Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: What It Is and Why It Happens

5 min read
5 min read

Updated - Jan 3rd, 2023

Key Points

  • A reverse sneeze is a muscle spasm that results from irritation of the elongated soft palate.
  • While it’s generally harmless, reverse sneezing is sometimes a symptom of a more serious respiratory condition or allergy.
  • Most times, you don’t need to take your dog to the vet for reverse sneezing, however, if this is the first time you’ve seen this symptom, or your dog is displaying other unusual symptoms, you might want to call your vet.

Is your dog is forcefully inhaling through their nose repeatedly? Though alarming at first, this is often a harmless muscle spasm known as reverse sneezing.

If this is the first time you’ve seen this symptom, or your dog is displaying other unusual symptoms,  you might want to call your vet just to play it safe. However, this is not something to lose sleep over – reverse sneezing is rarely the result of anything serious. 

We’re breaking down what causes reverse sneezing in dogs, what treatments are given (if any), and what to expect at the vet.


Dog owners can recognize when their furry friend is reverse sneezing by looking for a few signs. Your dog will make a loud snorting sound, and it will seem like they’re trying to inhale while sneezing. They will inhale rapidly, stand still, and extend their head and neck. Usually, the reverse sneezing lasts between a few seconds to a minute. 


In most cases, the cause of reverse sneezing is simple irritation of the elongated soft palate. The irritation causes a muscle spasm at the back of the throat that can be the result of pollen or other dog allergens, or another foreign body – like nasal mites – in the nasal cavity. Reverse sneezing in dogs is more common in breeds with long snouts and brachycephalic dogs such as boxers and bulldogs.


In most cases, reverse sneezing is a normal symptom with no particular underlying cause and presents no cause for alarm. Your vet may, however, perform the following tests to rule out more serious potential causes for reverse sneezing:


In most cases, if your vet determines there’s nothing else wrong with your dog, they may not give you anything to do at all. When they do provide treatment for reverse sneezing in dogs, it usually consists of:

  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Decongestant medication

This is the usual course of treatment for cases where reverse sneezing is not the result of any serious condition, such as a collapsing trachea, nasal tumors or polyps, or heart disease in dogs

Recovery and care

While your dog is having an episode of reverse sneezing, you can provide comfort by gently petting them. If there is an underlying cause of the reverse sneezing, your vet will likely prescribe medication or other treatment plans to take care of it: for instance, antibiotics for a bacterial infection. 


There’s no clear way to prevent reverse sneezing, since this condition may have a host of potential causes. In general, making sure your dog leads a healthy lifestyle is the only way to reduce risk. Depending on what your vet tells you at the animal hospital, you may consider whether your dog suffers from exercise intolerance or another condition that may require lifestyle changes.

What to expect at the vet’s office

Your vet will perform several tests to rule out the possibility of more serious underlying causes, such as a respiratory tract infection. They might perform allergy or blood tests, or X-rays to rule out a condition such as tracheal collapse. If they determine that allergies are causing reverse sneezing, they may prescribe antihistamines.

The bottom line

Reverse sneezing is a common symptom, and it’s most often harmless. However, if it’s the first time you’ve seen your dog reverse sneezing, you might want to take them to the vet to rule out the possibility of a serious underlying condition. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“If there is any doubt that your dog is having breathing problems or something other than a reverse sneeze, it is important to have them seen by their veterinarian as soon as possible,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, Director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital. “It can be very helpful to video record the attack so that you may show it to your veterinarian.”


Is reverse sneezing in dogs harmful?

Most often, reverse sneezing in dogs is not the result of a serious condition. However, it can sometimes be the symptom of an underlying disease. If your dog hasn’t displayed reverse sneezing as a symptom before, you should bring them to the vet to rule out more severe underlying conditions.

What conditions can cause reverse sneezing in dogs?

Among the conditions that can cause reverse sneezing in dogs are respiratory tract infections, tracheal collapse, nasal tumors or polyps, and small foreign bodies in the throat. 

Does pet insurance cover reverse sneezing in dogs?

In most cases, if your dog’s reverse sneezing is the result of a disease, pet insurance may help to cover treatment. This may not be true if your dog began suffering from the disease before coverage began or during a waiting period.

Did you know?

  • In most cases, reverse sneezing in dogs isn’t a sign of a harmful underlying condition. Vets may tell pet owners not to do anything at all!
  • Reverse sneezes aren’t actually sneezes, but muscle spasms known as paroxysmal respiration.
  • Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans can help cover up to 90% of eligible vet bills.

George Menz

George is a copywriter who has lived alongside cats his entire life.
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