Reverse sneezing aka mechanosensitive aspiration reflex: no need to worry!

Yesterday, my Greyhound did something strange during our morning walk: he made a weird, cough-like sound, stretched his throat, and seemed to be suffocating or having some kind of seizure. It only lasted very briefly, so I relaxed. However, just before going to bed last night, the same thing happened again – this time, several times in a row:

Fanta reverse sneezes.

I had never seen a dog do anything like this before. It was clear that he wasn’t choking on anything, since he hadn’t had anything to eat that he could possibly have choked on. I was scared my dog might be suffocating, or having a seizure! Or had he caught some strange respiratory illness from the Slovakian foster dog that had been staying with us over the weekend?

After some late night research and with the help of the retired racing Greyhound community, I learned that there was no need to worry: Fanta was doing something that wasn’t uncommon among Greyhounds (and other dogs): he was reverse sneezing! The reverse sneeze, or mechanosensitive aspiration reflex, inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, or pharyngeal gag reflex, is not uncommon in dogs, and many Greyhounds show it frequently. It is no more dangerous or uncomfortable than a regular sneeze. The difference is that in a reverse sneeze, the air is quickly and noisily pulled in through (rather than out of) the nose. This is due to an irritation of the the throat, pharynx, or laryngeal area, which in turn causes a spasm of the throat and soft palate. The irritation can be triggered by pollen, a draft of air, a certain smell, excitement, pulling on leash, a change in temperature … Just as with a regular sneeze, it’s not always possible to determine its cause, and as long as it passes quickly and the dog behaves as if nothing ever happened, there is no need to worry. 

Has your dog ever reverse-sneezed? In what situation? And were you as alarmed as I was when you first observed a reverse sneeze?

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