Reverse sneezing is relatively common in dogs, but it can be quite alarming to witness if you’re not familiar with it! Allergens like dust and pollen can trigger the response and hot weather, over-stimulation, and eating and drinking can make it worse.
Dr. Anna Foreman, Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet, gives some advice.
Reverse sneezing is an aptly named phenomenon – where a forward sneeze is a forceful expulsion of air that acts to clear mucous out of the nose due to irritation, a reverse sneeze is when an animal’s nose, soft palate, or throat is irritated and goes into spasm, leading to forced inhalation to try and ‘catch their breath’. An animal’s throat can be massaged, and their neck extended out to help an episode pass, however they are normally self-limiting.
A reverse sneeze most commonly occurs in response to dust or other irritants in the air. It can also occur when an animal is excited, is eating or drinking, or pulls on the lead when walking. The episode normally lasts for a short period of time and then does not occur again.
It is when an animal is seen to be reverse sneezing persistently that investigations should be performed to address why an animal has irritation in its nose. In these situations, reverse sneezing can be in response to exercise intolerance because of a heart issue, allergies or an abnormal structure/foreign body in the throat.
Investigations into reverse sneezing may involve different things depending on what is suspected to be the cause. An animal may be trialed on antihistamines or other medication if an allergy is suspected, a heart scan may be performed if a cardiac issue is suspected, or imaging (for example rhinoscopy – where a small camera is passed up the nasal passage) may be performed if a foreign body or mass is suspected.
Brachycephalic dogs (such as French bulldogs, pugs, etc.), especially smaller ones, commonly reverse sneeze due to malformation of their upper airways leaving an excess of soft tissue irritating the back of their nose (brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome – BOAS). In these cases, surgery can be performed to remove the excess soft tissue to open up the animal’s airways, leading to less resistance when breathing and exercising.
If an owner notices an animal persistently reverse sneezing or upper respiratory distress is seen, they should book an appointment with their vet for an examination.