The first time Chance reverse-sneezed, it lasted all of ten seconds.
I spent the first second trying to figure out what that sound was. Then I turned around and located Chance, standing in the middle of the room, hovering over a toy he had just been playing with (seconds 2-4). His neck was stuck straight out, his mouth was slightly open, and his rib cage was heaving as he forced terrifying, jagged, wheezing breaths through...his mouth? Nose?? I honestly couldn't tell.
The fifth second I just stared at him, bug-eyed and slack-jawed.
Then my brain kicked into high-gear, spending seconds 6-9 desperately trying to figure out what he could have gotten off the toy and stuck in his windpipe AND trying to remember how to perform dog CPR.
In the tenth second, Chance stopped heaving, gave a little snort, shook his head, and went back to his toy.
I, however, continued staring.
WHAT HAD JUST HAPPENED?!?!
I Googled "dog snorting wheezing heaving," because that was the best I could describe what I'd seen.
Aaaaaaand apparently I am not alone.
Pretty common way to describe reverse-sneezing, apparently.
So, what's happening? And is it as dangerous as it seems?
It's a pretty common way dogs clear out their noses, and no, it's not symptomatic of some life-threatening condition.
According to this really great article by Dr. Jerry Klein for the AKC, "reverse sneezing is a fairly common respiratory event in dogs... It is suspected to be caused by irritation or inflammation of the nasal, pharyngeal, or sinus passages. It may be a way for the dog to attempt to remove foreign particles such as dust, powder or other irritants or allergens from its upper airways. It is also seen after periods of over-excitement."
Over on PetMD, they make an important distinction between what it looks like when your dog sneezes regularly versus reverse-sneezing: "Sneezing is often accompanied by a sudden movement of the head downwards, with a closed mouth, and may cause the dog's nose to hit the ground. Reverse sneezing is often characterized by a backwards head motion, a closed mouth and lips sucking in. Gagging usually causes the dog to swallow after extending its neck and opening its mouth."
Dr. Klein has a couple suggestions for things you can do to alleviate a reverse-sneezing episode, but in my experience the episode is usually over before you can even get to your dog to do anything. Chance has had maybe three or four of these fits, and they all have resolved almost as quickly as they appeared. They're just terrifying the first time it happens, and after you know what it is, it's just terrifying until you know your dog isn't choking on something.
If this regularly happens to your dog, you should probably have them examined by a veterinarian to rule out serious underlying conditions. And, of course, if this happens regularly due to allergies, I highly recommend Apoquel!