dog nose close up reverse sneezing
Pet Health Questions and Answers

Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Reverse sneezing can be confused for many other things, from coughing and sneezing to difficulty breathing and choking. It’s important to know the difference to treat your dog’s condition with the right amount of urgency.

When your dog makes several sharp exhales in a row, it’s known as reverse sneezing. Your dog may make a honking noise similar to a goose, and it might sound scary like they’re struggling to breathe. Reverse sneezing shouldn’t be prolonged—if so, a trip to the emergency veterinarian is in order.

Learn all about reverse sneezing in dogs, what causes it, and what you can do to help your pup below. We’ll also discuss other conditions commonly confused for reverse sneezing.

What is Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

Reverse sneezing is when your dog inhales sharply and repetitively. It may sound like your dog has difficulty breathing or is honking like a goose.

Pet parents sometimes mistake reverse sneezing as regular sneezing, coughing, or choking. If you do suspect the latter, it’s incredibly important to call an emergency veterinary clinic or perform the Heimlich maneuver if you know how.

Reverse sneezing can be difficult to detect for those unfamiliar with it, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry in these cases. Your veterinarian should confirm a diagnosis of reverse sneezing and rule out other respiratory problems.

Related article: My Dog Won’t Stop Sneezing

bulldog reverse sneezing
Bulldog Reverse Sneezing

What Causes Reverse Sneezing in Dogs?

While we don’t know for sure what causes reverse sneezing, it seems to boil down to a few factors:

  • Nerves or excitement
  • Irritation in the nose
  • Inflammation

Your dog may be all wound up and ready for a walk or feel frightened by something like another dog. Dogs with long muzzles seem to be most affected, likely because more debris can accumulate in their airways.

Irritants can include a wide range of things including:

Nasal Mites

Nasal mites are tiny bugs that can infest your dog’s nostrils. They cause symptoms like sneezing, reverse sneezing, bloody discharge, itching, and high-pitched breathing.

Dogs can catch nasal mites through interaction with soil or other infected dogs.

To diagnose nasal mites, your veterinarian may need to flush your dog’s nose or use an endoscope to look inside. Nasal mites are treated with antiparasitics.

Sometimes, symptoms remain after treatment. Follow up with your veterinarian if the symptoms don’t clear up or become worse.

Foreign Bodies in the Nostrils

If your dog gets something caught in their nose, it can cause a host of issues including reverse sneezing, regular sneezing, and bloody discharge.

A foreign body could be anything but is most likely to be something small and light that your dog was sniffing, such as a blade of grass, a tuft of fur, or a seed.

Sometimes it will come out on its own and sometimes veterinary care is required. It’s important not to try to remove the item from your dog’s nostril yourself—you could accidentally push it up further instead.

Snot

Your dog’s own snot can work as an irritant, making them reverse sneeze. Think about when you have a cold and your nose is all stuffy!

Excess discharge is typically a symptom of something deeper. It could be simple, like a doggy cold, or more severe, like canine influenza or pneumonia.

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to find the cause. If your dog shows severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or coughing up blood, bring them to an emergency clinic.

dog snout in flower patch sneezing
Dog Snout in Flowers

Allergens

If your dog has allergies, their allergens will irritate their nose. This can cause symptoms like sneezing, reverse sneezing, itchy skin, and discharge from the eyes and nose.

You might notice that your dog only reverse sneezes at particular times, such as when pollen from that bush in the yard is floating through the air, during the spring months, or when it’s rainy and humid outside.

Like humans, dogs can have all sorts of allergens. The season, certain food or plants, or something in the house could be setting them off.

Allergies aren’t typically severe enough to be life-threatening but they will annoy your dog, especially if their symptoms are continuous.

Schedule a visit with your veterinarian. They can figure out precisely what your dog is allergic to and treat them from there.

Tumors

Nasal tumors are one of the more severe causes of reverse sneezing in dogs. These tumors are cancerous and spread locally, sometimes into the brain. It’s crucial to treat dogs with nasal tumors quickly after diagnosis.

Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

You may notice symptoms like nasal discharge, nose bleeds, or a deformity in your dog’s nose. If the cancer has spread to the brain, neurological symptoms may also be present.

Odors

Certain odors can sometimes trigger reverse sneezing as they irritate your dog’s nose. These may include cigarette smoke, perfumes, cleaning products, candles, air fresheners, or essential oil diffusers. Anything with a strong scent is a risk (and remember, your dog’s nose is much stronger than yours!).

