Reverse Sneezing

By Jenny Drastura



"Dog owners are often frightened when their dog suddenly begins wheezing and snorting, appearing to be unable to breathe. It is a frightening sight if you have never seen it before. Fortunately it may not be quite as serious as it looks.

This†snortin? is called reverse sneezing. Medically speaking, it consists of short periods (one to two minutes) of severe inspiratory dyspnea characterized by extension of the neck, bulging of the eyes and abduction of the elbows. Inspiratory dyspnea simply means a type of†air hunger? Swallowing causes the attacks to stop. It can happen every few days, once a wee?&once a month.

The sound of a reverse sneeze can be mimicked by a person pressing the base of the tongue upward and then trying to inhale through the nose. (I tried that, and it is very hard to do!) It is the incomplete closure of the nasopharnyx (above the soft palate) that results in the snorting sounds. This closure is normal during swallowing and is inhibited at the end of the swallowing process, which explains why swallowing helps stop an attack of reverse sneezing.

Sometimes irritation of the nasal passages from dust or allergens can cause this. Our Shih Tzu are so close to the ground that it is easy for them tobreathe in dust particles.

When you see your dog “snorting” like this, what you need to do is make the dog swallow by massaging the pharyngeal area (the upper throat area) or by briefly closing the nares. (Nares are the two little openings in the nose.) Relief should come almost immediately. We have found the latter method works best for our dogs, and is the easiest and quickest method. We just place our fingertips over the little nose openings and the snorting stops almost immediately.

It is important that the dog owner be sure that what the dog is doing is actually reverse sneezing. There are other types of sneezing and coughing that can be more serious. You must differentiate between the sneezing on inspiration - as the dog breathes in like with reverse sneezing - or regular sneezing which occurs as the dog breathes out. Some of the types of cough to watch for are congestive heart failure (usually nocturnal coughing); tracheal collapse (caused by exercise or excitement); problems with major airways (harsh prolonged cough); or pulmonary lung disease (soft, infrequent coughing). A productive cough (fluid or mucous) suggests infections, kennel cough, etc. Rarely reverse sneezing can be caused from a malformation in the nasal passage - but that causes very frequent and severe sneezing.

More than likely what you will be seeing in your Shih Tzu IS the reverse sneezing - it is quite common in this breed and other small breeds. But to be safe, watch the dog very carefully and see if closing off the nostrils makes it stop. If so, it is probably reverse sneezing. If you have any doubts, it is better to ask your vet.

If you are worried about what will happen if your dog does this while you are not around, don’t worry, he will be okay. They look as if they are really struggling, but they can and do recover without us. Yes, it does look sad to see them, but if what your Shih Tzu is indeed doing is reverse sneezing, he WILL be all right if you are not at home!



SOURCES:

  • Ettinger, Stephen, D.V.M. and Edward Feldman, D.V.M. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1995.

  • Hoskins, Johnny D., D.V.M., Ph.D. Veterinary Pediatricks. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1995."




  • First printed in the Shih Tzu Reporter: dogmag@fix.net