Why Do Chihuahuas Gasp for Air? (Solved & Explained!)

There are a plethora of reasons as to why Chihuahuas gasp for air. This “reverse sneezing” occurs because these little dogs have an easily irritated soft palate in their mouths. This happens due to allergies, a tight collar, sinusitis or nasal mites, among others. When something aggravates this area, the dog begins choking, gasping and coughing. The clinical term for reverse sneezing is “pharyngeal spasm.”

This is not unusual for Chihuahuas. While it could be something more serious, this is a normal mode of being for these little lap dogs. If you’re new to the experience of seeing your dog do this, understand you don’t have to rush your precious pup to the emergency room. But you do have to pay attention.

What Does It Mean for Chihuahuas to Reverse Sneeze?

When a Chihuahua begins gasping for air, the dog is experiencing irritation in the soft palette tissue of its mouth. While this may be frightening to an owner, especially if it’s the first time, it’s nothing to panic over.

When Do You Know a Chihuahuas Is Having a Pharyngeal Spasm?

While individual dogs will exhibit various behaviors along with the sneezing, most will tilt their head down. This will accompany hacking, coughing and general difficulty breathing. Many owners compare the dog’s actions and hacking to what you see a cat do when coughing up a hairball. But nothing comes up after the episode in a Chihuahua.

When your Chihuahua begins coughing, wheezing and gasping for air, it’s important to pay attention to the accompanying behaviors and actions. It will be these subsequent motions that will determine the seriousness of the situation. If the dog reverse sneezes in the same area, there could be something in the surrounding environment that’s irritating to the dog’s passageway.

What Causes a Chihuahua to Wheeze or Reverse Sneezing?

When a Chihuahua wheezes, or reverse sneezes, there is an irritation of the soft palate in the roof of its mouth which results in a pharyngeal spasm. Sadly, Chihuahuas are a breed of dog famous for their narrow air passageways. This can get clogged, blocked and inhibited easily and usually happens because:

  • Sometimes, just yanking on the dog’s leash too hard will do it
  • Allergies to pollen, dust, cigarette smoke or other air pollutants
  • Consuming food or water too quickly
  • Excessive genetic deformity in the soft palate tissue
  • Getting overly excited
  • Harsh cleaning chemicals
  • Nasal mite infestation
  • Rhinitis or sinusitis
  • Sacks filled with blood in their throat and mouth, also known as polyps

What Are Nasal Mites?

Sometimes when Chihuahuas sneeze, cough and hack, it could be due to a thing called nasal mites. These are microscopic bugs that can infest a dog’s passageways. While there aren’t any visible signs, the dog will tend to sneeze more frequently than usual.

A Chihuahua will often get this kind of infection by interacting with another dog that also has nasal mites. This infestation can happen at any time or any age in a Chihuahua’s life.

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How Do You Treat a Chihuahua that Wheezes/Reverse Sneezes?

To date, there is not yet a treatment or cure for pharyngeal spasms in Chihuahuas. All you can do is wait and usually it will clear up on its own. But, there are some preventative measures you can take and things you can do when an episode arises.

Can You Prevent a Chihuahua from Wheezing or Reverse Sneezing?

The best way to prevent a Chihuahua’s pharyngeal spasms is to remove any potential triggers. For instance, your precious pup may be allergic to certain houseplants. So if your dog begins sneezing near yours, this could be the culprit. That means you’ll have to get rid of the plant or keep it out of the dog’s path.  

Other than that, do not try to open up its nasal passages. Some fresh air may help, but if there’s an air pollutant causing the episode, it may do more to contribute to the situation. Other suggestions include things like using a plant-based cleaner, keeping an air filter turned on near the dog’s bed or other resting area and using a hypoallergenic shampoo on the Chihuahua.

What Steps Can You Take to Help a Chihuahua Gasping for Air?

When you see your Chihuahua gasping for air, the worst thing you can do is try to open its airways. This will make matters worse. Also, taking the dog to the vet won’t do much but slap you with a huge medical bill that won’t result in any difference in the Chihuahua’s condition. Consider the steps below:

  1. Ensuring your dog is calm and comfortable until the episode ends is the best thing you can do in this situation. Sit with the dog where it is and stroke their neck with your hand in a clockwise direction. Don’t use force, just a gentle touch.
  2. There are some owners who report having success gingerly pinching the Chihuahua’s nostrils. This can reduce the episode since it forces the dog to breathe through its mouth. 
  3. If you can provide some cool air, like a fan or air conditioner, this might help the dog breathe better and end the episode a little more quickly. But, if the sneezing increases, turn it off.
  4. Some vets suggest giving the Chihuahua some OTC medication for allergies, such as Benadryl. But, you should only do this if you know the dog has allergies and the vet gives the go-ahead.
  5. In the event you notice the sneezing, hacking, coughing and snorting occurring more frequently than usual, it’s important to inspect the dog’s nose and mouth for nasal mites. Continue to pay close attention to the dog and if the frequency doesn’t subside within 48 hours, call your vet.

What If the Gasping Accompanies Other Behaviors or Symptoms?

When you notice vomiting, nausea, diarrhea or some other thing when the Chihuahua begins gasping, it could be a viral or bacterial infection or nasal mites. Take the dog to the vet to receive a full physical examination.