It’s also important to keep in mind other health aspects of these products. For instance, second-hand smoke can harm your dog just like it can other humans.

Certain essential oils can also harm your dog, despite being marketed as pet-friendly. Toxic essential oils include citrus, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and peppermint. Just breathing them in can impact your dog’s health.

Elongated Soft Palate

Elongated soft palate is typically seen in short-muzzled breeds with Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. Brachycephalic, or short-muzzled, dogs are poorly-bred to have shortened snouts, which impacts their respiratory system and ability to breathe.

The soft palate, or roof of the mouth, can extend too far toward the throat, blocking your dog’s airway. Symptoms include reverse sneezing, noisy breathing, snoring, and difficulty exercising.

Dogs with many deformities as a part of their Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome will experience more symptoms at a young age, which can be as severe as heart damage, fainting, and bronchial collapse.

Most dogs are diagnosed at one to four years old, with more severe cases presenting earlier in life. This is a serious condition that typically requires surgery.

Is Reverse Sneezing Dangerous?

Reverse sneezing is seldom dangerous. It can sometimes clear up on its own without medical intervention.

If your dog reverse sneezes often or continuously, contact your veterinarian. This will ensure it really is reverse sneezing, and your vet can determine its cause.

Sometimes something as simple as allergy medication can stop reverse sneezing in its tracks! Rarely, your dog might be suffering from something worse, like a nasal tumor, that needs immediate treatment.

How to Stop Reverse Sneezing

The first step to stop reverse sneezing is to seek veterinary care. It’s vital that you know exactly what you’re dealing with because sometimes, reverse sneezing can be a symptom of a greater issue.

Once your veterinarian has cleared your pup of underlying conditions, try the following:

Throat Massage

Massage your dog’s throat gently until they inhale. This usually ends the reverse sneezing.

While stroking their throat, soothe your dog with your voice and keep the environment as calm as possible. Anxiety and excitement can both cause reverse sneezing, so a few quiet, stress-free minutes also help.

You might also consider holding your dog’s nostrils together for just a couple of seconds—of course, don’t hold them any longer than this!

Blow on the Dog’s Face

Blowing on your dog’s face can force them to swallow, which may end their reverse sneezing.

Fresh Air

Fresh air can help calm your dog. Overheating can cause reverse sneezing, so cool temperatures are best if you can manage it. Sitting in front of a fan or inside an air-conditioned room with them will also work!

Calm them Down

You know your dog best. Think about what calms them down and apply that!

Do they love cuddles and pets? Would they prefer for you to sit a distance away, stroking their neck and talking in a low voice?

The calmer your dog is, the sooner the reverse sneezing is likely to end.

Medication is Rarely Needed

On rare occasions, medication from the veterinarian is needed to stop reverse sneezing. After all, it can be quite uncomfortable if it persists, even if there aren’t any underlying conditions to be found.

As we discussed above, other treatments may be necessary if your dog is suffering from an underlying medical issue as well.

dog watching a woman sneeze into a tissue
Woman Sneezing

Reverse Sneezing vs Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse is when your dog’s windpipe closes in on itself, flattening whenever your dog breathes in. This condition is serious and it’s important not to mistake it for reverse sneezing.

Tracheal collapse can happen to any dog but is most common in small breeds like Yorkies, Toy Poodles, Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, and Lhasa Apsos. It’s suspected to have a genetic component. It typically affects dogs over four years old.

The cough associated with tracheal collapse is described as a goose honk, just like the sound of reverse sneezing. You may notice it when:

  • Your dog is excited
  • At bedtime
  • When a collar puts pressure on your dog’s neck
  • In hot, humid conditions
  • After eating or drinking

Your veterinarian will diagnose by lightly pressing on your dog’s neck. If your dog coughs more or has trouble breathing, they’ll move onto imaging and use scopes to confirm diagnosis.

As you can see, even the triggers for these honking coughs and reverse sneezing can be similar. If your dog is reverse sneezing consistently, it’s important for them to see a veterinarian to rule out other ailments including tracheal collapse.

How to Know if Your Dog is Choking

Choking is another thing commonly confused for reverse sneezing. It’s also life-threatening and needs immediate attention!

Symptoms of choking include pawing at the mouth, coughing, drooling, gagging, retching, and rubbing their face on the floor. Your dog’s gums may eventually turn a blue color due to lack of airflow.

If you notice these symptoms, call your nearest emergency veterinarian for help or perform the Heimlich maneuver.