What is Reverse Sneezing?

(or that terrifying sound like your dog can't breathe, but it actually means nothing much).

Reverse sneezing, is technically known as the "mechanosensitive aspiration reflex" and is a common phenomenon in dogs. In a regular sneeze, your dog pushes air out through the nose; however, in a reverse sneeze, air is pulled rapidly in through the nose making a noise like he's gasping for breath.  If you have a pack, be aware the sneezing dog may appear vulnerable in those few seconds and if you have an dogs with attitudes or aggression, they may attack so we'll just shoo them out of the room if they seem too interested in the 'sneezer'.   

What a Reverse Sneeze Looks Like

One of the most common questions new pet owners have is about a reverse sneeze....some have never seen one before and panic! During a reverse sneeze, your dog will make rapid inhales through his nose, if standing will stand still with his elbows spread apart, extend his head downward, and his eyes may bulge. He'll make a loud snorting sound, which sounds like he's gasping for air but through his nose. Many dog owners think their pet is suffocating during a reverse sneeze episode but they are not.  It's very uncomfortable to watch as you want to do something to help. A reverse sneeze generally lasts for less than a minute up to two minutes and is harmless.

Causes of Reverse Sneezing

The exact reason for these reverse sneezing episodes is unknown but may be related to allergies, nasal irritants, or nasal inflammation. I've noticed if you raise the head whatever is tickling his nose appears to drain and it will usually stop almost immediately so my theory is it's post-nasal drip in dogs.  Any age, breed or sex can be affected. It looks scary - like the dog isn't breathing - but it's really harmless and is nothing to be concerned about.  Attacks of reverse sneezing look disturbing – many people fear that their dog is suffocating during these episodes – but it is not a harmful condition and there are no ill effects. Reverse sneezing attacks are generally quite brief and not life threatening. Between episodes, the dog acts normal and a dog can go days, weeks months even years between sneezes. If it's very frequent, a more serious condition may be the underlying cause such as allergies or mites. If it happens constantly, tests for nasal mites or even nasal cancer should be done.

How to Stop a Reverse Sneezing Episode

The way to stop a reverse sneeze is to get the dog to swallow - either by massaging the throat or covering the nose.  I've lifted the nose into the air and had them stop as well.  If a dog has reverse sneezing episodes so frequently they are disrupting life, then perhaps medications may be needed to reduce their frequency - but generally it's not anything to worry about. If it happens often (daily or several times a day), look for nasal discharge, bloody nose, regular sneezing, difficulty breathing, and abnormalities around the nose area, decreased appetite and/or lethargy which may be symptoms of something more serious in which case you'll want to consult with your veterinarian.

Why Do Dogs Sneeze When They Play?

If you’ve ever noticed your dog sneezes when he gets excited or while playing, there’s a reason for it. Dogs sneeze to say they want to play. It sounds slightly different from a regular sneeze. If you hear that sound from your dog, it means he wants to play or he’s excited. It’s why some dogs sneeze when their owner comes home after work: he’s happy to see you and wants to play.

If you want to test it, try doing that sneeze to your dog and see how he responds. I've had sneezing conversations with some dogs...sneeze at them and they'll sneeze back.  Not all will do it, but some do.  It's their way of saying I like you and lets play!