A (mostly) harmless phenomenon: Reverse sneezing in dogs


We are all familiar with sneezing – whether human or dog. But reverse sneezing? It may sound impossible, but it happens to dogs all the time. Some breeds are affected particularly frequently and reverse sneeze several times a day. The sudden intake of air can sound very alarming and scare the dog's owner. The good news is thatin the vast majority of cases, reverse sneezing is harmless and passes after a very short time. Frequent and severe reverse sneezing may also indicate illnesses. 

What is reverse sneezing in dogs?

Reverse sneezing is a reflex. Without warning, the dog sucks in air through its nose at short intervals. This process only takes a few seconds to a few minutes at most and normally passes by itself. Like ‘normal’ sneezes, in which air is expelled through the nose, dogs cannot control this reflex. 

The muscles in the nose and throat tense up when the air is sucked in and narrow the airway through the nose. This causes a snoring or rattling sound when the dog reverse sneezes, which can sound alarming to the owner's ears. The strange posture they adopt with their head stretched forwards and elbows turned outwards is also unsettling. But don't worry, although your dog is getting less air during this time, it is still enough. Reverse sneezing is not a disease and is not dangerous for dogs.

What does reverse sneezing look like in dogs? 

  • With his mouth closed, the dog suddenly draws in air through his nose, making a loud snoring sound
  • His lips are pulled back and his chest bulges strongly.
  • The dog usually stands with his head stretched forwards and elbows turned outwards.

Why do dogs reverse sneeze?

Any stimulus in the nose and throat area can trigger reverse sneezing. The phenomenon is worse in dogs with unfavourable anatomical conditions in this region. The individual causes cannot always be determined, but the following triggers are possible: 

  • Fragrances or gases
    Cleaning agents, perfume or room deodoriser: Some odours are particularly irritating to dogs' sensitive noses and can cause a dog to reverse sneeze. Smoke from cigarettes or a fire can also be a possible trigger. 
  • Pollen 
    Pollen can irritate the nose and throat region and cause reverse sneezing. 
  • Excitement
    For some dogs, excitement or a wild romp can cause them to reverse sneeze. 
  • Collars
    External pressure caused by (strong) pulling on the collar can trigger reverse sneezing. 
  • Anatomical conditions  
    Breeds with short noses and broad, round heads (known as brachycephalic) such as Boxers, Pekingese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels or French Bulldogs are more frequently affected. The long soft palate, which flutters when inhaling, acts as a stimulus in combination with the tight conditions in the throat area, which can trigger reverse sneezing. 
  • Illness
    If reverse sneezing occurs suddenly and unusually frequently, it may also indicate a condition that should be clarified by a vet. 

My dog sneezes backwards – what should I do?

Reverse sneezing usually stops by itself after a few seconds. It is not necessary to intervene. In the case of long or severe episodes, however, there are gentle countermeasures you can use to help your dog. If the attacks are unusually frequent or are severe and happen several times a day, you should visit your vet. 

Countermeasures: Keep calm and trigger the swallowing reflex

Firstly, it is important to remain calm yourself so as not to put the dog under additional stress. Soothing stroking is also not a bad idea. If the "attack" does not pass on its own, it can help to trigger the dog's swallowing reflex with one of the following measures. 

  • A treat: If the dog is not too distracted, it will sniff it and then swallow it.
  • Massaging the larynx with a little pressure
  • Light tapping on the chest
  • Lifting the dog under the chest 

When to go to the vet for reverse sneezing?

In most cases, reverse sneezing is harmless, and for some owners of breeds that are frequently affected, it is part of everyday life. But if reverse sneezing occurs several times a day for no apparent reason or if the "attacks" are unusually severe, your vet should examine the dog thoroughly. This is especially true if coughing or nasal discharge occur at the same time, or if breathing difficulties occur after reverse sneezing, or the mucous membranes turn blue in colour. In these cases, an illness may be behind the reverse sneezing, such as inflammation in the throat area, allergies, dental problems, kennel cough, a tracheal collapse or tumours. Tip: Take a video of a reverse sneezing episode to help the vet assess the symptoms!

Do home remedies help reverse sneezing in dogs? 

If it is an occasional and mild manifestation of reverse sneezing, home remedies can alleviate the symptoms. A small spoonful of honey, for example, soothes the mucous membranes, and cooled, unsweetened camomile tea soothes respiratory irritation while also having a calming effect. 

However, there is no generally applicable prescription for preventing reverse sneezing in dogs. If you find out what triggers the sneezing fits in your four-legged friend, you can prevent them, for example by avoiding contact with the trigger or by using a harness to reduce pressure on the neck. In many cases, no clear cause for reverse sneezing can be determined and it cannot be permanently prevented due to anatomical conditions.