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Reverse Sneezing: What Is It And Why Do Dogs Do It?

Written by Ella White


Beautiful German Shepherd

Ever noticed your dog make a loud, snorting noise that sounds like a sneeze… but not quite? It can be slightly worrying the first time it happens. But the chances are, your pup just did a reverse sneeze. Most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about. But to help you get clued up on all the reasons for reverse sneezing and whether your dog needs help or treatment, we’ve rounded up all the info in this article.

What Is Reverse Sneezing In Dogs?

When the soft palate in the back and roof of your dog’s mouth becomes irritated, it can cause a ‘reverse sneeze’. Unlike regular sneezing which occurs in the nose and nasal passages, a reverse sneeze happens when the muscles in the mouth spasm, and cause the trachea to narrow.

When this happens, you might notice your dog extends their neck and expands their chest in an attempt to breathe deeply. But due to the temporarily narrowed trachea, they are unable to breathe in properly through their mouth. They will then attempt to breathe in through their nose, resulting in a backwards sneeze.

What Happens When A Dog Reverse Sneezes?

If your dog is reverse sneezing, you will notice them standing still and extending their head and neck as they attempt to breathe into the chest through their mouth or nose. When this fails due to their narrowed trachea, the reverse sneeze comes out as a loud noise that sounds like a snort.

A separate issue, which can sound like honking rather than snorting, is tracheal collapse. More common in toy breeds, a collapsed trachea is a more serious problem and will require medical attention.

What Are The Causes Of Reverse Sneezing In Dogs?

When a dog sneezes normally, it’s because they are trying to get rid of a foreign body or irritant – like dust – that’s in their nose. A reverse sneeze is caused by the same irritation, only in the soft palate of their mouth.

There are a number of external issues that can cause this irritation, including:

  • Allergies
  • Eating and drinking
  • An elongated soft palate, especially in brachycephalic breeds
  • Excitement
  • Foreign bodies in the throat
  • Mites in the nasal passage
  • A reaction to household products and fragrances
  • An intolerance to exercise

What Does Reverse Sneezing Sound Like?

The most common comparison for the noise made when a dog reverse sneezes is snorting, or honking similar to a goose. Though it’s called reverse sneezing – because the action is of inhaling a sneeze – it does not sound similar to sneezing.

The noise can be slightly disturbing if you’ve never seen or heard it before. But most of the time, it is not a problem and is simply a way for your dog to unblock their trachea and should only last up to 30 seconds.

However, if your dog is reverse sneezing repeatedly, it could be a sign of a more serious issue.

How To Treat Reverse Sneezing In Dogs

If your dog reverse sneezes due to an allergic reaction, your vet might prescribe them a course of antihistamines. You should also remove the allergen from their environment – particularly if it is a household cleaning product or other item that is easy to replace with something that doesn’t cause allergic reactions in your dog.

Your vet might also carry out an examination or X-ray to check for any possible abnormalities or underlying causes of their reverse sneezing.

However, if your dog has a bout of reverse sneezing that is not caused by allergies, there are some home remedies you can use to help them get over the irritation. Verbally calming them down, and placing them outside or somewhere with access to fresh, cool air will help them breathe more easily. Similarly, blowing very lightly on their face might cause them to sneeze.

You could also massage their throat gently to help the irritation pass, or very gently cover their nostrils so they swallow. However, in most cases dogs will quickly get over their bout of reverse sneezing with no need for intervention.

Is Reverse Sneezing Dangerous For Dogs?

Though reverse sneezing might be worrying to witness for the first time, it is not harmful or dangerous for your dog. It’s perfectly normal and will not cause your dog any pain. However, if the cause of the sneezing is an allergy or other health issue, then prolonged exposure to the allergen or lack of treatment for their condition could have detrimental effects on their health.