by Vickie Halstead RN, CVNS, CCRN, CEN, LNC
Reverse sneezing is also called paroxysmal respiration or pharyngeal spasm, is actually not a true sneeze, but is the opposite of a sneeze. Episodes may be alarming, as the owner believes the dog is short of breath, but it is not harmful and causes no permanent damage.
Episodes may last a few seconds to a minute. The dog will extend its neck gasping inward through the nose with a snorting sound, which is repeated several times. Episodes can be interrupted by massaging the throat, pinching the nostrils briefly, or by sticking fingers into the mouth to stimulate swallowing.
The physiology of reverse sneezing is that the trachea (windpipe) is temporarily narrowed by irritation in the soft palate (back of the throat), so that the normal amount of air cannot enter the lungs. This is more common in small dogs due to the smaller diameter of the trachea, may be present for the dog’s entire life, or may develop as the dog ages. Irritants to the soft palate that may stimulate episodes include pollen, dust, chemicals, stress, pressure on the throat with a lead, or excitement and may occur after drinking or eating.
Reverse sneezing can occur in conjunction with serious illnesses such as chronic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose caused by a virus), nasal polyps, tracheal collapse, or Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia (PCD). The latter 2 diseases are evidenced by coughing in addition to reverse sneezing, which you can read about on this site.
There is no need to seek veterinary assistance if reverse sneezing occurs infrequently, such as 1-2 times per week. However, if the episodes occur several times per day, see a veterinarian who may prescribe medication to relieve the pharyngeal irritation, and search for signs of other more serious illnesses. It may be helpful to videotape episodes for your veterinarian to view.
Research for this article includes:
The Merck Veterinary Manual
The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult by Larry Tilley& Francis Smith
Textbook of Medical Physiology by Arthur Guyton & John E. Hall
The Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by James Griffen & Liisa Carlson