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Dog Reverse Sneezes: What IS That Crazy Sound?

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You pay attention to everything your dog does. This includes watching what they eat, keeping track of their exercise needs, and making sure they stay comfortable at all times. So you definitely monitor their sounds. A sneeze here or there is no big deal. (After all, it’s a normal habit) You probably visit the vet when you start hearing coughing. And vomiting? That can wake you from a sound sleep. But what do you make of a string of rapid sounds that aren’t quite sneezing and aren’t really coughs? Should you get concerned or chalk them up as normal doggie noises? And what ARE they? Dog reverse sneezes puzzle and even scare owners. This is why we’re going to explain everything you need to know about the tricky behavior.

The Backward Sneeze

Normally, when a dog sneezes, they expel air forcefully out of their nose. (Actually, that’s how ANYONE sneezes) Sneezing helps to get rid of irritation within the nasal cavity. But sometimes, irritation zeroes in on the soft palate. This is the tissue in the roof of the mouth, almost at the back of the throat. The soft palate helps with making sounds, swallowing, and breathing (the trachea is extremely close).

And a normal sneeze? It can’t do much for that spot. The nasal passage IS close, but if your dog gets a piece of grass stuck on the soft palate? Trying to maneuver that blade of grass off the tissue and up into the nasal passage to snort it out is challenging.

This is where paroxysmal respiration or reverse sneezes come into play. Instead of pushing air out of the nose, your dog brings air IN. (Hence, a backward sneeze)

Anatomy of a Reverse Sneeze

Irritation causes the soft palate to spasm. It’s a muscle, and the spasms try to get rid of that “tickling” sensation. Unhappily, the spasms cause the trachea to narrow. A narrow trachea makes breathing difficult. You usually see your dog extend their neck to try to get air through to their chest. When that doesn’t help, they start forcing air through their nose in long, sharp breaths. Air moving through a narrow trachea creates a lot of noise, and that’s what you hear as a reverse sneeze.

Most reverse sneeze episodes only last around 30 seconds. But if it’s the first time you hear the sound? It seems to go on FOREVER. And the fact that your dog acts normal before and after adds in an extra wrinkle. Reverse sneezes are strange, and many owners struggle to describe them to their veterinarian. It’s not a cough, nor is it choking. But it’s an unusual sound. The YouTube video below shows a dog with reverse sneezes to provide an example.

Causes of Dog Reverse Sneezes

Showing up out of the blue, reverse sneezes often puzzle owners. What brings on that crazy sound? Well, irritation. The backward sneeze is designed to help dogs reach irritants on the soft palate. It steps into the area between the nasal cavity (where the average sneeze can help) and the trachea (where a cough might function). And irritation? That comes from PLENTY of sources:

  • Allergies
  • Household irritants such as perfumes, colognes, air fresheners, or cleaning products
  • Eating or drinking too quickly
  • Pulling against a collar
  • Overexcitement
  • Elongated soft palates (often seen in brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs)
  • Infections
  • Nasal mites
  • Foreign bodies or masses within the throat

These episodes are most common in small dogs. And because it involves the soft palate, reverse sneezes are a fact of life for anyone with a brachycephalic dog. But you can see them in ANY breed of dog. Our Greyhound demonstrates her backward sneeze off and on. Usually, we hear it after she’s spent time sneaking chomps of grass out in the backyard. (She’s convinced she’s part cow)

Brachycephalic breeds often demonstrate reverse sneezes

Diagnosing Reverse Sneezes

Reverse sneezing is frightening, especially if you aren’t sure what the episode is. And any time you don’t know what’s going on with your dog? You should make an appointment with your vet. If you can, take a video. This will help confirm whether or not you’re seeing reverse sneezes. Because the odds are pretty slim your pup will oblige and demonstrate the behavior at the appointment.

However, the sound’s pretty unique. It doesn’t resemble the “goose honk” of tracheal collapse you hear in most tiny breeds. And you won’t see the frantic, labored breathing and open mouth you’d see with an asthma attack (which also has a wheezing component that’s pretty easy to hear). That can help relax some of your panic.

Your vet may recommend a chest radiograph (x-ray) to make sure there’s no infection going on. And if you’re noticing frequent bouts, they may advise allergy testing or a rhinoscopy. A rhinoscopy allows them to guide a camera into the nasal cavity and down to the soft palate to look for trapped foreign bodies or other problems.

Treating Dog Reverse Sneezes

Your dog won’t let you know when a bout of reverse sneezes is going to come on. They’re pretty spontaneous. And, remember, pups act normal before they happen. So there isn’t much in the way of medical treatment. If your vet determines allergies are the root of the problem, they may prescribe an antihistamine for you to have on hand during the worst of the season. It will help calm down the inflammation before it can bother the soft palate. But by the time you reach for a medication, the sneezing will have stopped.

However, you’re not completely helpless. There are non-medical things you can try to ease your dog’s discomfort:

  • Gently occlude both nostrils to encourage your dog to swallow.
  • Carefully massage your dog’s throat. This may calm the irritation or dislodge the problem.
  • Lift your dog to help them change the position of their head. This will also move the soft palate and may stop the spasm. (If you have a giant breed, have a care for your back)
  • Attempt to distract your pup with a treat or favorite toy.
  • If you can do so SAFELY, press down on your dog’s tongue. This causes them to take an open-mouth breath and opens the back of the throat.
An extended neck and long, forced exhalations are common sights


The best way to limit the number of reverse sneezing episodes is to identify the causes. And having a discussion with your vet is the best place to start. They can help you narrow down the problem. Then you can work on adjusting things around the house to make your dog as comfortable as possible.

