Should I Worry If My Dog Is Reverse Sneezing?

Honk, honk!

reverse sneezing in dogs

The first time you randomly hear a honking-like sound from your dog, you might get pretty worried — but he’s most likely reverse sneezing.

If you don’t know what reverse sneezing is, you're probably wondering how sneezing can even be reversed in the first place, and why it sounds so much like your pup is hacking, coughing or even choking.

Reverse sneezing happens when your dog essentially sneezes backwards, meaning he’s inhaling while he’s sneezing instead of exhaling.

It seems alarming, but it’s actually pretty harmless!

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Cristina Bustamante, an associate veterinarian with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Florida and founder of Dr. B Vet, who explained everything you need to know about reverse sneezing in dogs and why it’s really not a big deal!

What is reverse sneezing, exactly?

Reverse sneezing is when your dog sneezes by inhaling air rather than expelling it.

“Reverse sneezing is also known as sneezing inwards,” Dr. Bustamante told The Dodo. “It is not as common in cats compared to dogs.”

This condition is also known as paroxysmal respiration.

Why do dogs reverse sneeze?

There are a few different reasons why dogs reverse sneeze, but the main cause is irritation in their airways.

“There are multiple causes, and these usually involve irritation of your pet’s pharynx (area between the nose and throat),” Dr. Bustamante said. “This irritation is most often due to irritants such as allergens, foreign objects or post-nasal drip.”

Your dog could also find himself having a reverse-sneezing fit just from getting too excited, like after you come home from work or during a super fun play session.

“Another common cause is excitement. Some dogs will have reverse sneezing when they are too excited, such as when their parents come home from a vacation,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Weirdly enough, reverse sneezing can also be caused by traditional sneezing.

“Causes of regular sneezing can also cause reverse sneezing,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Therefore, when dogs have respiratory infections, such as with viruses or bacteria, they can also have reverse sneezing.”

What does a reverse sneeze sound like?

A reverse sneeze can sound like honking, wheezing or snorting, and sometimes pet parents can even mistake it for choking.

“Reverse sneezing is an involuntary event when a dog rapidly inhales air through the nose and makes strange honking noises,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Some dogs will make a hacking noise right after their reverse sneeze.”

Reverse sneezing vs. choking

Given the weird noises your dog is making during a fit of reverse sneezing, you might be nervous that he’s actually choking.

“It can be very scary to pet owners, who often describe the event as if their pet is choking,” Dr. Bustamante said.

But if your dog’s choking, it’s because his airway’s blocked and he can’t breathe. Whereas if he’s reverse sneezing, he can still breathe and is totally fine as soon as the episode is over.

“Reverse sneezes usually last a few seconds, and the pet seems totally normal otherwise,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell the difference between choking and reverse sneezing, especially if you’ve never seen your dog have a reverse-sneezing fit before.

“When in doubt, it is best to bring your pet to the veterinarian and be told that it was just a reverse sneeze,” Dr. Bustamante said. “If it seems that your pet cannot breathe, then take your pet to an emergency hospital.”

Since reverse-sneezing episodes don’t last very long, it'll probably be over by the time you get to the vet’s office.

So, in case you don’t get to the vet in time, Dr. Bustamante recommends filming what appears to be your pup’s reverse-sneezing fit to get confirmation from your vet that it’s what you think it is (which will help you identify any future episode, too).

“Best advice is to take a video of your dog doing it and show it to your veterinarian to confirm that your pet is having reverse sneezing,” Dr. Bustamante said.

While reverse sneezing itself isn’t harmful to your dog, there are concerning ailments with symptoms that look very similar to reverse sneezing (which is why it’s always important to consult your vet if you’re unsure).

“There are other more serious conditions, such as tracheal collapse, that could be confused with reverse sneezing,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Reverse sneezing vs. coughing

Since reverse sneezing in dogs can sound like hacking or honking, it might also be mistaken for coughing.

But the main difference between coughing and reverse sneezing is the direction of airflow.

“Coughing is different because pets exhale air when coughing, whereas reverse sneezing occurs with inhalation,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Coughing usually needs treatment, whereas reverse sneezing rarely needs medical treatment.”

Dog respiratory infection symptoms

Sometimes, reverse sneezing can be caused by a respiratory infection in dogs.

If the reverse sneezing is caused by a respiratory infection, your pup can experience other symptoms, like:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Regular sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased energy level

How to stop reverse sneezing in dogs

If you’re trying to figure out how to stop your dog from reverse sneezing, it turns out that you really don’t need to, since reverse sneezing is harmless and ends pretty quickly.

“Honestly, most reverse sneezing does not need treatment or interventions,” Dr. Bustamante said.

But if you really want to help your pup during an episode, you could always gently stroke his neck to help him relax.

“Some people recommend gently covering one nostril with your hands,” Dr. Bustamante said.

If your dog is having frequent fits of reverse sneezing, however, you should definitely chat with your vet to treat any possible underlying conditions, like allergies. “Common treatment [for chronic reverse sneezing] is allergy medication,” Dr. Bustamante said.

“Your veterinarian can also rule out other causes of reverse sneezing by doing testing, such as blood tests, radiographs and oral exams,” Dr. Bustamante said.

But overall, reverse sneezing sounds a lot scarier than it actually is, and once you know how to identify it, you don’t have to stress when it happens.

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