To Sneeze, or Not to Sneeze

reverse sneeze bulldogIt may sound like your dog is choking, can’t breathe or having an asthma attack… but don’t panic – it could be a fairly common phenomenon… the reverse sneeze.

For some dogs this can actually be a normal part of life, much like normal sneezing is for many creatures.  A normal sneeze is the sudden outburst of air (and sometime other things) and the reverse sneeze is just the opposite – a sudden intake of air.

Small breed dogs, including pugs and bulldogs, seem to experience the reverse sneeze more often than large breeds – but all dogs can startle their owners with this sudden, scary sound.


Here’s what a reverse sneezing episode looks like.

It’s a frightening few moments –that has understandably sent many pet parents speeding to the vet’s office – but it actually sounds and looks much worse than it is.

A typical reverse sneeze can last anywhere from a few seconds to one or two minutes – and it’s normal for your dog to appear stressed or anxious… as seen in the video – our canine friend is not enjoying the experience.

What’s important is that you remain calm – your dog can sense your anxiety and that may needlessly stress him further. Instead, you may want to gently massage your dog’s throat or just talk to him calmly. Another trick is to pinch or cover your dog’s nostrils very quickly – this can interrupt the spasm and cause him to swallow which can end the episode… and when the episode ends, it’s as if it never happened. Normal functions and behaviors return almost immediately.

I have a friend who is especially prone to long and impressive (normal) sneezing fits – sometimes it’s anyone’s guess as to what sets her off, but a cloud of cat dander is always a sure bet (maybe I’ll try pinching her nostrils next time…). It can be much the same with a dog’s reverse sneeze. Pay attention to these episodes: Is it always after you vacuum or spray a room deodorizer or disinfectant? Maybe it happens when there’s a sudden change in temperature – going inside to outside. Does it increase or only happen during a certain time of year? Sometimes even just tugging on a leash can trigger an unnerving episode.

If you start noticing a suspicious frequency to these spasms, take steps to diminish the exposure your dog has to whatever seems to set him off – the reverse sneeze is ultimately harmless but it’s still uncomfortable to watch (and probably experience), so why not try to avoid it altogether if possible?

Sometimes it won’t be possible – sometimes it’s just going to be a part of life. Especially for the adorable scrunchy-faced breeds like pugs and bulldogs. And sometimes it’s possible that these episodes may be indicative of a respiratory issue: if the episode lasts longer than one or two minutes or the frequency seems to dramatically increase, look a little deeper. These episodes should be easy breezy, quick and sneezy. Nothing more.

One more thing: If the problem persists, you may want to check with your vet and be sure your dog doesn’t have kennel cough.

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