Reverse Sneezing in Cats: Is it Normal?

By Alberto Roy

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Reverse sneezing functions as a defense mechanism for your cat, occurring when certain triggers cause spasms in the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. The resulting noise might be concerning, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with what a reverse sneeze entails.

The causes of reverse sneezing in cats aren’t vastly different from those of regular sneezing. Allergens such as dust or pollen can provoke reactions in your feline’s airways. While reverse sneezing is less common in cats compared to dogs, it’s typically not a cause for serious concern and is considered normal.

Another frequent cause of reverse sneezing can be the presence of a foreign object lodged in the nasal cavity. If your cat has been experiencing reverse sneezing and you’re unsure of the cause, consider consulting this article for further insights.

Many pet owners are accustomed to their pets sneezing occasionally, which can often be quite adorable. However, have you ever encountered a reverse, or backward, sneeze? If you’re not familiar with reverse sneezing, it can be somewhat alarming. To alleviate any fear stemming from the unfamiliar, it’s beneficial to recognize what reverse sneezing entails and why it occurs in our pets.

What is Reverse Sneezing in Cats?

During a regular sneeze, your cat forcefully expels air from its nasal cavity to clear any irritants. In contrast, during a reverse sneeze, air is rapidly drawn in through the nose. This reverse airflow helps eliminate foreign substances. While many cat owners may not recognize reverse sneezing, it can appear alarming and mimic serious health issues.

A cat experiencing a reverse sneeze typically stands motionless with its head and neck extended, emitting unusual snorting or honking sounds. This posture may be mistaken for a seizure by some pet owners. Typically lasting about a minute, the sneezing ceases once the cat expels air through its nose.

Reverse sneezing is triggered by irritation in the nasal cavity or throat, causing the cat to inhale air rapidly instead of expelling it as in a regular sneeze. This “backward sneeze” occurs due to throat spasms narrowing the glottis, resulting in the characteristic snorting noise.

Muscle contractions and movement of the laryngeal cartilage generate pressure that opens the glottis, allowing a strong inward airflow that reduces irritants and mucus. Mucus elimination then occurs through the digestive tract or by coughing.

Despite its complexity, reverse sneezing is generally not harmful, and cats typically recover swiftly from episodes.

What Occurs During Reverse Sneezing in Our Pets?

Reverse sneezing, also known as inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, is characterized by the rapid inhalation of air through the nose. This contrasts with a regular sneeze, where air is forcefully expelled through the nose. Often triggered by irritants in the nasal passage, reverse sneezing is typically harmless. However, if it becomes prolonged or frequent, it’s advisable for your pet to visit their veterinarian. While reverse sneezing is more prevalent in dogs, it can also manifest in cats.

What Triggers REVERSE SNEEZING in Cats?

Your cat might sneeze for various reasons. The causes of reverse sneezing in cats resemble those of regular sneezing. While reverse sneezing is more common in dogs than in cats, there are instances when felines experience it. Below are potential reasons why a cat may be reverse sneezing:

  • Allergens like dust, pollen, mold, perfume, cigarette smoke, and candles are some irritants that could cause sneezing. If sneezing is related to allergies, their skin may also be itchy.
  • Drainage of discharge could be triggered by a runny nose resulting from nasal or upper respiratory infections. An infected cat may have thick discharge running from their eyes as well.
  • Feline upper respiratory infections can precipitate sneezing in your cat, and your cat may have yellow, green, or bloody discharge coming out of their eyes or nose. It may be viral, bacterial, or fungal.
  • Tumors or growths of the voice box or trachea are rare in cats. They can cause problems with inhaling and exhaling. Coughing, wheezing, or exercise intolerance may also occur.
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome occurs when there are upper airway abnormalities like an extended soft palate. The soft palate is too lengthy for the mouth, and the trachea’s entrance is partially blocked.
  • Lower respiratory tract infections may cause coughing and difficulty breathing, and these infections can be initiated by bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. Feline asthma can trigger the illness.
  • The feline herpes virus can trigger upper respiratory symptoms, ulcers on the cornea, and fever. The virus causes lifelong infection in most cats affected.
  • Overexcitement can sometimes trigger sneezing. Like humans, it can be expected for cats to sneeze several times in a row due to emotional stimuli.
  • Nasal polyp symptoms often look like an upper respiratory infection. Sneezing, respiratory sounds, and nasal congestion may all be present.
  • Foreign bodies, such as blades of grass, can enter the nasal cavity. There will be irritation first, and an infection may occur if the foreign body is not expelled.
  • Dental disease can cause sneezing, mostly involving root infections. Infections in a cat’s tooth can result in bacteria in the sinuses, leading to inflammation and sneezing.
  • Intranasal vaccines that protect against respiratory infections can trigger sneezing for a few days after they are dispensed. The sneezing typically goes away on its own without treatment.

