Everyone sneezes sooner or later. People do it and so do many other animals, including cats and dogs. A sneeze is the body’s way of naturally expelling an irritant. But there’s another condition, a reverse sneeze, which might be a bit more mystifying. If your dog has fits of sniffing so hard they’re snorting or making a weird sound; you might be alarmed. Some pet owners think their dog is choking, having a seizure, or that they have asthma. But reverse sneezing isn’t usually something to be afraid of. What is a reverse sneeze? Why do Chihuahuas do it? Is it dangerous? What can you do about it?
The Root of the Behavior
Sneezing can be uncomfortable and annoying, particularly for people with a cold or seasonal allergy. But it’s an essential biological response that helps clear irritants from your nose. Anything from dust, pollen, pet dander, pepper, or mold can irritate your nose. The same is true for dogs. While not as common as allergies in humans, allergies in pets can happen. Your vet can diagnose allergies in your dog. Sneezing is a kind of reflex that expels air. A reverse sneeze is another kind of reflex that also works to get rid of an irritant, but it does so by inhaling air, not expelling it. Reverse sneezing may also result from irritants in the throat, larynx (the “voice box”), or pharynx (the space that connects the nose and mouth to the esophagus). Any dog can reverse sneeze, but small breeds like Chihuahuas, and dogs with smooshed faces, called brachycephalic, tend to reverse sneeze more often. Several things may cause reverse sneezing. Allergies in dogs can cause reverse sneezing. Any irritant, like those that affect humans, including dust, dander, mold, smoke, perfumes or cleansers, various plants or pollen, and even foods, can cause allergic reactions in dogs.
Allergic reactions can include skin irritation, itchiness, inflammation, and even digestive problems like diarrhea and vomiting. You can help figure out the cause of your dog’s reverse sneezing by keeping track of when they do it. For example, if they only do it outside in the spring or summer, it may just be a common allergen. If you are concerned about your dog’s reverse sneezing or displaying other symptoms, don’t hesitate to see your vet. They can help diagnose allergies or other conditions, and some treatments are available.
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Encouraging the Behavior
For the most part, reverse sneezing is a reflex and isn’t a cause for concern. But sometimes, your dog might become anxious during reverse sneezing. In that case, there are several things you can do for your dog. First and foremost, you should remain calm during your pet’s episode. Your stress and anxiety will only add to your dog’s stress and anxiety. Additionally, if your pet isn’t acting overwhelmed or aggressive, you can try some things to help assuage their fit of reverse sneezing. One way is to massage your dog’s throat, which may stop the spasm.
Another option that may end it is to cover one of your dog’s nostrils briefly. This should cause your dog to swallow, which can help clear whatever irritates its throat. Another way to help your dog during a reverse sneezing spasm is to press down on its tongue. Your dog will open their mouth wider by reflex, which should help air move through the nose better. However, these kinds of home treatments aren’t necessary. For the most part, reverse sneezing is harmless, and most pets aren’t stressed by it. The spasm will generally last a few seconds, and your pet will be excellent.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Reverse sneezing is generally harmless, but more severe conditions can cause reverse sneezing. You should consult a vet if your dog starts to reverse sneezing more frequently or for a longer duration. Likewise, if another dog begins to reverse sneeze too, or reverse sneezes are accompanied by coughing, gagging, vomiting, or difficulty breathing (with gums that may turn blue), you should contact your vet. Parasites called nasal mites can cause reverse sneezing, but a vet can treat them. Suppose you notice any nasal discharge or blood. In that case, you should also contact your vet so they can rule out other serious problems like a collapsing trachea, tumors, cancer, or other respiratory infections. Collapsing trachea is a genetic condition common among Chihuahuas and will worsen over time.
Reverse sneezing may seem like your dog is having a scary fit, but it’s usually just a spasm, the same as a sneeze. Just monitor your dog to ensure they’re not getting worse, spreading anything to other animals, or displaying other dangerous symptoms. Just like regular sneezing, reverse sneezing can be harmless or an indicator of something worse going on.