Reverse sneezing could be allergy, infection

Pete Keesling

Q: My friend told me that her labradoodle, Frank, has been diagnosed with “reverse sneezing.” I have never heard a dog sneeze. Is this really sneezing? What causes this?
Paroxysmal (“reverse”) sneezing is a symptom, not a disease. Think of it as a snorting noise, done as the dog inhales. When there’s irritation or mucus on the soft palate or throat, some dogs try to clear the problem by snorting repeatedly.
Reverse sneezing simply describes that this is done while the dog inhales. I always compare it to the throat-clearing guttural sounds some guys make at a baseball or football game. (Ladies would never do this!) Dogs repeat this snorting sound repeatedly, sometimes as many as four or five times in a row. It almost looks like a convulsive behavior, and some pet owners think their pooch is in the midst of a seizure. Reverse sneezing can be caused by an upper respiratory infection, an allergy or even just a little grass in the back of the throat. It’s a little more common in bulldogs and other breeds with short noses. But I’ve seen it in small terriers and great Danes and everything in between.
If it’s a chronic problem for Frank, he should be examined to see if he has a serious problem. But if he does this only once in a while (say once every two or three weeks), the best treatment is to just squirt a little water into his mouth to wash out his throat area. Mucus on the palate can become dry and sticky, and water will help clear it away more easily.
We just bought an English bulldog puppy. His name is Mortimer. Mort seems to have some trouble breathing when he plays hard. His little flat nose looks pinched and we think that’s why he has his trouble. Is this something that can be helped? Or is Mortimer going to grow out of this?
English bulldogs (affectionately called “bullies”) can have several problems that might affect their breathing and stamina. It sounds like little Mort has stenotic nares, a pinching of the outer nasal folds. This isn’t uncommon in bullies. And it’s correctable with a simple surgery where the folds are pulled out and anchored. If this his only respiratory problem, you’ll see a very different dog after surgery is done. You won’t hear that hissing sound as he breathes and he’ll have almost endless energy.
Stenotic nares is not a condition that puppies “grow out of.” In fact, it usually worsens with time. So Mortimer needs to be evaluated soon, to determine if surgery will help him (and you) breathe a little easier.
It’s Christmas time, and already G.G. has eaten a few cookies off the counter. I saw him trying to get to the decorative holly bows just a while ago. Just so you know … G.G. stands for Garbage Gut. He’s tried to eat everything he sees since he was a puppy. Is holly toxic?
Holly is right up there near the top of the list of toxic holiday plants. Along with poinsettias, lilacs, mistletoe and daffodils, Holly will make G.G. very, very sick. Dogs and cats that eat any of these plants usually end up at the veterinary hospital for treatment. So keep “Double G” away from all the decorations (and the cookies), and you’ll have a merrier Christmas, to be sure.
Many thanks to all of you who take time to read this column. Whether you write to me, or we see each other at Orchard or Nob Hill (or even O’Henry’s!), I love hearing about your pets. It’s been a challenging year for many of us. Recent events have made us even more aware that this is a fragile world in which we live. Friends and family, including all our critters, give us strength to face our daily challenges. So during this holiday season, give your pet that special hug … and I’ll see you in 2013.

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