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Sunday, July 14, 2024

What is that noise my dog is making?



What is that noise my dog is making?

Dana Dietrich, DVM
Emergency Veterinarian


Reverse sneezing is an unsettling event in which a dog makes loud respiratory sounds that sound like it is having trouble breathing or choking. It is termed a reverse sneeze, because it sounds like the dog is rapidly pulling air into the nose, whereas in a ‘regular’ sneeze, the air is rapidly pushed out through the nose.  Reverse sneezing, although scary to witness, is a simple condition that usually does not need any treatment. The sound the dog makes can be so scary that many owners have rushed in a panic to emergency clinics in the middle of the night.

sneezing dogThe most common cause of reverse sneezing is an irritation of the soft palate and throat which results in a spasm. During a reverse sneeze, the dog will make rapid and long inhalations, stand still, and extend his head and neck. A loud snorting sound is produced, which may make you think the dog has something caught in his nose or throat.

Anything that irritates the throat can cause this spasm and subsequent sneeze. Causes include excitement, eating or drinking, exercise intolerance, pulling on a leash, mites, pollen, foreign bodies caught in the throat, perfumes, viruses, household chemicals, allergies, and post-nasal drip. If an irritant in the house is the cause, taking the dog outside can help simply because the dog will no longer be inhaling the irritant. Brachycephalic dogs (those with flat faces, such as Pugs and Boxers) can have respiratory sounds similar to a reverse sneeze but may be a sign of a respiratory problem, such as an elongated soft palate. In these cases, the dogs should be examined by a veterinarian.  Small dogs are particularly prone to reverse sneezing, possibly because they have smaller throats.

Reverse sneezing itself rarely requires treatment. A reverse sneezing episode can last for several seconds to a minute. When the sneezing stops, the spasm is over. Since episodes of reverse sneezing can make your dog anxious, it’s important that you remain calm. If you feel the need to do something for your dog, you can try massaging the throat to stop the spasm.

Treatment of the underlying cause, if known, is useful. If parasites, such as mites, are in the throat area, your veterinarian may use drugs to get rid of the mites. If allergies are the root of the problem, your veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines. You can keep track of when your pet reverse sneezes and what he’s doing right as it happens, to try and figure out the triggers and work to avoid them.  Because reverse sneezing is not a severe problem, do not worry about leaving your dog home alone; if it occurs when you’re not there, the episode will most likely end on its own.

If reverse sneezing becomes a chronic problem rather than an occasional occurrence, your veterinarian may need to look up the nasal passages (rhinoscopy), and may even need to take a biopsy to determine the cause of the problem. Sometimes, however, no cause can be identified.

Some dogs have these episodes their entire lives; some dogs develop the condition only as they age. In most dogs, however, the spasm is a temporary problem that goes away on its own, leaving the dog with no after-effects.

If you are unsure if your dog is reverse sneezing, the dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian to make sure a more serious condition or a life threatening event is not happening.  If you do have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian a brief video of the event should be taken to help your veterinarian determine if the dog was reverse sneezing.

Cats are much less likely to reverse sneeze than dogs are.  However, owners should always have a veterinarian examine the cat in case the respiratory sounds are caused by other, more serious breathing problems, and not a reverse sneeze.


Dr. Dana Dietrich is an Emergency Veterinarian at Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists. AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, oncology, emergency, critical care, and pain management. They are located in Longmont at 104 S. Main St. For more information, go to www.AspenMeadowVet.com.

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