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What is Inverted Sneezing?

Dogs often make some odd noises. Many breeds snort, yawn, or whine on a regular basis. However, especially if your dog is one of the brachycephalic breeds – those that have short muzzles and short heads such as Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Boxers – you may notice more than the normal noises from your dog. One particularly strange noise (and one that is cause for concern) seems like a reverse sneeze. An inverted sneeze (or reverse sneeze) often sounds like snorting. It is characterized by your dog’s seeming to inhale while he is sneezing (thus the snorting sound). At this time your dog may stand still and rapidly inhale air; often it may appear as if he is hyperventilating. While watching your dog sneeze in this fashion can be unnerving, be aware that there are several causes for inverted sneezing, and not all of them are seriously harmful to your dog. They include:

  • Brachycephalic syndrome
  • Spasms
  • Allergies and environmental odors
  • Other causes

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Why Inverted Sneezing Occurs in Dogs

Brachycephalic Syndrome

Brachycephalic literally means “shortened head.” It is the feature that makes Boston Terriers, Pugs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs (English, especially) so adorable, but it can also cause breathing abnormalities as well. Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome often have the characteristic “smashed-in” face, but they may also suffer from stenotic nares, and elongated soft palate, a hypoplastic trachea, and everted laryngeal saccules. These airway abnormalities make it difficult for brachycephalic dogs to breathe normally (hence the snorting and snoring that is normal for these dogs). Mildly affected dogs will exhibit these symptoms from time to time; one thing to note is that brachycephalic dogs should never be exposed to extreme heat or lengthy exercise because of their abnormal breathing. Dogs with more severe brachycephalic symptoms may faint or have other episodes of respiratory stress. However, most pups can have a fairly normal life even with these abnormalities. Your vet can examine your pet and determine just how severe your dog’s abnormalities are. Often, very little treatment is necessary for mildly affected brachycephalic dogs. 


Spasms are often caused by irritation of the throat and soft palate. Irritation can be caused by excitement, a tight collar (or your dog pulling at his leash), and exercise intolerance. Rarely, the irritation can be caused by a respiratory infection or chronic post-nasal drip, both of which should be treated by your vet. 

Allergies and Environmental Odors

Like humans, dogs can experience allergies too. These allergies can be caused by grass, flowers, and dust, but they can also be triggered by perfume, household cleaners, or room fragrance sprays. 

Other irritants, such as a trapped blade of grass or some other foreign object, could also be to blame, so if your dog is older and has never experienced an inverted sneeze, you might want to see the vet just to be sure that there is nothing lodged in his nasal passages.

Other Causes

Irritants such as those mentioned above, inflammation of the nasal passages, and nasal mites can often prove to be the reason behind inverted sneezing. Nasal cancer is also a rare, but distinct, possibility. Your vet will need to do testing to find nasal mites or cancer. Obesity is also a rare reason for inverted sneezes (often overweight dogs will display the same symptoms as a dog with a nasal obstruction). It is always best to see your vet to rule out any serious problems.

What to do if your Dog is Inverted Sneezing

Even though watching your dog in the middle of an inverted sneeze can be a scary experience, often nothing needs to be done once the attack is over. Most dogs who have mild cases of inverted sneezing are diagnosed at a young age; however, if you notice your older dog begin to have sneezing attacks (where there were none before), see your vet to rule out any serious health issues. Also, if your dog has experienced inverted sneezing throughout the course of his life, but you notice an increase in the frequency and severity of the attacks, take him to the vet for an exam.

Prevention of Inverted Sneezing

While inverted sneezing in brachycephalic dogs can’t truly be prevented, there are ways to prevent it in other types of dogs. Do not spray household chemicals, perfumes, or room deodorizers/fragrances around your dog, especially in an enclosed room. With any breed, in particular the brachycephalic type of dog, never exercise them to overexertion or exhaustion. Choose an appropriate collar for your pet, taking care not to tug abruptly when walking them. Annual wellness checks at the veterinarian will aid in keeping your pet the healthiest possible.

Cost of Inverted Sneezing

Reverse or inverted sneezing rarely requires treatment. The average cost of treating reverse sneezing is $350. Other causes for inverted sneezing that may need to be addressed such as a nasal tumor, could be very expensive, with surgery and additional therapies averaging over $10,000.