It’s easy to get used to your dogs’ most quirky behavior - from aww-inducing moments and hilarious fails to slightly annoying habits and back to his cute traits. However, nearly all owners are taken by surprise and fear when they see their dog have a pharyngeal gag reflex or in other words a reverse sneeze for the very first time. That isn’t really surprising as reverse sneezing can look pretty scary. Depending on your dog, it might look like your dog is choking, having a seizure or not being able to breathe. All of these options can send the most veteran and experienced dog-owner into a panic. Although reverse sneezing looks similar to the above situations it is actually very different and much less serious. However, considering the severity of the alternatives, it is best for every owner to be able to identify them and recognize the difference to know when and how to treat them.
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
Though usually mild episodes of reverse sneezing don’t require intervention or treatment, there are several things you could try on your dog to make these episodes shorter and to make your dog feel calmer during them. First and foremost, you need to remain calm despite your natural urge to freak out and panic. You can also try gently blowing on your dogs’ face or grabbing your dog firmly by his mouth to hold it closed while also closing one of his nostrils for a few seconds. You can also try massaging your dogs’ throat and speaking to him in a relaxed voice.
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.
Though reverse sneezing can look very alarming, it usually goes away by itself in a few minutes and doesn’t require treatment. However, due to its similarity to other potentially life-threatening health conditions, it is crucial for dog owners to be aware of the other conditions. In the case of frequent reverse-sneezing, you should take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out anything serious.
By a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/30/2020