Ever wonder what that funny sneezing/honking sound was that your dog just made? It may have even seemed like he couldn’t breathe for a few moments or like he was choking on something. A reverse sneeze, also known as pharyngeal gag reflex, is a common condition seen in dogs. Fortunately, it’s usually a benign process that rarely requires treatment.
Reverse sneezing is usually caused by some type of irritation in the throat and soft palate. This irritation leads to spasms. The result is a sound like that of a dog inhaling sneezes. Sometimes, an affected dog freezes and extends his head and neck, seemingly trying to catch his breath.
We see reverse sneezing far more frequently in small dogs, likely because their airways are smaller. It’s also common in bracycephalic dogs, or dogs with smooshed noses such as pugs, shih tzus and bulldogs. The cause maybe as simple as the dog getting overly excited, eating or drinking, pulling against a leash, perfume or other household irritant. It can also be caused by more problematic things such as allergies and foreign bodies.
Often reverse sneezes will stop as abruptly as they start, after a matter of seconds. You can try rubbing your hand up and down the dog’s throat to get the spasms to stop. You can also try placing your fingers over the dog’s nostrils briefly. This usually causes the dog to swallow and the spasms to stop.
Reverse sneezing is most often diagnosed based on sound or description of sound. It’s rare for reverse sneezing to need treatment. Sometimes the underlying cause needs to be treated, but often, it’s just something the dog will do throughout his life.