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What is …? Reverse sneezing

Author: Dr Michelle Gray 

Is it a cough? Is it a sneeze? Is it choking or retching? No … it’s a reverse sneeze! The first time you see it, reverse sneezing looks rather odd and concerning. Animals will make a snorting/ gagging sort of noise while extending their head and neck, and will often do this repeatedly for a minute or so. You may think your pet is choking or gagging or retching, but what you are actually seeing is a sudden, forceful intake of air through the nasal passages. This differs from a regular sneeze where air is forced out of the nose- in reverse sneezing air is sucked in (hence the name ‘reverse’ sneeze).

How can I tell if my pet is reverse sneezing?

If you are not sure if your pet is reverse sneezing, the best thing to do is take a video to show your local vet/ vet nurse. They will normally be able to confirm if the behaviour is or is not reverse sneezing. There are also many videos available on-line which can help you identify reverse sneezing.

What causes reverse sneezing?

Reverse sneezing is caused by irritation in the back of the nasal passages- near to where they connect with the mouth and the trachea (main airway). This differs from regular sneezing which is caused by an irritation in the front of the nasal passages. A common cause of reverse sneezing is displacement of the soft palate (the flap of tissue that separates the nasal and oral cavities) so that it partially covers the tracheal opening. Other possible causes include allergies, dust/ pollen particles, nasal mites, nasal polyps or masses. In many cases of reverse sneezing a cause cannot be identified.

Which animals is reverse sneezing most common in?

Reverse sneezing is most common in dogs. It is particularly common in those with short muzzles such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, Shih Tzu etc. although it can occur in any breed. Reverse sneezing is much rarer in cats and other species.

Should I be worried about reverse sneezing?

In the vast majority of cases, reversing sneezing is just a normal bodily function (like sneezing) and nothing to be concerned about. Although dogs can sometimes appear anxious while reverse sneezing, and the noise can sound concerning, there is no need to panic. Episodes of reverse sneezing usually last less than a minute or two, and do not normally reflect any underlying disease or injury. There are some circumstances in which reverse sneezing may warrant veterinary investigation. These include: reverse sneezing associated with nasal discharge or bleeding from the nose; reverse sneezing that is increasing in frequency; abnormal breathing between episodes of reverse sneezing; and any reverse sneezing in a cat.

How I can stop my pet reverse sneezing?

Reverse sneezing cannot be prevented (any more than sneezing can). Most episodes of reverse sneezing are self-limiting and so you do not need to do anything. If you wish to try and stop the episode of reverse sneezing a little quicker, the aim is to make your pet swallow. This can be achieved by offering a treat or a drink, by massaging around the neck, or by gently pinching the nostrils closed (for no more than 2sec).

Disclaimer: The information and advice in this post is general in nature. It is not intended as a substitute for tailored health care advice from your regular veterinarian.