Maltese can be prone to two respiratory disorders; Reverse sneezing and Collapsing Trachea. One is harmless while the other can become a serious problem with age. The symptoms for both can be similar even though they are totally different conditions. It's important to discern which is which in case treatment is required.
Reverse sneezing (also known as pharyngeal gag reflex, inspiratory paroxysmal respiration or mechanosensitive aspiration reflex) is a peculiar quirk that is very common to Maltese. Often the first time an owner see a dog with reverse sneezing, they think the dog is choking or dying because it appears the dog is gasping for air. While it looks and sounds terrible at the time, within a couple of minutes, the dog is back to being perfectly fine. It seems that a spasm occurs in the pharyngeal (throat) area causing the dog to breathe in rapidly and make snorting, wheezing noises. The dog will stand with its head extended forwarded and the chest will appear to be heaving in and out. Once the spasm is over, so is the episode. Sometimes massaging the throat or pinching the nostrils shut to make the dog swallow will stop the spasm. Excitement, pulling on a leash, eating or drinking, or an inhaled irritant are some of the more common causes that can bring on reverse sneezing in Maltese. For the dogshow person, the most embarrassing time is when the dog decides to have an episode while in the show ring!!! Reverse sneezing is usually seen in younger dogs and will often persist throughout its life. In general, reverse sneezing does not require any medical treatment and has no ill effects. However, if the frequency changes and become more than an occasional or predictable bout, a visit to your vet would be advised.