A first principles calculation of the lattice dynamical properties of rutile SnO2 has been performed using density functional perturbation theory at ambient and high-pressure conditions to understand the pressure-induced phase transition. The calculated zone centre phonon modes at ambient and high pressures have been compared with Raman scattering and infrared measurements. Full phonon dispersion curves and phonon densities of states and Raman intensities at high pressures are calculated and given for the first time in literature. The ferroelastic transition from the rutile to the CaCl2-type structure was confirmed. It is clearly illustrated that the first transition is associated with macroscopic shear instability which arises from the strong coupling between elastic constants and softening of Raman active B1g mode. The observed pressure of phase transition in experimental measurements was reproduced more accurately than in previous calculations, and the difference between observed and calculated transition pressure is only of the order of 2%. The mode Grüneisen parameter is quantitatively as well as qualitatively different from the earlier reported values. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.