What is sneezing or reverse sneezing in dogs?

By Natalie Sacks, RVT. Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Davis, MVB

Is it normal for my dog to sneeze?

Yes. Just like in humans, a sneeze is usually just a way for a dog to remove an environmental irritant from their airway, such as dust or pollen. Some dogs sneeze more because of the shape of their airways. For example, brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed dogs like pugs, french bulldogs, boston terriers, etc.) have genetically compressed and constricted nasal passages, which make them more likely to sneeze as well as wheeze. 

If your dog is sneezing a lot, if the sneezing is accompanied by discharge, particularly bloody or yellow/green, or if you notice other respiratory difficulties, you should consult your veterinarian.

What is ‘reverse sneezing’?

A reverse sneeze is a reflex in dogs triggered by an irritant in the back of the throat (an area known as the nasopharynx) that causes an abrupt suction of air into the nose. This is different from a regular sneeze, during which air is pushed out of the nose. This difference is why a reverse sneeze sounds so different from a regular sneeze. Most dogs will experience a reverse sneezing episode at some point in their life, and this is considered normal.

Reverse sneezing is also more common in brachycephalic dogs (short-nosed dogs like pugs and bulldogs) because they have an “elongated soft palate”. This elongated tissue can trigger the reverse sneeze reflex more easily. 

Sneezing is more common in brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs like pugs

What does reverse sneezing look like?

During a reverse sneezing episode, your dog may stand rigid, extend their head or neck, their eyes may bulge, and they will produce a loud snorting sound. Sometimes it’s described as a goose honk. It can be quite dramatic! The episode can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. After the episode is over, they will appear normal and it should not cause any lasting issues.

Reverse sneezing can look like a wide variety of things ranging from an obvious sneezing/gagging episode to someone thinking their dog is having a seizure or seriously choking.  Often people think it’s a cough, or that the dog is trying to vomit

If you are unsure if that is what is going on, you can try taking a video with your phone and consult with your veterinarian for clarity. This is critical as some of these conditions reverse sneezing can be confused with (such as seizures) require more urgent veterinary attention.

The video below from Village Animal Clinic is an example of what reverse sneezing in dogs looks like