Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Why is my dog gasping for air?

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Why is my dog gasping for air?

What is Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing?

There are a few causes for seeing your dog gasping for air or honking , one of these is commonly known as a reverse sneeze.  The occasional gasp for air can be caused by an irritation of the soft palate and throat and is a spasm that will likely quickly pass.  However, if you notice your dog gasping for air often or severely, or it becomes a chronic occurrence, you may have cause for some concern.  Chronic reverse sneezing and gasping for air may indicate one of the following conditions:

  • Allergies
  • Rhinitis and sinusitis due to viral infections
  • Nasal mites

The severity of a reverse sneeze is typically mild, but if your dog’s signs become chronic, you should seek medical assistance to determine the cause.  If your dog is gasping for air and cannot catch their breath, that requires emergency treatment.  

Why Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing Occurs in Dogs

There are a few reasons why your dog may be experiencing episodes of gasping for air.  Allergens can affect your dog causing respiratory gasps and honks as the mouth and throat go into a spasm.  More severe cases may be from viral infections that cause rhinitis.  Nasal mites, which are a microscopic mite may irritate your dog’s nasal passage and also cause the spasms that lead to gasping for air.  

Reverse sneezing can affect any type of dog but is more commonly seen in smaller dogs and dogs with long narrow nasal passages.  Dogs with flat faces, such as Boxer and Pugs are also prone to reverse sneezing.  Flat-faced dogs have elongated soft palates that occasionally get irritated, especially when excited, causing spasms.        

Allergies

Dust, pollen, perfumes, smoke, and other airborne particles may settle in your dog’s nasal passages and cause irritation and possibly inflammation. Intolerance to an allergen can cause your dog’s immune system to overreact and manifest respiratory symptoms such as reverse sneezing, coughing, and sneezing in addition to having watery, itchy eyes, a runny nose, itchy skin, and excessive licking.  Allergies can affect any breed and any age.  

Rhinitis and Sinusitis

Rhinitis and sinusitis can occur when the mucous membranes of your dog’s nose and sinuses become inflamed due to a viral infection.  The most common culprits causing rhinitis in your dog are canine distemper, adenovirus type 1 and 2, and parainfluenza.  A viral infection will lower your dog’s ability to fight disease, and a secondary bacterial infection most often accompanies the viral infection, further aggravating your dog’s symptoms. In addition to reverse sneezing and coughing, you may notice your dog has bad breath, opens his mouth to breathe or has labored panting, and rubs or paws at his face.      

Nasal Mites

Nasal mites are microscopic mites that can live in a dog’s nasal passage. The infection does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms, but occasionally your dog may experience coughing, reverse sneezing, or other respiratory symptoms.  Nasal mites are easily transmitted by touching nose to nose with an infected dog.  A nasal mite infection can affect any type of dog at any age.

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What to do if your Dog is Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing

If your dog starts breathing rapidly through the nose followed by a snorting or gasping sound, he is possibly experiencing a reverse sneeze.  Once the reverse sneeze spasm subsides, your dog will be back to normal; however, if your dog is experiencing multiple episodes, you will want to observe any accompanying signs and consult with your veterinarian.  

In most cases, reverse sneezing does not require medical treatment.  If your dog is experiencing an episode, you can raise his head slightly and gently stroke his throat to help calm the spasms.  If your dog’s reverse sneezing is allergy-related, your veterinarian may suggest administering an antihistamine.  You should also bathe your dog with hypoallergenic shampoos and try to keep the dust down inside your home.  Though plants can also be the cause of allergy-related reverse sneezing, fresh, cool air is also recommended when your dog is experiencing an episode.  

When gasping for air is accompanied by other symptoms or behaviors or becomes chronic, you will want to consult with your veterinarian to determine the cause of the issue.  Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination and determine the cause, be it a viral or bacterial infection or possibly nasal mites. 

If your dog is diagnosed with nasal mites, you will need to keep him away from other dogs and follow strict instructions provided by your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian will also administer medications to help rid your dog of nasal mites.

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Prevention of Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing

Reserve sneezing can be common in some dogs, especially small dogs and those with flat faces.  Your dog may be perfectly healthy before and after his episode, but you can prevent some of the health conditions that may cause reverse sneezing.  If you can determine your dog’s allergy-related problem is due to a particular plant or allergen, you can take steps to avoid the allergen.  This may be difficult to achieve but is possible.  Fresh water and a clean home will also help alleviate your dog’s allergy-related issues.

Antihistamines and decongestants, at your veterinarian’s orders, will help keep inflammation down in the nasal passages; thus preventing chronic or acute inflammation caused by a viral or bacterial infection.  

Finally, fresh air and exercise are also good for your dog but be careful not to let him come into contact with strays or other unknown dogs as they may be infected with nasal mites.  Fresh air and exercise often excite your dog, and he may pull at this leash or pant heavily in excitement.  This type of behavior may cause a spasm of the soft palate leading to gasping for air and honking noises.  Try to calm down your companion by rubbing on his throat and soothing him.  Proper socialization and training will go a long way in preventing excitement induced spasms.

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Cost of Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing

Treatment cost will vary depending on the cause of your dog’s reverse sneezing.  For example, nasal mite treatment can cost around $300 while treatment for rhinitis can cost around $1,500.  However, the average cost of treating conditions related to reverse sneezing is around $350.

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Gasping for Air/Reverse Sneezing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Australian Shepherd

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One Year

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46 found helpful

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46 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My dog had a few episodes of wheezing tonight. She was okay all night until she just started honking and having a hard time breathing. I tried to get her to gag to see if there was something blocking her passageway, but nothing happened. So i just held her to calm her down until she stopped wheezing a few moments later. Then this happened again, she would wheeze, i would hold her and pet her to calm her and she'd stop. Happened one more time, and this time i gave her some honey and she hasnt wheezed the rest of the night. Is this something i should be worried about? Thank you for reading

Jan. 10, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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46 Recommendations

If the behaviour does not continue and she is acting normal with normal breathing, this may have been a reverse sneeze or it could be that e.g. dust irritated her airway. If it recurs, she should see a vet to check her heart and lungs and establish what is going on.

Jan. 10, 2021

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Labrador Retriever

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One Year

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11 found helpful

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11 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My dog got neutered on 12/29 and had to stay overnight at the vet per their policy...they gave him a bordetella vaccine while he was there. On 1/1 his nose started running a lot (clear) and he started sneezing a lot and periodically reverse sneezing...it is still happening and it's been 6 days

Jan. 7, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Maureen M. DVM

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11 Recommendations

Hi, Sorry about that. Neutering can put a dog under some stress for a few days which can have an impact on their immunity. That said your dog may be exhibiting some mild symptoms from the vaccine that was adminstered which sometimes happens. It could also be possible that he may have contracted a respiratory infection while at the kennels while boarding which also common. I would advise you visit your vet for a better diagnosis and also possible treatment. Good luck

Jan. 7, 2021

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