3 common causes that are often overlooked
If you have ever seen a dog snorting, making interrupted, choppy noises and sounding like a choo-choo train, you are most likely witnessing reverse sneezing.
Of course, a dog affected by sneezing can have other conditions, such as an obstruction of the nose with a piece of food or a blade of grass. There may also be a polyp or a nasal growth present. This is why any dog that sneezes or makes snorting noises needs to be examined first to rule out other conditions and establish a definite diagnosis.
If you love to learn about holistic approaches to your dog's health or if your best friend has been diagnosed with this troubling condition, the following information may help you solve your dog's problem without medication or surgery.
The anatomy and mechanics of reverse sneezing
Reverse sneezing is a condition that involves the soft palate, the area behind the hard palate. The canine nose, similar to the nose of other mammals including humans, is equipped with a soft palate and you can touch it if you flip your tongue up and back to feel the roof of your mouth.
The soft palate divides the nasal and oral cavities to prevent food and liquids from getting into the airways. Once in a while, a piece of food, a blade of grass or even a twig gets stuck behind the soft palate. This is an additional reason why your dog must be examined, often under short-acting anesthesia, to differentiate other causes of reverse sneezing.
To better understand what a dog with reverse sneezing feels like, you can induce a similar feeling by drawing your lower jaw back and inhaling strongly through the nose. Imagine that you forget a tissue at home and have a runny nose.
The causes of reverse sneezing
Most conventional medical articles connect reverse sneezing with congenital, often breed-related anatomy. Some dogs, especially short-nosed breeds, have been bred in such a way that their airways, the ‘tubes and pipes,’ are shortened and compressed leaving less room for air to pass through.
Reverse sneezing often affects smaller dogs, but any dog can be affected. When the airway in the area of the soft palate is narrow, the air passes by faster, increasing the likelihood of the soft palate ‘fluttering in the air' and making the familiar noise.
However, there are at least three other causes of reverse sneezing that are often forgotten.
Diet and reverse sneezing
When I was a teenager, I suffered from such severe pollen allergies that I could not breathe through my nose for six months out of the year. Just try to hold your nose for a few seconds and then imagine that feeling persisting for six months!! Most of the time, I felt exhausted and ill. But then in my early twenties, I stumbled upon articles and books that suggested that our diet has a huge influence on environmental allergies and that grain, dairy and sugar have an especially strong effect.
I applied a few dietary changes, reduced (not completely stopped) wheat and milk and my allergies miraculously went away.
Our dogs respond to a species inappropriate diet made of highly-processed ingredients the same way. Their nasal passages become congested and swollen and the likelihood of reverse sneezing rises dramatically.
That is why it is so important to feed a dog with reverse sneezing a raw or cooked diet made of meat, vegetables and no dairy or grains.
Rabies vaccine side-effects
Generally, I am a curious person, which makes me constantly look for connections and patterns that would lead me to solutions. Over the years, I noticed one interesting phenomenon that some dogs start reverse sneezing after a rabies vaccine.
From studying energy healing and homeopathy, I learned that vaccines can mimic the symptoms of the actual disease in one form or another. The symptoms of real rabies often cause retching and sneezing. I remember textbook cases of rabies where a dog was brought in because their guardian thought there was something stuck in the throat, but nothing was found. This is one of the common symptoms of rabies and can be laryngeal paralysis caused by the rabies virus.
Knowing this, I was puzzled by the fact that dogs vaccinated for rabies sometimes came back with similar symptoms. Out of curiosity, I gave these patients a homeopathic treatment, Lyssin, and some patients would fully recover from chronic reverse sneezing.
This is especially true in dogs that start showing the symptoms of reverse sneezing within a few weeks after getting the rabies vaccine.
Reverse sneezing caused by collars, retractable leashes
All you need to do is to grab your neck with your hands and pull back to see how easy it is to create blood congestion in the head. If you have a dog that pulls, the collar presses on the jugular veins and the blood outflow from the throat and head is partially obstructed and the soft palate will swell up. This can easily cause reverse sneezing in a predisposed dog.
Choke and martingale collars are the worst, but regular collars and unforgiving nylon leashes can also be the cause. Retractable leashes are also problematic because they are spring loaded and a dog needs to apply a force to extend. The break system of the leash is even worse because it creates a severe and traumatic jolt every time the break button is pressed.
What is the solution?
Any dog, but especially a dog affected by reverse sneezing, should have a leash attached to a harness with a clip at the front of the chest and below the neck (not on the back) to reduce pressure on the jugular vein.
I recommend using a shock-absorbing Featherlight leash to prevent shocks to your dog's neck. I also suggest that any dog affected by reverse sneezing needs to be examined and adjusted by an experienced animal chiropractor or physical therapist to address neck injuries and misalignment.
It may surprise you, but quite often the few steps listed above resolve the symptoms in a large majority of dogs with reverse sneezing.
Thank you for caring for your dog and sharing this article with others.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM