Why Do Dogs Reverse Sneeze?

by Hannah Roundy

Bull dog standing outside in backyard with fence

That strange snorting sound coming from your pup is called a “reverse sneeze” and it’s more common than you’d think.

Why do dogs reverse sneeze while other pups sneeze normally?

What is reverse sneezing in dogs?

Reverse sneezing in dogs is an automatic respiratory reaction that is triggered by irritation in their nose. When a dog’s nasal passage gets irritated, it causes the muscle to spasm and narrow the trachea. 

You may notice your pup lean their head back before the backwards sneeze actually happens. The narrowed trachea constricts their breathing – so leaning their head back is an attempt to expand their chest and inhale. Since the trachea isn’t allowing much air in, dogs revert to inhaling through their nose. This causes them to emit a snorty, backward-sounding sneeze. 

What causes dog reverse sneezing?

The triggers for a dog reverse sneeze and normal sneeze are usually one-in-the-same. The only difference is that the backward sneeze sounds a bit more alarming. 

Pollen, dirt, or dust can irritate a pup’s nose and cause them to sneeze. If your dog sneezes more frequently in the spring or summer, they may even have seasonal allergies. Reverse sneezing in dogs can also be caused by allergies to plants, food, or other household items. 

Breed may also factor into reverse sneezing in dogs. Brachycephalic breeds such as Shih Tzus, Bulldogs, and Boxers are more prone to dog reverse sneezing because they have shortened snouts and flat faces. Smooshed, wrinkly puppy faces are adorable – but this flat bone structure can cause breathing problems and reverse sneezing in dogs. 

Sneezing isn’t just a respiratory reflex – it’s also a method of communication. Does your pup sneeze when they get excited? It could be their way of telling you that they are happy or ready to play. Dogs even use sneezing to communicate their feelings or submission to other pups. 

Should I worry if my dog reverse sneezes?

Reverse sneezing is dogs is normal and most of the time, there is nothing to worry about. The gagging sound of a dog reverse sneeze can be disarming for pet parents. Feel free to check in on your pup after they sneeze if it gives you peace of mind. 

If your dog reverse sneezes for more than 30 seconds, try lightly blowing in their face to open their airways. Gently massaging their throat and snout may also help relieve constant backward sneezing.

Consult with your vet if your dog reverse sneezes and has heart disease, cancer, or any underlying condition. Reverse sneezing is mostly harmless but may agitate dogs with other health issues. Your vet can teach you how to help your pup and prescribe antihistamines to decrease the frequency of sneezing bouts.

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