It's a frightening sight: Your dog's head tilts back, his lips suck in and he gags and swallows, fighting for air. It's not a fit, it's a reverse sneeze. Though it's frightening to witness, if you keep your wits about you, you can stop these episodes when they happen, and perhaps even take steps to avoid their triggers.
Anatomy of a Reverse Sneeze
The most common reason for a reverse sneeze is an irritation of the throat and soft palate that causes a spasm. His trachea narrows and the effort to inhale causes his neck to lengthen and his chest to expand. Just about anything can irritate his throat, including dust mites, pollen, eating and drinking, perfumes or a foreign object caught in his throat. You can help your dog catch his breath by gently massaging his throat to stop the spasm, or you can cover his nostrils with your hand to make him swallow. If your dog allows it, you can try pressing on the back of his tongue to trigger a swallow. Swallowing clears whatever is irritating him out of his throat to end the episode.
Addressing the Cause
If you find a pattern in his sneezing -- say you're wearing a certain scent -- you can try eliminating the irritant. If that's not possible, take him outside for some fresh air, which may clear his passages. If his reverse sneezing is an ongoing problem, he should see a vet for further investigation. Nasal tumors, mites and dental disease can cause the reaction and require medical attention to put a stop to reverse sneezing.