3 common causes that are often overlooked
If you’ve ever seen a dog snorting, making intermittent, jerky sounds and sounding like a choo-choo train, you’re most likely witnessing reverse sneezing.
Of course, a dog that suffers from sneezing may also have other conditions, such as a nasal blockage due to a piece of food or a blade of grass. A polyp or nasal growth may also be present. Therefore, any dog that sneezes or sniffles should first be examined to rule out other conditions and make a definitive diagnosis.
If you are interested in learning more about holistic approaches to your dog’s health or your best friend has been diagnosed with this troubling condition, the following information can help you resolve your dog’s problem without medication or surgery.
The anatomy and function of reverse sneezing
Reverse sneezing is a condition that involves the soft palate, the area behind the hard palate. The dog’s nose, similar to the nose of other mammals, including humans, is equipped with a soft palate and you can touch it if you move your tongue up and back to feel the palate.
The soft palate divides the nasal and oral cavities to prevent food and liquids from entering the airways. Occasionally a piece of food, a blade of grass or even a twig gets stuck behind the soft palate. This is why your dog should be examined, often under short-acting anesthesia, to distinguish other causes of reverse sneezing.
To better understand what a dog with reverse sneezing feels like, you can induce a similar feeling by pulling your lower jaw back and breathing in forcefully through the nose. Imagine forgetting a tissue at home and having a runny nose.
The causes of reverse sneezing
Most conventional medical articles link reverse sneezing to congenital, often breed-related anatomy. Some dogs, especially short-nosed breeds, have shorter and compressed airways, leaving less room for air to pass through them.
Reverse sneezing often affects smaller dogs, but any dog can be affected. When the airway in the soft palate area is narrow, air passes more quickly, increasing the chance that the soft palate will “flap in the air” and make the familiar sound.
However, at least there are 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 couldn’t breathe through my nose for six months of the year. Just try holding your nose for a few seconds and then imagine that feeling lasting for six months!! Most of the time I felt exhausted and sick. But in my early 20s, I came across articles and books suggesting that our diet has a huge impact on environmental allergies, and that grains, dairy and sugar have a particularly strong effect.
I made a few diet changes and reduced wheat and milk (not stopped completely) and my allergies miraculously disappeared.
Our dogs respond similarly to some type of inappropriate diet made from highly processed ingredients. Their nasal passages become clogged and swollen and the likelihood of reverse sneezing increases dramatically.
That’s why it’s so important to feed a dog with reverse sneezing a raw or cooked diet consisting of meat, vegetables and without dairy or grains.
Side effects of the rabies vaccine
In general, I am a curious person, which means I am constantly looking for connections and patterns that lead me to solutions. Over the years I have noticed one interesting phenomenon: some dogs begin reverse sneezing after a rabies vaccine.
Through studying energy healing and homeopathy I have learned that vaccines can mimic the symptoms of the actual disease in some form. The symptoms of true rabies often cause gagging and sneezing. I remember textbook examples of rabies where a dog was brought in because the guardian thought there was something in its throat, but nothing was found. This is one of the most common symptoms of rabies and may be laryngeal paralysis caused by the rabies virus.
Knowing this, I was surprised that dogs vaccinated against rabies sometimes came back with similar symptoms. Out of curiosity, I gave these patients a homeopathic treatment, Lyssin, and some patients recovered completely from chronic reverse sneezing.
This is especially true for dogs that begin to show symptoms of reverse sneezing within a few weeks of receiving the rabies vaccine.
Reverse sneezing caused by collars, retractable leashes
In Chapter 9 of the Holistic Health and Longevity Course for Dogs I talk about the harmful effects of collars, choke chains and retractable leashes.
All you have to do is grab your hands by your neck and pull them back to see how easy it is to cause blood congestion in the head. If you have a dog that pulls, the collar will press on the jugular veins, partially restricting blood flow from the throat and head, and causing the soft palate to swell. 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 must exert force to pull them out. The belt braking system is even worse because it causes a severe and traumatic shock every time the brake button is pressed.
What is the solution?
Any dog, but especially one that suffers from reverse sneezing, should have a well-fitting harness that avoids any pressure on the jugular vein.
Many harnesses on the market that have the leash attached to the back still restrict the front portion of the neck when a dog pulls, putting pressure on veins, arteries, nerves and energy channels.
Using a harness with both the front and back together provides the most control, balance and safety, especially for dogs that are strong or pull on the leash. For dogs that don’t pull, we have found that using just the front clip is a suitable option to use at your discretion.
I recommend using a shock-absorbing Gentle leash to prevent shock to your dog’s neck. I also suggest that any dog experiencing reverse sneezing be examined and adjusted by an experienced animal chiropractor or physical therapist to address neck injuries and misalignment.
It may surprise you, but often the few steps mentioned 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