If you have seen your dog gasping for air and snorting, there is a good chance they are experiencing a condition called reverse sneezing (Pharyngeal Gag Reflex). If you are unaware of this condition, it can be pretty alarming.
As the name suggests, the key distinction between reverse sneezing and normal sneezing is the dog is pulling air into their nasal cavity as opposed exhaling it. That, and reverse sneezing isn't actually a sneeze at all.
Reverse sneezing will make the dog draw its head back while gasping and snorting for air, usually for a few seconds but maybe a little bit longer.
It’s this combination that can scare a pet owner, since it can appear they are having a hard time breathing and/or having some unknown serious attack. In reality, this seemingly disturbing act is relatively common, particularly with short-snouted breeds (pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs) and harmless.
What Causes Reverse Sneezing?
There are many causes for a reverse sneezing episode:
Infections or an irritated soft palate.
Involuntary movement of hairlike cilia in the respiratory tract (ciliary dyskinesis).
Excessive nasal dripping or secretion.
It can even be caused by something as simple as a dog collar being too tight.
Allergies that irritate the throat: pollen, perfumes, dust, mites and other allergens can be the culprit, but likely treatable with pet medicine.
It can be the result of something as simple as drinking water too fast or being overly excited.
Here's an example of a short spell of reverse sneezing, followed by some high energy puppy play:
How to Treat Reverse Sneezing
Sometimes you can shorten the episode on your own by massaging your dog's throat, easing the muscle spasms. Also, covering your dog's nostrils briefly will force it to swallow and clear irritants in the throat or sinuses.
If that doesn't work, you can try pressing down the dog's tongue with a depressant which would force the mouth open wide enough to bring in air.
If you have an older dog suffering from reverse sneezing, it could be something more serious. It could be caused by dental diseases or by a tumor in the nasal cavity.
The time to take your pet to the veterinarian is if it continues and becomes more frequent and longer in duration. It could be caused by a number of things such as a foreign object, tumors, a collapsed trachea, kennel cough, nasal mites and a number of infections. If the dog has a bloody or a yellow discharge from the nose, take it to the vet.
Your vet could relieve the condition with medicine for allergies or other issues. If the problem is due to a foreign object or excess mucus, extraction would bring relief to the family pet. It is good to keep the dog from close contact with other animals while being treated.
While in most cases, this is relatively harmless, if it happens on a persistent basis, make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine what treatment, if any, is appropriate.