Exploring Causes of Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Pet Health


June 11, 2020

The first time that most dog owners hear reverse sneezing, they’re quite alarmed at the effect that it can have on their furry friend. If you’ve never encountered a dog during a reverse sneeze, it can easily seem like a reason to be concerned due to the dog’s sudden and rapid inhalation patterns.

Although it may seem as if your dog is gasping for air or experiencing respiratory distress, reverse sneezing is a common respiratory response. There are simple actions you can take to ensure the response is an even shorter experience for your dog.  

What Causes Reverse Sneezing?  

There are a few reasons why your dog may suddenly start reverse sneezing. Irritation can occur in your dog’s sinus, nasal, or pharyngeal passages, and it can’t always be cleared naturally with a regular sneeze. When the irritation is present in upper airways or passages, a reverse sneeze tends to be the resulting response to release irritants. Irritation can be caused by various particles in the air, such as dust or even seasonal allergens like pollen.

If your dog tends to be very excitable, sometimes they may start reverse sneezing due to the rapid intake of air. Reverse sneezing also tends to be very common among dogs born with an elongated soft palate or dogs categorized into the toy group, such as Pugs or the Japanese Chin. 

Although reverse sneezing shouldn’t cause you to worry about your dog, you should take notice when it happens more frequently than usual. If there’s a significant increase in your dog’s reverse sneezes, this may mean that their sneezes are not effectively releasing the particles or allergens responsible for irritation in their passages.

In rare cases, sometimes reverse sneezes can be caused by an underlying condition known as nasal mites. Nasal mites are a type of parasite that can infect your dog’s nasal passages, and their presence can cause the irritation that results in reverse sneezing. This type of parasitic infection is typically passed between dogs, although it can spread if the dog is boarded in a contaminated kennel or a similar environment. Since this rare case of infection is parasitic, treatment with medication prescribed by a veterinarian is typically required.  

How to Recognize Reverse Sneezing in Dogs  

Perhaps you’ve heard your veterinarian or other dog owners mention reverse sneezing in the past, but you’ve never actually seen your dog experience an episode of reverse sneezing. If so, you might be wondering how to recognize reverse sneezing and how it differs from regular sneezing. Reverse sneezing is a far more noticeable respiratory response in comparison to regular sneezing.

During a reverse sneeze, your dog may stand up and start taking very deep and rapid breaths. At times it may seem as if your dog is gasping, and the episode may last a few seconds or may even occur repeatedly. Some dogs may push their heads forward and elongate their necks during these episodes. Depending on the type of dog you have, there may be snorting sounds or other unusual noises that your dog wouldn’t normally make during a regular sneeze. 

A noticeable difference between reverse sneezing and regular sneezing is that although regular sneezing usually subsides immediately, reverse sneezing can last for a lot longer in comparison. Most dogs will exhibit postural changes during reverse sneezing episodes, although some will continue to lie down throughout the experience. If you have a smaller dog, you may notice lots of abdominal movement as they intake air during a reverse sneezing episode. 

Relieving Your Dog’s Reverse Sneezes  

Reverse sneezes affect every dog differently. Although some dogs will seem completely unfazed, other dogs may become visibly uneasy. This is especially common among dogs that have anxiety. Therefore, the sooner you can take action when your dog is reverse sneezing, the more likely it is to provide physical and emotional relief.

The most common way to ease reverse sneezing during an episode is to massage your dog’s throat gently. Usually, the episode will stop within a matter of moments when you use this method. The massage is well-received by most dogs and is also highly recommended in dogs with anxiety since massage is one way to help them calm down and relax. 

Another method that you can use is to cover your dog’s nostrils with your fingers carefully. You only need to do this for a few moments, and it tends to work better on dogs with elongated snouts in comparison to dogs that are categorized in brachycephalic breeds. However, this is not always an effective method since your dog may squirm away or may not like having your hands near their nose or face. 

An alternative option is to gently blow air directly into your dog’s face, which tends to disrupt the rapid breathing pattern. Whether you use this method or the other two we referenced above, they all should result in causing your dog to swallow briefly, which will disrupt the rapid breathing cycle attributed to the reverse sneeze episode.

Some dogs will be noticeably uncomfortable during an episode of reverse sneezing and will require additional support. Speaking slowly to your dog to let them know that you are there to take care of them and that everything will be okay is often a supportive response that can help calm them during an experience that they might not otherwise understand. 

Does Reverse Sneezing Require Treatment?  

If your dog is reverse sneezing frequently, you may wonder if treatment is necessary. More often than not, veterinarians will not recommend treatment because reverse sneezing is such a common reaction among dogs and is a normal respiratory response to irritation or inflammation in their passageways. As previously mentioned, however, reverse sneezing can sometimes be caused by allergens and can increase in frequency when your dog is battling seasonal allergies.

In these instances, treatments recommended by your veterinarian may not be specific to reverse sneezing, but they will address your dog’s allergies instead. An increase in reverse sneezing caused by allergies might be lessened by making lifestyle adjustments such as supplementing the dog’s diet or incorporating occasional antihistamines during long days spent outside or when the pollen count is higher. 

Outside of allergy treatment potential, the only other time that your dog will usually need treatment for reverse sneezing is if those sneezes are the result of nasal mites. If your veterinarian deems that your dog doesn’t suffer from a nasal mites infection, antiparasitic medications and any other treatments are likely unnecessary.  


As you may now realize, reverse sneezing is a very common reaction among dogs and typically doesn’t require treatment or medical attention from your dog’s veterinarian. Even if your dog doesn’t frequently reverse sneeze, understanding how to address the episode and provide relief can be useful knowledge among any dog owner. Your four-legged companion will most likely appreciate it when you take action to shorten the amount of time they spend sneezing.

Usually, these sneezing episodes will pass like any other bout of regular sneezes and are not cause for concern. However, if you notice any substantial increase in your dog’s sneezing or feel that it may be hurting your dog’s daily routine, reaching out to your veterinarian for some guidelines regarding simple lifestyle adjustments is highly recommended.