Q: What causes my pet to reverse sneeze?
A: Like a sneeze, reverse sneezing is an uncontrollable and spastic reflex. But instead of the stimulus being felt in the nose which causes a sneeze, the stimulus is felt at the back of the nasal passages in the region of the soft palate and throat.
Humans have no equivalent reflex, though horking produces a similar sound and the characteristic rapid chest expansion.
Brachycephalic dogs (those with flat faces, such as pugs and boxers) with elongated soft palates occasionally suck the elongated palate into the throat while inhaling, setting off a fit of reverse sneezing. Small dogs also tend to be particularly prone to reverse sneezing thought we don’t know why.
Reverse sneezing itself is not a severe problem and does not require immediate treatment. If the sneezing stops, the spasm is over. For those of you that feel compelled to try to do something, you can massage your dog’s throat which may cause them to swallow, effectively removing, whatever stimulant incited the reflex sneezing in the first place.
Remember that anything that irritates the throat can incite a reverse sneezing reflex. Causes include post-nasal drip, eating or drinking, exercise intolerance, pulling on a leash, nasal mites, pollen, foreign bodies caught in the throat, perfumes, viruses, aerosolized household chemicals, and allergens.
These these conditions cause infrequent sneezing and most do not require any treatment. As long as the sneezing is not becoming more frequent, I recommend to simply monitor.
I have never seen nor heard of a dog dying or passing out from a reverse sneezing spasm. The spasm/episode is temporary (albeit unpleasant sounding) that goes away on its own, leaving the dog with no after-effects.
Therefore do not worry about leaving your dog home alone; if it occurs when you’re not there, the episode will end on its own.
If reverse sneezing becomes a frequent occurrence rather than very occasional, your veterinarian may want to rule out a potential nasal mite infestation by treatment with a parasiticide.
If allergies are the root of the problem, your veterinarian may prescribe something like antihistamines. Or they may need to look up the nasal passages (rhinoscopy) and even take a biopsy.
Sometimes, however, no cause can be identified.
Dr. Jeffrey Person practices at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on AM630 CHED.