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My little dog Sweets sometimes makes a terrible sound like she cannot get her breath. It is so loud and she looks like she is scared when it happens. Don’t know what to do. I took a video and sent to my vet and he said it is a reverse sneeze? What is that and will she get better or worse from now on?

Videos are such a good use of technology, especially with COVID-19, resulting in the increased use of telemedicine on both the human and the animal side. It is a great example of a social distancing technique to keep us all safer. Kudos to you and Sweets.

So let’s talk about reverse sneezing as your veterinarian has diagnosed Sweet’s episodes.

What happens and what we hear during a reverse sneeze is a loud inspiratory effort made when her epiglottis is actually closed. In contrast, a normal sneeze occurs when air is forcefully pushed outward. We usually feel a spray of secretions or see them on the surrounding area during a sneeze, too.

Body position is different between the two events. During a regular sneeze, her head will be thrown forward and downward. In reverse sneezes, her head will stay in a normal position or even be pulled backward.

Often the exact cause of a reverse sneeze cannot be determined, but we do know that irritants and inflammation will absolutely cause this reaction. Causes of the inflammation might include allergies and sinus secretions, foreign bodies such as grass and seeds, and even masses that are growing in her sinus and pharynx.

Some breeds of dogs have a longer soft palate, and that anatomical change will predispose them to developing the condition. Also from a behavioral standpoint, she may be drinking or eating too fast or getting excited or even pulling on her collar during walks. One or several of these issues will result in a reverse sneeze in some dogs.

As a veterinarian, watching the episodes is the best way to diagnose the condition. Of course, a good exam to rule out and treat things like allergies and foreign bodies is definitely needed to look for a cure. Once all those other causes are addressed, if she continues to have episodes of reverse sneezing please don’t worry. We don’t classify reverse sneezing as a form of respiratory distress in pets.

What you can do at home when it happens is, I am sure, what you have already been doing instinctually. The episodes do not last long, which is good. When you see Sweets in an episode, simply try to gently massage her neck and try to calm her down. Also, if you place your fingers over her nostrils that will force her to swallow and should stop the behavior.

There are no medications that will prevent her behavior. Antihistamines or steroids to treat allergies may be helpful, as well as antibiotics if she has a sinus infection. Certainly weight loss won’t hurt any dog with breathing problems. Also you can try changing her leash and collar to a harness or a gentle leader if she is pulling a lot.

Pet owners hate reverse sneezing, and I know how scary they must seem when you are at home and your pet starts making a terrible noise as if she can’t breathe. Remember, this is a short episode and she is not in distress. Just calm her down and close her nose and then, when she is good, you‘ll be breathing better, too. Good luck!

Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to “Ask the Vet,” Charleston Gazette-Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301 or email them to askthevet@wvgazettemail.com. Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.