things you can do for your dog. First and foremost, you should remain calm during your pet’s episode. Your stress and anxiety will only add to your dog’s stress and anxiety. Additionally, if your pet isn’t acting overwhelmed or aggressive, you can try a couple of things that may help assuage their fit of reverse sneezing. One way is to massage your dog’s throat, which may stop the spasm.
Another option that may end it is to briefly cover one of your dog’s nostrils. This should cause your dog to swallow, which can help to clear whatever is irritating their throat. Another way to help your dog during a reverse sneezing spasm is to press down on their tongue. Your dog will open their mouth wider by reflex, which should help air move through the nose better. Generally speaking, however, these kinds of home treatments aren’t necessary. For the most part, reverse sneezing is harmless, and most pets aren’t stressed by it. The spasm will only generally last a few seconds and then your pet will be completely fine.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Reverse sneezing is generally harmless, but there are more serious conditions that can cause reverse sneezing. If your dog starts reverse sneezing more frequently or for a longer duration, you should consult a vet. Likewise, if another dog begins reverse sneezing too, or reverse sneezes are accompanied by coughing, gagging, vomiting, or difficulty breathing (with gums that may turn blue), you should contact your vet. Parasites called nasal mites can cause reverse sneezing, but they can be treated by a vet. If you notice any nasal discharge or blood, you should also contact your vet so they can rule out other serious problems like a collapsing trachea, tumors, cancer, or other respiratory infections. Collapsing trachea is, unfortunately, a genetic condition common among Chihuahuas and will worsen over time.
Reverse sneezing may seem like your dog is having a scary kind of fit, but it’s normally just a spasm, the same as a sneeze. Just monitor your dog and make sure they’re not getting worse, spreading anything to other animals, or displaying other dangerous symptoms. Just like regular sneezing, reverse sneezing can be harmless or an indicator of something worse going on.