Boston terriers are known as “the American gentleman” breed for good reason. They sport tuxedos 24/7. Unfortunately these dapper dogs tend to suffer from the dreaded inverted sneeze, a condition that can make them seem as though they’re gasping for air -- and potentially leaving their owners frantic.
What Is Inverted Sneezing?
Inverted sneezing is among the unofficial terms for inspiratory paroxysmal respiration or pharyngeal gag reflex. It's called backward sneezing, too, but more often it's known as "reverse sneezing." It occurs when an irritation to your Boston’s soft palate causes a throat spasm. The spasm results in either rapid or prolonged inspirations that sound like snorts. During an inverted sneezing attack, your pup makes a sound that mimics the honking sound of tracheal collapse. Don’t let it cause you to panic. Reverse sneezing spasms are often over quickly and leave no lasting effects.
Short-snouted Boston terriers are brachycephalic dogs. Brachycephalic simply means "shortened head." Boston terrier anatomy results in shorter, smaller nasal passages and airways, and elongated soft palates. These make them prone to inverted sneezing. Other causes of inverted sneezing include irritations to the throat such as those caused by pulling on a leash, exercise intolerance, eating or drinking too quickly, mites, pollen, perfume, foreign objects, allergies or post-nasal drip.
There is no medical treatment for inverted sneezing. It can be scary, since it seems as though your buddy is gasping for air, but try to recall the harmless nature of a reverse sneeze. However, if your Boston terrier seems distressed, you can do a couple things to stop a reverse sneeze. Try gently rubbing his throat or softly blowing in his face. Doing either of these should prompt him to swallow, clearing out irritants in his throat. Remember, the calmer you remain, the calmer your Boston is likely to remain.
Causes for Concern
It’s important to differentiate between choking and reverse sneezing. Signs of choking include drooling, difficulty breathing and blue- or gray-tinged gums. Immediately consult a veterinarian if your dog appears to be choking. Consult a veterinarian if your Boston terrier experiences frequent or prolonged reverse sneezing episodes, becomes lethargic or experiences difficulty breathing. Occasionally reverse sneezing is a symptom of larger problems such as allergies, sinusitis or other respiratory ailments.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.