Sneezing, Reverse Sneezing and Gagging in Dogs

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What Is sneezing and Reverse Sneezing?

Sneezing refers to the natural action of expelling air to remove matter through the nasal passages. Reverse sneezing, on the other hand, refers to the action of bringing air into the body to disperse irritants in the upper region behind the nose. Dogs can gag to expel irritants from the larynx; this is sometimes misinterpreted as vomiting.

Symptoms and Types

Sneezing is often followed by a rapid downward movement of the head, with the mouth closed, which may cause the dog's nose to hit the ground. Reverse sneezing is also characterized by a backward movement of the head, a closed mouth, and lips sucking in. Gagging tends to cause the dog to swallow after straining its neck and opening its mouth. A helpful symptom checking tool is the PetMD Symptom Checker.


Such medical behaviors can affect any breed of dog. The most common causes for younger dogs include infections, a cleft palate, or bronchial infections. Another major cause is the involuntary movement of hair-like cilia that lines the respiratory tract and functions to remove foreign matter from the air before it enters the lungs. This uncontrollable hair movement is medically referred to as ciliary dyskinesis.

The most common causes for senior dogs include nasal tumors and dental diseases. Other reasons may include mucus irritation, nasal obstruction, inflammation, excess nasal discharge or secretion, pneumonia, frequent vomiting, and gastrointestinal disease. Unvaccinated dogs are at greater risk of contracting illnesses, which can lead to frequent sneezing. Chronic dental disease can cause both chronic sneezing and reverse sneezing. Mites located in the openings of the nose may also be a result of either of these physical reflexes.


The first method of diagnosis is to differentiate between sneezing and reverse sneezing in the dog. Next, if the condition is serious, more in-depth testing may be done to see if there is a more severe underlying medical condition. Your vet will rule out other reasons for abnormal breathing and sneezing, including upper respiratory tract infection, trachea collapse, nasal tumors or polyps, foreign substances in the nasal passages or mouth, and so on.

How Is Reverse Sneezing Treated?

Most occurrences of reverse sneezing do not require medical attention. If your dog has a reverse sneezing episode, you should softly stroke the neck and try to calm her down. Usually, as the dog exhales through the nose, the attack is over. It is very uncommon for dogs to experience any injuries or to undergo any serious damage during these attacks. Most of the reverse sneeze episodes last less than a minute, although longer durations have been reported.

In certain cases, your vet may want to prescribe anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, or decongestant medicine to help with your dog's condition.

What Is Gagging?

Gagging is a natural reflex that dogs have, and usually comes on quickly, and leaves just as fast without recurring. Older dogs will be more vulnerable to gagging as they can produce more mucus, which will cause them to gag randomly. Recurrent gagging or non-stop gagging is a cause for concern and may require veterinary attention. Possible causes of chronic gagging include a foreign object in the throat, esophagus or mouth, kennel cough, Intestinal parasite infestation, and many more. 

What To Do If Your Dog Is Gagging

Often it can be difficult to tell whether the dog needs medical assistance. When your dog is gagging more and more frequently or the gagging is followed by cough, nasal discharge, trouble breathing, lethargy, fever, or excessive panting/drooling, you need to see the vet immediately because the dog may be in serious pain.


Photo by Alice Castro from Pexels


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