By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Pet parents know them, love them, boop them, and constantly check them to ensure they are wet and cold. While perfect for booping, your pup's nose also contains more than 100 million sensory receptors compared to the 6 million in your human nose. Because dogs explore the world with their noses and mouths, they are often exposed to and affected by scents that people cannot detect.
Your dog's nose can provide a clue to their overall health. Like humans, your pup can experience rhinitis - more commonly known as a runny nose - for various reasons. In some cases, it may be nothing to worry about, but some causes for a runny nose can indicate a more severe and potentially life-threatening condition. Additionally, many pet owners assume that a wet and cool-to-the-touch dog nose means your pup is healthy. However, the temperature of a dog's nose does not always indicate overall health. Always check with your veterinarian regarding any concerns about your dog's temperature or health.
Decoding Nasal Discharge in Dogs
Nasal discharge, or a runny nose, usually occurs from a problem in the upper respiratory system, which includes the sinuses, nasal cavity, or a post-nasal swallowing disorder. Other sources of your dog's runny nose may include gastrointestinal issues that cause secretions to be forced into the post-nasal area.
Types of nasal discharge include:
- Clear nasal discharge
- Thick, pus discharge
- Yellow or green colored discharge
- Blood-tinged watery discharge
- Thick-bloody discharge that may appear to be clotted
Common Causes for Runny Noses in Dogs
A dog's runny nose could result from various things, including the excitement of their pet parent coming home after a long day at work. Understanding the possible causes of runny noses will help pet owners make the best and most informed decisions about caring for their four-legged family members.
Common and generally non-life-threatening causes of a runny nose in dogs include:
One of the more common reasons for nasal secretions is a reaction to something in your dog's environment. Common allergens include pollen, dander, dust mites, mold spores, certain foods, chemicals, or cleaning products. Scented candles, incense, or essential oils can irritate your pup's nasal cavity.
Dogs with seasonal allergies may also experience a runny nose when certain plants bloom. Dog allergies often have concurrent signs, including sneezing, itchiness, watery eyes, or breathing problems. Pups with allergies are at risk for secondary skin infections and chronic discomfort, so ensure to schedule a veterinary examination if you suspect they have allergies.
Unlike people, dogs cannot produce full-body sweat to cool down after exercise. In addition to panting and mild sweating from their paw pads, some dogs may experience a runny nose when trying to regulate their body temperature. Never exercise your dog during the hottest times of the day. Provide them with plenty of cool water and breaks during and after outdoor activities to prevent them from overheating, which can be life-threatening.
Some dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds, including Engish bulldogs, French bulldogs, boxers, and pugs, are genetically prone to runny noses. These dogs have smaller nostrils and elongated soft palates, which can make breathing challenging and result in chronic clear nasal discharge and noisy breathing.
Talk to your veterinarian about ways to support your brachycephalic pup. In some cases, surgery to widen your dog’s nostrils may be recommended.
More Severe Causes of Runny Noses in Dogs
A brief sneeze or runny nose that lasts a few minutes may not be a cause for concern. However, always consult your veterinarian when your dog exhibits a chronic runny nose or other abnormalities. A runny nose can indicate an underlying health issue or problem that requires care sooner rather than later. Here are some of those causes.
Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can infect your dog's respiratory tract and cause nasal discharge. Some viral or bacterial infections can be life-threatening, like canine distemper virus, parainfluenza, and canine respiratory disease complex (kennel cough).
Infected dogs may have additional signs, including coughing, fever, yellow/green nasal discharge, or neurologic problems. Bacteria from tickborne diseases can also cause bloody nasal discharge. Ensuring your pup receives regular preventive care with your DVM will help decrease the chances of viral, bacterial, or fungal infections.
Chronic gingivitis, plaque build-up, and tartar are painful for your pet and can lead to more severe health problems. Pets with dental disease are at risk for tooth-root abscesses from diseased teeth. Dogs with a dental-related abscess may have cloudy/yellow discharge from one nostril, facial swelling, and a decreased appetite. Teeth brushing should be a part of your dog's regular healthcare regimen.
That's right, mites aren't just for dog ears anymore. Canine nasal mites can infect your dog's sinuses and cause nasal discharge. Some infected dogs may also exhibit a bloody nose and reverse sneezing.
Cancer and Nasal Polyps
Nasal tumors or other masses in the nasal cavity can cause facial swelling, nosebleeds, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, sneezing, or neurologic problems. Bring your dog for immediate veterinary care if they can not correctly breathe or exhibit neurological problems, like seizures.
When a Runny Nose is an Emergency
In some cases, a runny nose can indicate a more life-threatening problem. Foreign bodies, like rocks, plant material, or other household items, can become lodged in your dog's nasal passages and cause an airway blockage and nasal discharge.
Additionally, pets exposed to a toxin, like rodenticide, may exhibit bloody nasal discharge because their ability to clot blood has been compromised. Both situations can be life-threatening and are medical emergencies. Bring your pup for emergency veterinary care if they are exhibiting any of the following signs:
- Bleeding from any orifice
- Loss of appetite
- Pawing at the face or head shaking
- Sudden swelling of the face or body
- Vomiting more than one time
- Difficulty or labored breathing
Diagnosing and Treating Runny Noses in Dogs
Dogs with runny noses that last more than 24 hours should be seen by a veterinarian so that a nose-to-tail physical exam can be performed to check your pet's overall health. The underlying cause may not be immediately apparent, so diagnostic tests, including blood work, allergy testing, and X-rays, may be recommended to rule out the causes of your dog's runny nose. In some cases, dogs may require sedation, so a rhinoscopy can be performed to look inside your dog's nasal passages.
Treatment options will depend on the underlying cause of your pup's nasal discharge and may include the following:
- Removal of a foreign object with medical tweezers
- Anti-fungal medication
- Anti-parasite medication
- Vitamin K
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Biopsy or mass removal surgery
- Surgery to enlarge your dog's nasal passages
- Immunosuppressant medication
How to Prevent Runny Noses in Dogs
Runny noses are not always preventable, but many underlying causes can be avoided with regular veterinary care.
Tips to prevent nasal discharge in your pet include:
- Vaccinating your pup with the recommended core and non-core vaccinations.
- Giving your dog veterinary-recommended parasite prevention medication.
- Dog-proofing your home to prevent accidental toxin ingestion.
- Giving your allergy-prone pup an allergy supplement to support their immune system and help decrease allergy symptoms.
- Keeping your dog a healthy weight to prevent breathing problems, which can also cause a runny nose.
- Preventing your dog from exploring areas of tall grasses or plants that can get stuck in their nostrils.
For more tips on your pet's health, check out the Native Pet blog.