Dog owners understandably fly into panic mode when their pup appears to be choking, but many are mistaking a common spasm for an emergency situation. Reverse sneezing, also known as pharyngeal gag reflex or paroxysmal respiration, often causes dogs to emit gasp-like sounds that make owners’ hearts stop in fear.
When a dog reverse sneezes, he’s forcefully inhaling to bring air in through the nose and move mucus into the pharynx, or throat. It can be accompanied by snorting or rattling sounds, and almost seems like they’re trying to inhale while sneezing.
Before you rush Rocky to the ER, however, you should know that this is a common spasm that doesn’t warrant medical attention. It’s caused by irritation of the soft palate and throat, and can be a result of excitement, eating or drinking, exercise intolerance, pulling on a leash, mites, pollen, foreign bodies caught in the throat, perfumes, viruses, household chemicals, allergies or post-nasal drip. Small dogs are particularly prone to it, especially snub-nosed breeds, such as pugs, bulldogs and boxers.
The episode usually lasts for a minute or two, and is sometimes relieved by the owner gently — keyword being gently — massaging the dog’s throat just under the angle of the jaw. The dog typically stands still, with his head and neck extended and his elbows spread apart. His eyes might bulge out a little. A few seconds later, he’s back to his usual self and giving you a look like, “What? Why are you looking at me? Let’s play.”
If it’s a persistent problem, you should speak to your veterinarian. It’s possible the dog may need antihistamines or other medication for allergies. For most pooches, though, it’s just a common spasm, as harmless as a normal sneeze, so don’t panic.
The videos below show what reverse sneezing can sound like in different dogs: