Reverse Sneezing in Cats: What Causes It and When To Worry

Published Jun. 10, 2024
A cat reverse sneezes.

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Reverse sneezing occurs when a cat sucks air into their nose quickly and forcefully, trying to get rid of an irritant from their nose, mouth, or throat.

Normally, cats sneeze and force air out through their noses to try to get rid of these irritants.

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What Is Reverse Sneezing in Cats?

During a reverse sneezing episode, a cat’s trachea (throat) squeezes and the muscles of the oral cavity (mouth) spasm. This makes it difficult for cats to inhale fully.

A reverse sneezing episode typically only lasts less than a minute.

To try to get more air in, the cat has repeated short, noisy bouts of breathing in. Their neck can look as if it’s being sucked in during the episode as well.

A reverse sneezing episode typically only lasts less than a minute, but it can seem much longer to a pet parent.

Generally, if a cat is truly reverse sneezing, the episode will begin suddenly, be brief, and stop on its own without treatment. Reverse sneezing in dogs is more common than in cats.

If you are unsure whether your cat is reverse sneezing, contact your veterinarian to be sure it is not a symptom of something more serious, such as feline asthma.

Why Do Cats Reverse Sneeze?

Cats reverse sneeze to clear out whatever is blocking or scratching the nose, mouth, or throat.

There are many irritants that can cause reverse sneezing in cats, including:

What Does Reverse Sneezing in Cats Sound Like?

Reverse sneezing sounds like a pet snorting. There will be quick, short breaths that repeat for several seconds.

Reverse sneezing in cats can be alarming for pet parents because it sounds like cat choking or that a cat is having difficulty breathing.

It may even look like the cat is trying to vomit as her neck stretches out.

Is Reverse Sneezing in Cats an Emergency?

Although reverse sneezing episodes can sound and look scary, they are not considered medical emergencies.

Generally, episodes of reverse sneezing in cats are short-lived, and cats return to normal quickly.

However, reverse sneezing can look similar to other more serious conditions, such as choking or difficulty breathing.

These are emergencies that need immediate medical attention.

If this is the first time your cat is having what looks like reverse sneezing, it’s a good idea to bring her to the veterinarian to ensure nothing more serious is going on.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Reverse Sneezing in Cats

Diagnosing reverse sneezing in cats is simple if the cat has an episode while at the veterinary hospital. However, most of the time, this does not happen.

If reverse sneezing episodes are frequent, chronic, and don’t respond to treatment, the veterinarian may sedate the cat to thoroughly examine the nasal cavity and mouth.

If a cat reverse sneezes at home, the pet parent should try to record a video and bring it to the veterinary appointment. This will help the veterinarian make a correct diagnosis.

Pet parents should also mention what the cat was doing just before the sneezing fit.

A veterinarian will do a complete physical exam and check for any obvious abnormalities that could be causing an episode, such as a visible foreign object in the nose or discharge from an upper respiratory tract infection.

If reverse sneezing episodes are frequent, chronic, and don’t respond to treatment, the veterinarian may sedate the cat to thoroughly examine the nasal cavity and mouth.

This is done to  rule out any abnormalities, and can be done both with the naked eye or with rhinoscopy, when a small camera is placed inside the nose and throat.

Treatment for Reverse Sneezing in Cats

Because episodes of reverse sneezing often end on their own, no treatment is needed most of the time.

However, during the episode, pet parents can gently rub the cat’s throat or blow air softly at his face to help the symptoms clear up.

Covering the cat’s nostrils for a couple of seconds can also reset his breathing by stopping air from entering his nose and by making him swallow.

However, if cats have repeated bouts of reverse sneezing, treating the underlying cause can be helpful.

For example, surgically removing a nasal polyp or foreign object in the nose can stop symptoms.

Surgically correcting an elongated soft palate (as seen in brachycephalic cat breeds) can reduce chronic episodes.

Other medications that may be helpful, depending on the underlying cause for reverse sneezing, may include:

  • Antiparasitics, such as Revolution® PLUS, for nasal mites

  • Steroids, such as prednisolone, for nasal inflammation (swelling)

  • Antibiotics, such as Clavamox®, for respiratory tract infections

  • Antihistamines, such as cetirizine, for allergies

If you know what sets off reverse sneezing in your cat, it’s helpful to keep them from that cause if possible.

Reverse Sneezing in Cats FAQs

Is my cat coughing or reverse sneezing?

Pet parents may have a hard time knowing the difference between a cat coughing and reverse sneezing because they can sound similar.

Recording a video of the cat to show to the veterinarian can be helpful.

Other diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, can also be used to diagnose feline asthma, which can cause coughing.

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers...

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