Reverse Sneezing in Cats

Summary

Reverse sneezing in cats is an involuntary reflex involving rapid, forceful inhalation of air. As with normal sneezes, reverse sneezes are the body’s mechanism for clearing an irritant out of the area near the soft palate. The soft palate spasms, during which the cat may stretch and contract its body or convulse its chest and abdomen. Reverse sneezing looks like hyperventilating, coughing or choking, but is a normal, harmless reflex. Infrequent spells of reverse sneezing are normal and do not require treatment. Persistent spells or increases in severity warrant veterinary attention to look for underlying causes such as nasal mites, dental disease, or allergies, and to rule out feline asthma. Treatment for underlying causes is usually successful in reducing the severity of reverse sneezing or eliminating it.

Guidelines

Though the noises and body movements a cat makes during a reverse sneeze seem alarming, reverse sneezing is nothing to be worried about. Reviewing videos that show examples of reverse sneezing is helpful for identifying it when it occurs. Like regular sneezing, reverse sneezing may occur in any type of cat at any given time.

The potential underlying causes of excessive reverse sneezing are not usually serious. Diagnosis and successful treatment for underlying causes reduces the frequency and severity of bouts of reverse sneezing, and may eliminate it. 

There is no reason to try to stop a reverse sneezing episode because it does no harm to the cat. Inducing the cat to swallow may clear the irritation. Methods to induce swallowing include massaging the cat’s throat and momentarily blocking the cats nostrils.

Possible Causes

The cause of reverse sneezing in cats is irritation of the nasal cavity or soft palate. Common causes include:

• Drinking or eating • Nasal Mites • Allergies • Dental disease • Infections

• Environmental irritants such as cleaners, perfumes, dust, etc 

• Foreign bodies or tumors in the nasal passages

Risk Factors

Infrequent spells of reverse sneezing in cats are part of the body’s normal defense mechanism. Excessive reverse sneezing results from nasal mites, allergies, or frequent exposure to airborne irritants. In rare cases, severe reverse sneezing results from serious underlying issues like dental disease or nasal tumors. These conditions present with other, more serious symptoms, not only reverse sneezing.

Testing and Diagnosis

It is difficult for pet parents who have never seen a reverse sneeze to distinguish it from other, more concerning symptoms such as coughing or choking. 

Occasional reverse sneezing is normal. If it persists or increases in severity, diagnostics may be indicated to test for feline asthma or other respiratory/nasal conditions. Common diagnostic tools include physical examination, chest x-rays, and rhinoscopy.

Similar symptoms

Reverse sneezing may be mistaken for:

• Choking • Coughing • Regurgitating a furball

Associated Symptoms

When reverse sneezing, it is common for a cat to stretch out, extending its neck and hunching its upper body. Convulsions in the cat’s chest and abdomen are frequent. It may seem like the cat cannot breathe. 

Reverse sneezing is a normal reflex and usually occurs with no other symptoms. If an underlying cause is present, additional symptoms include: 

• Nasal discharge • Dental tartar • Itchy skin and rashes • Bloody nose (epistaxis)  • Swelling of the muzzle

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