If you don’t know what’s happening, a bout of reverse sneezing in your assistance dog can be a strange and scary thing to witness. In fact, it can look like your hearing, guide, or service dog is having an asthma attack, choking, or otherwise struggling to breathe. This isn’t the case, though.
Occasional reverse sneezing in dogs is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Here’s some information about reverse sneezing in dogs to help you know what your assistance dog is doing and when you might need to bring it to your veterinarian’s attention.
What Is Reverse Sneezing?
While a regular sneeze entails a reflexive, rapid exhalation of air out through the nose, reverse sneezing is the reflexive, rapid inhalation of air in through the nose. The phenomenon also goes by some fancier-sounding names, like mechanosensitive aspiration reflex, inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, and pharyngeal gag reflex.
In dogs, an occasional reverse sneeze or series of reverse sneezes are just as normal and unconcerning as occasional regular sneezing. And it has normal, unconcerning causes.
Normal Causes of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs
Regular sneezes and reverse sneezes both typically occur to expel an irritant somewhere in the upper respiratory tract—specifically, the throat, pharynx, or laryngeal area. Usually, it’s just some dust, pollen, or other fine particles. Perfume, cleansers, and other stuff with a strong scent can trigger reverse sneezing as well.
Some other non-worrisome but less obvious things can prompt a bout of reverse sneezing too. These include excitement, getting startled, a tug on a leash, or a collar that’s a little too tight.
Identifying Reverse Sneezing in Your Assistance Dog
When reverse sneezing, a dog usually stands with her elbows slightly spread and her head and neck extended. Her eyes will bulge a bit and she may pull her lips back, and she’ll sharply inhale through her nose one or more times. This will be accompanied by a snorting-type sound. The sound is a little strange, and what tends to concern people who aren’t familiar with it. A reverse sneezing session can be a single sneeze, or it may carry on for up to a minute or two.
This video gives you a good idea of what reverse sneezing in dogs looks and sounds like.
When to Be Concerned About Your Assistance Dog’s Reverse Sneezing
While most reverse sneezing is normal and harmless, sometimes it’s best to consult your vet about it. Generally, this would be when it’s an increasing, frequent, or chronic occurrence. That’s a sign that it isn’t just a result of a minor irritant in the respiratory tract.
Excessive reverse sneezing may point to other causes, such as allergies, a respiratory tract infection, foreign matter stuck in the respiratory tract, nasal mites, kennel cough, a collapsing trachea, polyps, tumors, or nasal cancer.
Also, see your veterinarian if your assistance dog’s reverse sneezing is accompanied by other nasal or respiratory symptoms. These might include discharge or bleeding from the nose, redness in or around the snout or mouth, excessive pawing at the nose, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and so on.
Obviously, the treatment will depend on the cause of the reverse sneezing.