Reverse Sneezing: You Can Stay Home for This One

Emergency rooms are magical places of brown smells, buzzing fluorescent lights, long wait times and stale coffee, so I can see why people really want to spend large quantities of time there with their pets (I kid). Some of the more obtuse conditions that have I have observed to cause folks to saunter in with their companions over the years include:

  • Eye boogers — no kidding, someone once brought a pug in for an eye booger at 3 a.m.
  • Trembling — again and again, at midnight, and always a little white dog. My favorite explanation for this one is either that their dog can sense an impending earthquake or that their house is haunted.
  • …and the dreaded reverse sneeze.

It sounds like some sort of fancy basketball move that Michael Jordan might pull off against the Lakers, but a reverse sneeze is actually fairly aptly named.

While a forward sneeze is a forceful expulsion of air out the nose to blow mucous and whatnot into the world, a reverse sneeze is that noisy phenomenon that happens when dogs inhale forcefully to try and suck that same mucus into their pharnynx, or throat. Their tonsils and tongue set up such a rattle when it happens that some owners are certain that their dog is choking and they scoop them up and head into the ER in a panic. Usually when they arrive, both parties are looking sheepish as the episode has passed and no one is really sure why they are there any more.

Here is a link to a cute little puggle having an episode.

It can be set off by allergies, dusty environments, who knows…maybe even ghosts and earthquakes. It is not a serious event and definitely doesn’t warrant a trip to the ER. For some dogs though, it can be a persistent or annoying enough problem (for either the dog or the owners) that it does need addressing. In some cases, antihistamines or other medications can help blunt the effects of allergies, so opening up a conversation with your trusted family veterinarian can be very helpful. I have had many owners tell me that they think gently massaging their dog’s throat just under the angle of the jaw can help shorten the episode (the key word here is gently).

This problem can be especially pernicious in those snub-nosed breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs and Boxers as they are prone to a whole constellation of upper airway malformations, known as brachycephalic airway syndrome. They have yards of extra tissue in their throat that just flaps around like a flag in the breeze. Severe cases may need surgery, but milder cases can sometimes be managed with medication, weight loss or lifestyle changes.

So, if you see your dog performing a maneuver that looks like our little YouTube Puggle friend, spare yourself a trip to the ER and spend the $100 on something nice for yourself — maybe earthquake insurance, basketball tickets or that Ghostbuster DVD box set you’ve had your eye on.

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