For instance, if you know your dog is reacting to allergies, you can limit outdoor walks when the pollen count is in the red. And always make sure you keep smoke, perfumes, and other scents out of the house. You can also make sure you have that antihistamine available during the months when you know your dog suffers the worst reverse sneezes. (In our case, we do our best to limit our dog’s “grazing” habit)

For dogs that get excited when you break out the tennis ball, work with a trainer. They can teach you how to play calmly. You want to use a soothing voice and tone down the exuberance on YOUR end. Then your dog will learn to play without getting so worked up they trigger an episode.

Not a Cough and Not a Sneeze

Reverse sneezes trouble people. It’s not a common sound they’ve often encountered. And it comes out of nowhere! Then your dog goes back to whatever they were doing as if nothing happened in the first place. Do you panic and rush to the vet? Or do you sit back and watch for another episode? Luckily, reverse sneezing isn’t dangerous, though it’s still a good idea to chat with your vet. They can help you figure out what’s causing the backward sneeze. And then you can work to limit the irritation of that soft palate.

You’ll probably still pause each time you hear the crazy sound. But at least you’ll know what it is and probably even where it’s coming from.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria grew up in a pet-friendly household. On weekends, the family made trips to zoos and aquariums in the area. So it wasn’t a surprise when she gravitated toward a career with animals.

After six years working among the background operations at the Philadelphia Zoo, she gained a unique insight into the veterinary world. The vet staff provided her first lessons in terminology, the identification of medical equipment, and glimpses of radiographs (x-rays). She also enjoyed plenty of opportunities to talk with everyone, including the veterinary technicians. And they offered an alternative for someone NOT interested in surgical pathways: Namely, their course of study.

Andria enrolled at Harcum College. Philadelphia boasts two programs for vet techs, but only Harcum works with the Ryan Veterinary Hospital and New Bolton Center (University of Pennsylvania’s small and large animal facilities, respectively). Harcum’s vet tech students receive six months of hands-on teaching and experience alongside Penn’s vet students.

With the opportunities and connections available with one of the top veterinary schools, the decision was easy for her to make.

New Bolton Center: Large Animal Medicine
Andria ended up trudging through snow up to the knee and shivering in subzero temperatures during her winter semester, but she wasn’t disappointed with her choice. New Bolton provided a thorough grounding in large animal medicine. A horse-lover as a child, the experience renewed those old emotions.

And a few memories stood out and remained to this day:

  • Standing alongside a Clydesdale and feeling TINY
  • Holding the reins of a horse galloping at top speed on a treadmill
  • Nursing tiny foals through the first days of their life

Ryan Veterinary Hospital: Small Animal Medicine
Veterinary students can legally work at a practice while studying. Andria took advantage of the opportunity, gaining “real life” experience while attending class. It provided a slight advantage when she entered her three months at the small animal hospital.

However, as Ryan Veterinary Hospital offers treatments unique to the veterinary community, she continued to gain valuable experience. For instance, she spent a day working alongside their Chemo Team. The positivity of everyone she encountered – staff, clients, and patients alike – left a lasting impression.

Additional standout moments included:

  • An afternoon spent with the head of the feline kidney transplant program
  • A day serving as the anesthesia technician in their new radiation unit
  • Recognizing a radiograph of a giant elephant shrew (applying her previous zoo knowledge)

Emergency/ICU Veterinary Technician
Accompanying her Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology, Andria received a passing score on the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). The two led to her certification/license as a veterinary technician – first in Pennsylvania (CVT) and later in Virginia (LVT).

Emergency medicine appealed to her from the beginning. The flux of ailments, injuries, and even species kept her mind sharp at all times. The knowledge required to handle cats, dogs, exotics, and even wildlife is highest in an ICU setting. When a vet tech never knows the patient’s stability coming back to the treatment area, skills and the ability to respond in an instant always stay in peak shape.

With treatments evolving at a constant basis, Andria sought out the best Continuing Education opportunities. She attended the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (IVECCS) Conference whenever possible. This allowed her to discuss the latest wound treatments, medications, and advancements in diet formulations.

Cardiology Veterinary Technician
With the increased knowledge and experience, Andria noticed gaps in her abilities. Her grasp of cardiology remained at the basic level. She wanted to boost her skills and understanding as much as possible, improving her patient care. When an opportunity within the practice arose to move into the cardiology department, she accepted.

She sharpened her ability to read ECGs, recognizing arrhythmias of every type. Speaking with the cardiologist, she learned to read echocardiograms, picking out the most common disease processes. And, courtesy of her position in the department, she took in everything she could regarding the grain-free diet concern.

And throughout her ten-year career, she built her store of client interactions. She learned stories of heartbreak and hope. In the middle of the night, she shared touching and humorous conversations. Every moment taught her to engage with people. And the skill blended into her writing ability, capturing the interest of pet-lovers everywhere.

Check out Andria’s LinkedIn here

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