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Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

By Colleen Williams and medically reviewed by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
published: July 15, 2018 - updated: January 19, 2023 • 4 min. read
Black Lab Sneezing Outdoors

Key Takeaways

  • Reverse sneezing is a quirky, yet harmless, behavior that all sizes and breeds of dogs commonly do.
  • A reverse sneeze sounds like a snort as the dog inhales, and it can last from a few seconds to minutes.
  • Airborne allergens like pollen and perfume, as well as cigarettes and marijuana, can cause a dog to reverse sneeze.
  • Most reverse sneezing in dogs requires no treatment.
  • A trip to the vet can ease your mind about whether the sound is truly a reverse sneeze or a sign of allergies or other medical condition.

Let’s face it – dogs are weird. They eat their own poop, chase their tails, irrationally hate the mailman, and choose trash over fresh kibble. We love our canines even more for all their quirks, which is why the unexpected ones terrify us so much. Reverse sneezing is a common phenomenon in dogs, especially those with short snouts and flat faces, but it can prompt panic in inexperienced pet parents.

A few things to know right off the bat:

  • Reverse sneezing is usually a harmless, common reaction – much like a regular sneeze – that is not an asthma attack.
  • All sizes and breeds of dogs can reverse sneeze; the behavior is not unusual and is typically triggered by a specific irritant or allergen.
  • To make it stop, you can massage your dog’s throat to stop the spasm or very briefly covering your pup’s nostrils with a hand (triggering a swallow reflex that usually makes the sneeze end).

Although reverse sneezing is usually harmless, don’t ever hesitate to visit your vet if you’re concerned about your dog’s sneezing habits.

What is Reverse Sneezing?

Pet parents can recognize a “reverse sneeze” by the characteristic snorting sound made as the dog repeatedly inhales. Episodes typically last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes. As demonstrated by the Corgi in the video above, reverse sneezing in dogs can sound much scarier than it is. There are a variety of reasons why dogs engage in this common, usually harmless behavior, but it is not an asthma attack.

Reverse sneezing is commonly typically triggered by a specific irritant or allergen.

Small breed dogs experience reverse sneezing more frequently than others, as irritants are harder to clear from their itty-bitty windpipes. Brachycephalic, or flat-faced, breeds – like Pugs and French bulldogs – are prone to having elongated soft palates that can catch in the throat, triggering a reverse sneeze. However, all sizes and breeds of dogs can reverse sneeze.

Kennel cough, a highly contagious respiratory disease that is common in places where dogs are kept in close quarters (e.g., boarding facilities), can also cause reverse sneezing. In some cases, reverse sneezing in dogs is a result of post-nasal drip or upper-respiratory infections.

Protect your pet

Treatment for Reverse Sneezing in Dogs

Identifying your pet’s reverse sneeze trigger is the first step towards managing the behavior. Airborne allergens like pollen, perfume, and cleaning sprays can irritate pups’ delicate nostrils. Even if the scent isn’t apparent to your human nose, it may still be detectable by dogs; research indicates canines’ sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours.

Cigarettes and marijuana are also irritants to pets (as well as cancer-causing carcinogens). Particularly sensitive pups may even be put off by more innocuous smoke from candles and incense.

Seasonal changes in humidity and temperature can also prompt a reverse sneezing event, as can excitement or drinking/eating too quickly. For weather-related triggers, try a humidifier or heater in your pup’s favorite space. If your dog wolfs down their food, consider using a food puzzle toy to slow down their eating.

Pay close attention when your dog begins reverse sneezing – what just happened? If the behavior occurs after you clean, it may be a reaction to residual chemicals in the air. Use only all-natural, pet-friendly aerosol products for cleaning, and clean when Fido isn’t in the room.

The vast majority of reverse sneezing in dogs requires no professional medical treatment. “The biggest issue I see in my practice is a conditioned panic response in a pet, triggered by an owner who freaks out each time the dog reverse-sneezes,” says Dr. Karen Becker. “If you feel the need to do something for your dog, you can try massaging her throat to stop the spasm.”

If that doesn’t work, Dr. Becker also recommends briefly covering your pup’s nostrils with a hand; this forces the animal to swallow, potentially removing the irritant and stopping the reverse sneezing. “But honestly, these types of intervention are usually not necessary and can sometimes add to everyone’s stress level,” she adds.

Dog Coughing vs. Sneezing

Reverse sneezing in dogs can cause some anxiety for pet parents, who may mistake it for coughing. The two behaviors sound similar to an untrained, unfamiliar ear but actually have many differences. A dog coughing will expel air out of the mouth, resulting in a dry, hacking noise. As heard earlier, reverse sneezing involves rapid inhalations through the nose, indicated by pig-like snorting.

Any sudden changes in a pet’s behavior warrant a trip to the vet! Although reverse sneezing may be benign, kennel cough and allergies in dogs can become painfully complicated without treatment. Kennel cough is especially dangerous to puppies and senior dogs; if left untreated, it can progress to pneumonia. If your dog has a respiratory condition that’s causing reverse sneezing, your vet can recommend an appropriate treatment and give you some tips for canine cold care.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

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colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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joanna pendergrass
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with her veterinary degree, JoAnna completed a 2-year research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University. During this fellowship, she learned that she could make a career out of combining her loves of science and writing. As a medical writer, JoAnna is passionate about providing pet parents at Healthy Paws with clear, concise, and engaging information about pet care. Through her writing, she strives not only to educate pet parents, but also empower them to make good health decisions for their pets. JoAnna is a member of the American Medical Writers Association.

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