A closer look: Nasal Discharge in Dogs
Nasal discharge by itself is common, and not necessarily cause for concern. Veterinary attention is warranted when there is no obvious cause, it presents with other worrisome symptoms, or continues for longer than expected.
It is a misconception that healthy dogs always have a cold, wet nose– in fact, every dog’s nose will sometimes be wet and sometimes dry.
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Nasal discharge can be secondary to simple, self-limiting irritation.
Rhinitis is a non-specific diagnosis. It indicates that the nasal tissues are inflamed, but not the underlying cause. Rhinitis is associated with various conditions including infectious disease and parasites.
There is considerable variation in the characteristics, severity, and root causes of nasal discharge, depending on the underlying condition.
- Age: Nasal discharge is more likely to be associated with a cleft palate in a newborn puppy. Discharge is more likely to be a tumor or dental abscess in an older dog.
- Chronic vs acute: chronic discharge is more common with allergic rhinitis; acute and severe discharge is more common in cases of an inhaled foreign object.
- Color and character: varies a lot, from clear and watery to thick and mucousy to bloody.
- Unilateral (one nostril) vs bilateral (both nostrils): Tumors, abscesses, and foreign bodies are more likely to present with unilateral nasal discharge, while rhinitis is more likely to cause bilateral discharge.
In general, nasal discharge is more common in brachycephalic breeds.
Testing and diagnosis
The underlying cause of nasal discharge is identified via physical exam, blood work, and/or diagnostic imaging. More specific techniques may be used, such as microscopic analysis and culture of nasal discharge, cytology of nasal passages, rhinoscopy, and biopsy.
Treatment of nasal discharge depends on the underlying cause, and may be supportive or specific. Supportive treatments include:
- Spending time in a hot and steamy bathroom if congested with infectious rhinitis
- Nasal drops
- Nebulization: gently pumping steam directly into the nose with a medical device
- Therapeutic trials with antibiotics (secondary infections are common)
- Oral antihistamines
Specific treatments related to nasal discharge may include:
- Dental work
- Allergy management
- Nasal steroids
- Foreign object removal
- Palliative care
Note: it is not safe to administer medication to pets without veterinary guidance.
Nasal discharge is unique and not likely to be confused with other symptoms. Nosebleed (epistaxis) is a specific form of nasal discharge, where the discharge contains or is mostly blood.