Daisy has always been a happy, healthy dog, but since she was a young adult, she has had episodes of strange breathing.
The episodes last somewhere between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes, and Daisy is always perfectly normal before they start and after they finish.
Eric has never worried much about them: he always presumed that she must have a bit of fluff in her throat, or some type of hair ball. But when he brought Daisy to see me recently for her annual check up, he'd remembered to take a short video of her having an episode, and he showed it to me to see what I thought.
If any pet has intermittent signs of a problem, it's a great idea to take a video to show your vet. Whether it's coughing, sneezing, minor fits, lameness or anything at all, a video often captures what's going on in the clearest way possible.
Ten years ago, before videos were so widely available, people used to try to explain what their pets were doing by mimicking it themselves. I've seen people gulping, coughing, squeaking and rolling their eyes in their efforts to show me what their pet is doing. These days, videos on mobile phones do a far better job of explaining what a pet has been doing.
When I watched the video of Daisy's odd breathing, it was obvious to me what was going on. Daisy was breathing out slowly and noisily, through her nose, then breathing in rapidly, again through her nose. She was doing it time and time again, and I could understand that it was upsetting for her owners to see her like this.
Eric explained that it happened several times a week, usually in the middle of the night.
Daisy sleeps in his bedroom, and he's often woken up by her having one of these odd episodes. He had always talked to her, gently rubbed her throat and tried to calm her down, and after a couple of minutes she had always returned to normal, then gone back to sleep.
I was able to tell Eric what was going on: Daisy was having episodes of "reverse sneezing". This is exactly what it sounds like.
A sneeze involves breathing in slowly, then rapidly breathing out. A reverse sneeze is the opposite: breathing out slowly, then explosively breathing in. Just as animals (and people) can have fits of sneezing, some dogs have fits of reverse sneezing. It's common in smaller breeds of dog, especially in short-nosed breeds, because their respiratory passages are shorter and narrower than in larger animals.
Reverse sneezing is caused by a spasm of the throat and soft palate, which can be triggered by any irritation to these areas. The most common triggers are environmental irritants like dusts, pollens, perfumes, or household chemicals such as floor cleaners. A change in room temperature can trigger an episode, which may be why Daisy has episodes at night. Sometimes, respiratory infections can make reverse sneezing happen more often.
In most cases, reverse sneezing is nothing to worry about, and the best approach is to do what Eric was doing already: just gently rub your dog's throat and keep them calm. It usually stops within a couple of minutes. Sometimes you can help by gently closing your dog's nostrils: this causes them to swallow, which can stop the spasms. It can also be worth trying to find out the cause, by taking steps like changing floor cleaners, or using a different rug for your dog to sleep on.
Daisy will probably continue to reverse sneeze, but now that Eric knows what's happening, he'll be less worried about it.
Reverse sneezing may not be dangerous, but it's better for everyone if it can be prevented.
> Reverse sneezing is a common and harmless phenomenon
> Gently pinching a dog's nostrils can help episodes settle down
> Visit Pete Wedderburn's YouTube channel to see Daisy having an episode