I found this really great article about something my dog does all the time. I’d always wondered about this:
Help! My Dog is Having an Asthma Attack!
Has your dog ever made a noise like he was gasping and choking and kind of sneezing and wheezing all at once? Would you describe it as an “asthma attack”? This can be an alarming incident to witness because you feel helpess like there is nothing you can do to make it stop. However, it does stop in about 10-30 seconds and then your dog goes back to normal acting like nothing happened. What the heck?
What you were probably a witness to is something called reverse sneezing. The name is actually a misnomer as it really has nothing to do with sneezing. It is an irritation of the soft palate that causes a spasm. The soft palate is the soft, fleshy piece of tissue that is an extension of the hard palate (roof of the mouth). The spasm narrows the airway and makes it temporarily difficult for the dog to take in air.
Anything that causes irritation to throat can trigger a spasm. Some common causes include excitement, drinking water, pulling on a leash, perfumes, household cleaners, and environmental allergens.
Brachycephalic dogs (those with pushed in faces like Pugs and Boxers) have very long soft palates and therefore seem to more susceptible. Small breed dogs also seem to be more prone but nobody knows why (smaller airway?).
Although this condition seems very alarming it rarely requires treatment. Once the “sneezing” stops, the spasm is over. Things you can do to help minimize the length of the spasm is to massage the dog’s throat or cover the nostrils which makes the dog swallow.
In short, reverse sneezing is not a life-threatening problem and will usually resolve on it’s own without treatment. If you are unsure whether or not your dog is actually reverse sneezing video tape an episode and take it to your veterinarian. They can watch it and tell you for sure.
Dr. Hinson is a mixed animal veterinarian in Tampa, FL and a regular contributor to Wag Reflex.