Have you ever heard your pet suddenly start honking? Like they were gasping for air, only to have the problem go away as quickly as it came? You may have even worried that your pet was having an allergy or asthma attack, or that something might be stuck in the back of their throat. This phenomenon in pets is not so uncommon and is something we are often asked about from concerned pet owners.

Reverse sneezing is a condition that can occur in certain pets and can resemble the sound a goose makes, but the good news is that it is rarely a cause for concern. The Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center are here to explain.

The Reverse Sneeze and Its Causes

Reverse sneezing is also referred to as pharyngeal gag reflex, paroxysmal respiration, or mechanosensitive aspiration reflex and occurs in all dogs, but is more common in small and brachycephalic breeds. The condition is characterized by its sudden, honking snorts. During these episodes your pet may splay their legs, crane their necks forward, and act as though they are gasping for air.

Because of the sudden onset, it can be understandable why many pet owners immediately call their veterinarians, worried about whether their pet is having an asthma attack or are choking. Thankfully, while common, reverse sneezing isn’t something to be concerned about. 

Brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Chihuahuas, Chow Chows, Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, Bull Mastiffs, and English Toy Spaniels, typically deal with this condition. The reason behind this is due to their anatomy, which includes an elongated, soft palate and reduced nasal cavity. Small dogs will be more likely, too, because their throats are naturally smaller than larger breeds.

When to Worry

Sometimes, the honking nose can be caused by other conditions that can be problematic. Some pets have severe allergies or respiratory issues that can cause loud sneezing and coughing. Other times, the cause of the tell-tale honk is a collapsing trachea, which happens in smaller breeds. 

A foreign body lodged in a pet’s nasal passage can be a concern and can mimic reverse sneezing. 

Signs that should be looked into include:

  • Excessive discharge
  • Bloody nose
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Redness or inflammation
  • Changes to face or nose
  • Obvious injury or something caught in the nostril or throat
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite

Ways to Help Your Pet

Pet owners will ask what they can do to help their pet when they are reverse sneezing. The first thing to remember is to stay calm and relaxed, so that your pet knows everything is okay. Massage your pet’s throat and neck to relax them. Clean up any mucus by wiping their nose and offer them some fresh water.

Typically, these episodes will be resolved quickly, and usually only last a few seconds or minutes and are nothing to worry about.

If you have any questions about reverse sneezing, or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us