Reverse sneezing is a normal phenomenon in dogs. It’s even more common in small breeds. Pug owners are no strangers to reverse sneezing. Their brachycephalic head shape, short snout, narrow nasal cavity, and pinched airway make them especially prone to reverse sneezing.
Anyone who has owned pugs for a while can identify reverse sneezing and probably stopped panicking about it a long time ago and know that it isn’t an emergency trip to see the veterinarian in the middle of the night. But for a new pug owner, the first few episodes can be a little frightening, if not terrifying. In order to bring yourself some peace of mind, it’s important to know how to identify reverse sneezing, why it happens, and how to recognize if there’s something more serious going on.
How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Reverse Sneezing?
It seems that pugs are genetically predisposed to reverse sneezing. In addition to having shorter snouts, brachycephalic breeds like pugs also have long soft palates. This is the soft tissue in the top, back of the throat that is meant to cover the airway when the dog is eating or drinking. Its job is to make sure that no food or water gets into the dog’s airway or lungs.
With pugs, the soft palate extends a bit too far back and covers more of the normal breathing passages. This can lead to some other breathing problems that pugs experience but is also commonly identified as the culprit that induces bouts of reverse sneezing.
For dogs and for humans, a regular sneeze happens when a rush of air is forcibly pushed out of the nose. A reverse sneeze gets its name because it happens when air is rapidly and loudly pulled back in through the nose. It’s a fairly normal occurrence for dogs, including pugs, although the sound can be quite sudden and harsh. It’s easy to confuse it for something more serious because it sounds so weird and can be scary.
How, then, can you tell when your pug is reverse sneezing? One way is by how he’s standing. Your pug will widen his stance, pushing his elbows out, extending his neck and pulling back his head. His eyes will appear to bulge more than usual. This will all be accompanied by the loud snorting noise.
What is happening is the spasms are narrowing your dog’s airway and he’s having trouble pulling enough air into his lungs. No wonder it sounds so scary and causes pet owners to panic! Remember, it’s a normal thing that happens to dogs like pugs. Episodes should only last around a minute or less and, once resolved, everything goes right back to normal.
What Causes Reverse Sneezing?
As we mentioned, reverse sneezing is caused by the soft palate and throat. They essentially spasm and the soft palate tissue gets sucked down into the throat. This spasm is thought to be triggered by some kind of irritation. This could be any number of things: Allergens, exercise intolerance, high humidity, or going from cold to warmth or warmth to cold.
Viral infections can also cause it. So can eating or drinking too much, too fast. Sometimes, it can even happen when your pug gets over excited or startled. Or, it could be brought on by a collar that’s too tight or a yank on a leash. Just one more reason why pugs should always be walked using a harness.
What Can I Do to Help?
We already know that reverse sneezing can be scary for you, the dog owner; even though it’s a normal thing that happens it can be really scary for your dog, too. One of the most important things you can do it stay calm. Your dog will pick up on your anxiety and become conditioned to panic every time reverse sneezing occurs. Talk to your dog in a soft, calm voice and try to reassure him that he’ll be okay.
Another thing you can do is massage your pug’s throat during the incident. This could be enough to stop the muscle spasm and end the reverse sneezing. You can also try to press on your dog’s tongue if he’ll let you. This will open his mouth wider and could help the air get through better.
Alternatively, you could try is briefly putting your hand over your dog’s nostrils. Your dog will be encouraged to swallow, which could make the spasms stop. Offering him water or a treat could also elicit the same effect.
One of the best things you can do to help is to try to identify what triggers your pet’s reverse sneezing. You’ll most likely never eliminate the problem, but you can try to reduce the frequency with which it happens once you identify the trigger and work out how to avoid it.
When to Call the Vet
Reverse sneezing in itself doesn’t require treatment. Once it stops and the spasm is over, the soft palate returns to its normal position and your dog goes back to being his happy old self. If your pug is already suffering from allergies and the allergen is the irritant causing reverse sneezing, antihistamine medication can help.
If the frequency of the reverse sneezing suddenly increases, the episodes begin to last a lot longer than you feel they should, or if your dog is becoming increasingly panicked during an episode it’s a good idea to contact your vet. This is just a precaution to rule out other things, like kennel cough, polyps, foreign body aspiration, or a respiratory infection.
Frequent reverse sneezing can also have some side effects that should be looked at, like nose bleeds, nasal discharges, and nasal irritation. For a pug, breathing problems are always a concern anyway, adding any of these can possibly exacerbate any current respiratory issues.
Reverse sneezing is a normal part of life with a dog, especially a brachycephalic dog like your pug. Usually, episodes are short and resolved without any intervention. That said, if you’re concerned about your pup, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian, just to be on the safe side.