Q. Last week our new puppy started making a horrible sound we’d never heard before. We couldn’t tell if it was coming from her nose or throat. We honestly thought she was going to die, but a neighbor told us it was normal. How can that be?
What you’re describing was almost certainly a common spasm that’s often called a reverse sneeze. Cats, too, occasionally experience this disconcerting but benign condition.
The cause of reverse sneezing is believed to be an irritation of the soft palate. The result is a hiccup-like spasm that looks like a rhythmic combination of a cough, sneeze, gag, honk or snort.
Any irritant can cause it, including excitement, eating or drinking, exercise, leash-pulling, inhalation of pollen, strong odors, viruses, bacteria, household chemicals and respiratory allergies.
The causes are so varied that it’s almost impossible to know what caused an episode, which, of course, makes it hard to prevent another one.
You might find that relaxing your puppy – by massaging her throat, hugging her or providing some other type of soothing stimulus – ends future episodes more quickly. Alternatively, eliciting a swallow reflex by briefly closing her nostrils might help clear any irritant from the soft palate.
Persistent or especially violent bouts of reverse sneezing may warrant investigation to rule out underlying disorders. If you’re not sure it’s normal, take a quick smart-phone video of the event for your veterinarian to see.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Dolittler, Tropical Life, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.