Nasal Discharge in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Nasal discharge is any excretion or substance from the nose. Occasional nasal discharge is normal, especially when a dog is active.  

• Can happen in response to a nasal or eye irritant, or as a result of an infectious disease, allergy, dental abscess, or tumor

• Veterinary attention is warranted when the cause is not known, it’s present with other concerning symptoms, or it persists for longer than expected

• There is considerable variation in the color, consistency, quantity, and frequency of discharge depending on the underlying cause

• Diagnostic tools include physical exam, bloodwork, imaging, and sometimes rhinoscopy, biopsy, or microscopic evaluation of the nasal discharge

• Treatment may be supportive or specific

• The prognosis for nasal discharge varies depending on the underlying cause

A Closer Look: What is 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.

Possible Causes

In addition to simple, self-limiting irritation, possible causes of nasal discharge include

• Rhinitis: This 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.

• Cleft palate in newborn puppies

• Tumors 

• Dental abscess

Risk Factors

There is considerable variation in the characteristics, severity, and root causes of nasal discharge, depending on the underlying condition. 

Considerations include:

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)

• Fluids

• Oral antihistamines

Specific treatments related to nasal discharge may include:

• Dental work • Allergy management • Nasal steroids • Foreign object removal • Surgery • Chemo/radiation

• Palliative care • Antifungals

Note: it is not safe to administer medication to pets without veterinary guidance.

Similar symptoms

Nasal discharge is unique and not likely to be confused with other symptoms.

Associated Symptoms

Nasal discharge is commonly seen alongside

SneezingReverse sneezing • Nasal congestion • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)

• Visible swelling/asymmetry on the muzzle • Dental tartar and decay • Pawing at the nose/muzzle

• Runny/inflamed eyes

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