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What is Gasping for Air?

Chances are you’ve heard your dog gasping for air or honking and making a terrible noise commonly known as a reverse sneeze.  The occasional gasp for air is caused by an irritation of the soft palate and throat and is a spasm that will quickly pass.  However, if you notice your dog gasping for air often and 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 or gasping for air is usually mild, but if your dog’s symptoms become chronic, you should seek medical assistance to determine the cause.

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Why Gasping for Air 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 gasping for air but not due to potential medical conditions.  Flat-faced dogs have elongated soft palates that occasionally get sucked into the throat while breathing, especially when excited, causing spasms.        


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, gasping for air, 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 gasping for air 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 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.

What to do if your Dog is Gasping for Air

If your dog starts breathing rapidly through the nose followed by a snorting or gasping sound, he is probably 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 symptoms and consult with your veterinarian.  

In most cases, reverse sneezing does not require medical treatment because it is a regular respiratory event in some dogs.  If your dog is experiencing an episode, you can raise his head slightly, cover his nostrils, 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 gasping, 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 vet will perform a full physical examination and conduct a rhinoscopy and nasal flushing to 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 vet will also administer drug treatments to help rid your dog of nasal mites.

Prevention of Gasping for Air

Gasping for air, honking, and reserve sneezing are common in 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 gasping 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.

Cost of Gasping for Air

Treatment cost will vary depending on the cause of your dog’s need to gasp for air.  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 gasping for air is around $350.

Gasping for Air Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Australian Shepherd
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


My dog is wheezing and his panting seems to getting louder and at a lower tone

A vet once called it “old man trache”. It seems to be getting louder and he is now wheezing at times.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2115 Recommendations
With the symptoms, especially the honking I am concerned about tracheal collapse; you should return to your Veterinarian for another examination especially if Kramer is struggling to breathe. Medical management may be beneficial in mild or moderate cases, but this is something to certainly return to your Veterinarian to discuss. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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