A sudden shift in temperature can also provoke reverse sneezing. Sneezing triggered by rapid eating or drinking aligns with sneezing caused by excitement.

Occasionally, your cat might become enthusiastic about its food or water, leading to rapid ingestion and subsequent sneezing. Additionally, exercise intolerance in cats can contribute to sneezing, as some cats dislike vigorous activity, potentially leading to weight gain.

What Does Reverse Sneezing Look (and Sound) Like?

During an episode of reverse sneezing, your pet typically stands still and extends their head and neck. They may appear to gag and emit a loud snorting sound as they inhale. These episodes can last from a few seconds to a minute or so. Occasionally, after prolonged episodes, some pets may vomit. However, they usually recover quickly and act as if nothing happened afterward.

Reverse sneezing can sometimes be mistaken for symptoms of other more serious respiratory conditions. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your veterinarian or seek medical attention at an animal emergency hospital.


While reverse sneezing is generally nothing to fret over, prolonged episodes can be uncomfortable for both you and your cat. If your cat is experiencing this, there are several methods you can employ to help shorten the duration of their reverse sneezing.

One approach is to gently massage your cat’s throat, which may provide soothing relief and alleviate discomfort. If this proves ineffective, attempting to blow short puffs of air into your cat’s face can sometimes interrupt the cycle of reverse sneezing. If your cat doesn’t respond positively to these techniques, softly speaking to them in a reassuring manner can help them feel secure and at ease.

Maintaining a clean and irritant-free household environment is also crucial in preventing triggers for reverse sneezing. For cats prone to colds or respiratory infections, using a humidifier can aid in keeping their nasal passages clear, facilitating easier breathing. Offering your cat comfort and cuddles can also provide relief.

If your cat’s reverse sneezing persists despite your efforts, and you’ve tried various interventions without success, consider recording a video of your cat during these episodes to share with your veterinarian. This visual aid can assist the vet in understanding your cat’s experience, and they may offer additional practical advice or interventions, even if there’s no underlying medical issue.

How Is Reverse Sneezing Diagnosed?

Typically, diagnosis relies on your pet’s symptoms and medical background. Providing your veterinarian with a video of your pet during an episode is highly advantageous. Additionally, inform them of the location and preceding events leading up to the episode.

It’s essential to rule out other medical conditions that may cause snorting or abnormal breathing, such as respiratory tract infections, laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea, nasal tumors or polyps, trauma, etc. Your veterinarian might recommend laboratory tests, allergy testing, x-rays, or other diagnostics to confirm.

How to Manage Reverse Sneezing in Dogs and Cats?

The reassuring news is that most instances of reverse sneezing do not necessitate medical intervention. The prognosis for the causes of reverse sneezing is typically positive.

When your pet experiences a reverse sneezing episode, they may become anxious. Speak calmly, gently stroke their neck, and try to help them relax. You can also attempt to comfort them by hugging them or exposing them to cool air, such as standing in front of an open refrigerator or freezer.

Changing the environment by moving outside or inside can be beneficial. Some owners have discovered that lightly covering their pet’s nose prompts the swallowing reflex and halts the reverse sneeze. Additionally, encouraging your dog to swallow can help stop the reverse sneezing.

If your dog experiences frequent or prolonged reverse sneezing episodes, or exhibits other concerning signs, consult your veterinarian. In some cases, your pet may require anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, or decongestants to alleviate the condition.

Bottom Line:

In conclusion, witnessing your cat in an unusual posture and emitting strange noises during a reverse sneeze can be unsettling if you’re unfamiliar with this behavior. Nevertheless, reverse sneezing is typically not a cause for concern, and there are measures you can take to aid your feline friend in feeling more at ease.

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