Reverse Sneezing

I’d like to post a couple of videos today to serve as an example of something I see very frequently in practice. I see it in dogs almost exclusively.


This is a classic example of a reverse sneeze. No one is sure about why this happens. I see it far more commonly in brachycephalic (snort-nosed) dogs than other breeds. I have seen it in larger dogs with full muzzles, too (like Black Labradors). What’s basically happening here is that the dogs are snorting in air through their nose, which causes an abrupt, intense ‘snore’ or snorting noise. The video really just speaks for itself! (It took me a few years to get my impersonation of a reverse sneeze to an acceptable point. Not easy to do!)

I tend to see a reverse sneeze triggered by excitement or activity. Sometimes there’s no identifiable trigger. My patients with allergies seem to have it happen far more often. I believe that brachycephalic breeds have a lot more trouble with the reverse sneeze because their throats aren’t built for good airflow anyway.

I rarely see reverse sneezing be a life-threatening problem. That being said, if your dog already has respiratory problems, a reverse sneeze attack can lead to a lack of oxygen, which is always dangerous.

So, what can you do about a reverse sneeze attack? I DO NOT recommend pinching the dog’s nose as was done in the video above. Brachycephalic dogs have enough trouble breathing that they tend to freak out when their noses are touched/pinched. Causing them to struggle only makes things worse, in my opinion. The best way to help is to try to calm your pet down (gentle petting, talking softly). In cooler weather, taking a pet outside to get some cool air sometimes helps.

If there are prolonged or extremely frequent attacks, you may want to have us examine your pet. We can try to identify other reasons that might be exacerbating the reverse sneeze: allergies, a foreign body, brachycepahlic dog problems, etc.

I think it’s important to contrast the next video’s example from a reverse sneeze. What you’ll see below is a cough that’s happening because of a collapsing trachea (windpipe). This is a problem generally seen in small-breed dogs. Of course, the best video I could find was a big dog. Pay attention to the wheezing you can hear when the pet breathes in, too.

This is a totally different pathology. Tracheal collapse is serious and pets that exhibit this should be examined. Chest x-rays may be needed, and depending on the severity, either medication or surgery may be indicated. Tracheal collapse can be life-threatening. Take this one far more seriously.

Here’s one more video of tracheal collapse. This one is taken by an encoscope put down the trachea. The ridges are rings of cartilage that normally support the trachea and keep it in an open circular shape. You can see the collapse very easily. This is an extremely bad case.

That’s all for this week!

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8 Comments

Filed under strange cases

8 responses to “Reverse Sneezing

  1. The reverse sneeze and collapsed trachea sound a lot alike to me. I’m saving the videos for future reference, just in case. Thanks!

  2. It can be difficult to distinguish between these two pathologies. The main distinction is that the reverse sneeze is nasal. The collapsing trachea is a throat cough. The sneeze happens on inhalation; the cough on exhalation. The big dog coughing in the 2nd video has a wheeze on inhalation as well, so you can time that breathing pattern as a frame of reference to assess the reverse sneeze.

    Snorrrkkk!-exhale vs inhale(wheeze)-honk!

    Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  3. judy

    Thank you for a very informative article! My dog has been having occassional reverse sneezing spells since I adopted her and I wasn’t sure how to tell when to take it seriously. This really clarified things.

  4. You’re welcome! I’m always happy to provide help. 🙂

  5. David Wagner

    The dog with the tracheal collapse was mine. As sad as it is to watch and remember all what he went through I’m glad you were able to use the video to help others with their pets.

  6. It sounds like Jelly has since passed away — my condolences to you and your family. It does indeed get progressively more difficult for pets with this condition to breathe. I’m very sorry that you had to go through such an experience.

    You have my gratitude for posting the video. I’m certain that many owners have been helped thanks to your efforts. I can say with certainty that many of mine were.

  7. David Wagner

    Thank you. Jelly passed a little over 2 years ago now. He was about 16 years old in the above video. He lived past his 18th birthday. Degenerative myelopathy is eventually what got him. The breathing thing was difficult to watch sometimes but he never suffered for it. It never kept him from doing whatever he wanted to do. When the degenerative myelopathy hit it was fast from what seemed like a seizure to within a month he could no longer stand on his own. I’m sure he would be pleased some other puppies are being helped by his example.

  8. Thanks again for following up. A large-breed dog that lives to 18 has had the benefit of a good, loving home and good vet care! You should be proud of that, too. 🙂

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