The Menace of the Reverse Sneeze

The video above is from an NC State University College of Vet Med video I found on YouTube showing a little Italian Greyhound in the throes of a reverse sneeze.  

Cut/Pasted from the Veterinary Information Network:  

“The most common cause of reverse sneezing is an irritation of the soft palate and throat that results in a spasm. During the spasm, the dog’s neck will extend and the chest will expand as the dog tries harder to inhale. The problem is that the trachea has narrowed and it’s hard to get the normal amount of air into the lungs.

Anything that irritates the throat can cause this spasm and subsequent sneeze. Causes include excitement, eating or drinking, exercise intolerance, pulling on a leash, mites, pollen, foreign bodies caught in the throat, perfumes, viruses, household chemicals, allergies, and post-nasal drip. If an irritant in the house is the cause, taking the dog outside can help simply because the dog will no longer be inhaling the irritant. Brachycephalic dogs (those with flat faces, such as Pugs and Boxers) with elongated soft palates occasionally suck the elongated palate into the throat while inhaling, causing reverse sneezing. Small dogs are particularly prone to it, possibly because they have smaller throats.”

This phenomenon, which seems to occur in dogs only,  strikes fear into the hearts of many clients a year.  It strikes fear into my heart,  only because it means I have to do my reverse sneeze imitation, which is no fun.  I heard Dr. Sharp do  his the other day, and it was pretty funny.  

I will never forget the first time I ever saw a dog do it.  It was probably my first week of work at Atascazoo Animal Hospital in Humble, Tx.  I was 15 years old and nervous as heck , this was my first job ever.  I was walking a fat, red, dachshund and she started doing it outside.   I scooped her up in terror and ran her inside to the vet.  I probably had the same horror-stricken look on my face that my clients have.  The vet, Dr. Kiker, calmly looked at me and declared that the dog was reverse sneezing.  Then I gave her the same disbelieving look the clients now give me, thinking:  this is some kind of new employee initiation thing; she’s totally pulling my leg.  I was too scared to contradict her,  but she recognized “the look” and explained the event to me.  I remember it like it was yesterday. 

Most clients think their dog either a) can’t breathe or b) is having a seizure.  Thus, the hard part is convincing the client that there is nothing wrong with their dog aside from maybe a little sinus drainage or throat irritation.   Generally they’re pretty adamant (as I was as a kid) that the dog had one paw in the grave and was about to keel over.  I get many, many incredulous stares implying :  “clearly you have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m telling you, Fluffy could not breathe”. 

Thus I do a thorough physical exam including careful chest ascultation, checking the mucous membranes and circulation, etc.  Generally, in the end, the dog is perfectly healthy.  Then I have to swallow my pride and go into my snorting rendition of the phenomena.  Some clients eyes light up, and say YES, that’s it.  Others still don’t believe me, so I send them home with a dose of Chlortrimetron (antihistamine that dries up sinus drainage)  and instructions to videotape the events. 

I had one come in this morning, same fear, same look.  Sent her home with the Chlortrimetron, instructions to videotape, and new fangled instructions to go to YouTube and look for a video. 

So this is my public service to educate others of the horror of the reverse sneeze.  Tell all your friends.  

You might save them an office call and your vet some embarrassment.

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