You’ve just gotten home from work for the day. You’re exhausted and you set your stuff down near the door. Walking further into your home you see your beloved border collie, Bella. You run over to kiss her and wrap her in a big hug. She always knows exactly what to do when you’ve had a long day. She’s thrilled to see you as always. Her whole body shakes as she wags. Finally, you’ve finished your nightly arrival routine and you head to the kitchen to start working on dinner. Suddenly you hear a strange noise from the living room.
You rush around the corner as the noise progresses and find that it’s Bella. She stares at you wagging her tail, but she seems to be struggling to breathe. Inhaling deeply and moving her lips almost into a deranged smile as she does. You can see her chest heave in and out with each attempt. The noise you hear is unusual, it’s almost like a wheeze, but it seems to require more effort. You rush to her side, fearful that she is choking, but she continues this behavior despite you arriving next to her. You pet her side and coax her to calm down a little. Suddenly, she stops altogether. No more heaving, no wheeze. She just stares at you and wags her tail. She picks up her favorite tennis ball and stares at you as if willing you to try to take it away.
“That’s strange,” you wonder to yourself, and then get back into the kitchen to work on dinner again. You’ve finished chopping the potatoes and the oven chimes that it is preheated. “Finally,” you mutter to yourself. As you lower your dish into the oven, you hear the noise again. Rounding the corner, there’s Bella heaving again as if struggling to breathe. “I guess this will have to wait,” you say shutting the oven off as you grab Bella’s leash. Weirdly enough, she stops again and dashes over to you, rearing to go. “I still need to take you to the vet, you know?” You say to her, as you scoop her into the car immediately dashing her hopes of a walk. What’s going on with Bella?
Bella is exhibiting a behavior called a reverse sneeze. This affectionate term is given to an unusual behavior that many dogs do that can appear extraordinarily similar to choking or difficult breathing. It often causes significant abdominal effort, and as mentioned above it often alters the outward appearance of your dog’s face as they do it. In fact, what is going on is essentially nothing more than clearing mucus from the area in the back of the throat, or more formally, the nasopharynx. In layman’s terms, Bella is hawking a lugie.
However, the reason behind this can be much more complex. It can happen in both dogs and cats, and while all they are doing is clearing the back of their throat, the cause of the increased mucus in that area can be immensely variable. In my experience, the most common reason for this in dogs is some sort of airborne allergen or irritant. Something has increased the drainage from the nasal cavity back into the pharynx a little and this is driving the pet to try to clear it out. Upper respiratory infection is the second most common reason I see in dogs — and is the most common reason I’ve seen in cats; though it is much rarer in cats.
There are numerous videos on the internet showing what a reverse sneeze looks like, I’ve included a video of my own dog to demonstrate the behavior a little. Reverse sneezes are one of the scariest clinical signs to see on your pet, as they appear to be having a difficult time breathing, but they are often nothing to worry about. Rarely, would these amount to anything more serious. I say rarely based on my own experience because I have never seen a case of reverse sneezing, like Bella’s, that was caused by something more severe. Reverse sneezing that occurs as an isolated event (one or multiple) without additional clinical signs are often benign. However, if you are noticing this behavior frequently or it is occurring in conjunction with additional clinical signs such as nasal discharge or rapid respiratory rate, it could indicate something more severe. So, you should absolutely consult with your Veterinarian.
Please don’t forget to check out the video on this post, as it is a good example of what a reverse sneeze can look like. Thanks for reading.