Why Does My Dog Sneeze Backwards?

It’s not as bad as it sounds …

It’s alarming, and a little funny. It can sound like a cross between a snort, choke and snuffle — but what really is a reverse sneeze?

If you’ve never witnessed the phenomenon before, it can be quite startling. Your dog goes still, extends his head and neck, and breathes in and out reflexively. While it may seem like a symptom of the common cold, a case of the backward sniffles is fairly common in dogs (and, occasionally, cats).

Reverse sneezing is an irritation of the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and above the soft palate, which can cause a pet to breathe in rapidly, explains Dr. Robert Proietto, a veterinarian in New York City.

Episodes of reverse sneezing can be sudden or last up to a minute, Proietto notes, so you might want to keep those tissues handy. What causes the action can differ from dog to dog, though it’s rarely a sign of something serious. “It can result from things like a foreign object in the nose, like grass or plant awn, a mass or nasal mites,” Proietto tells The Dodo. “Most commonly, it is associated with allergies.”

Reverse sneezing also has a genetic component to it.

“Some pets have an elongated soft palate that can cause this to happen when they are excited, drink water or after eating,” Proietto notes. You can expect to see it more frequently in smaller dogs or snub-nosed breeds, such as terriers, pugs, Brussels Griffons and many others. “Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners actually call this the Cavalier snort because it is so common in this breed,” Proietto adds.

Like humans, dogs can suffer from all kinds of breathing issues, and reverse sneezing should not be confused with symptoms of a tracheal collapse, the chronic narrowing of the windpipe, which produces a series of dry, honking coughs. Tracheal collapse is primarily seen in toy breeds, such as Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Yorkies and toy poodles, and should be monitored by a veterinarian.

The uncontrollable, spasmodic nature of a reverse sneeze may be distressing to a cautious pet parent, but after an episode is over, your dog should return to his normal waggy self.

“If it is just an occasional event that is not increasing in frequency, then it is likely not anything to worry about,” Proietto says. “It would be recommended to discuss it with your veterinarian so they can examine the nose and mouth to be sure nothing else is going on.”

Consult your vet if your dog is reverse sneezing frequently, as this may be the result of a foreign body stuck in his nasal passage. If that’s not the case, well, your pup probably just has allergies. “If we can rule the serious concerns out then we may treat allergies with antihistamines or use medications to decrease the inflammation of the nasopharynx,” Proietto adds.

To shorten this odd sneezing fit, rubbing your dog’s nose and throat or gently blowing in your dog’s face can help. Even though these spasms shouldn’t hurt your pup, help him stay calm and comfortable until the episode ends.