Authored By: Chris Vanderhoof DVM, MPH
Sneezing and runny noses are no fun for anyone, including your pup. But since it is that time of year, here are a few things to consider and fortunately, a few things you can do in many cases to help your pup out.
Why Does My Dog Have Sneezing and a Runny Nose?
Unfortunately, there can be many underlying causes. The important thing to know is when these signs are minor and likely okay to manage at home, and when these signs can be indicators of a more concerning medical problem that should be seen by your veterinarian.
In general, clear nasal discharge from both nostrils with some occasional sneezing is nothing to worry yourself about too much. Especially if your dog is still otherwise acting and behaving normally.
Most of the time, minor clear nasal discharge can occur normally during exercise, from allergens, airborne irritants, or seasonal weather changes. For example, your pup might get a little bit of a runny nose when cold weather first sets in.
When Should I Be Concerned?
In general, if nasal discharge is clear and coming from both nostrils with mild or no sneezing, at- home care may be appropriate.
However, some red flags to look for that your pup should see a vet for an exam include:
- Discharge from only one nostril, which can raise concern for foreign material or a growth on that side.
- Discolored discharge that is white, yellow, or green and/or has a foul odor.
- Signs of blood in the discharge.
- Recurrent sneezing, especially runs of several sneezes in a row, that your pup is unable to control.
- Signs of fever which may include lethargy, decreased activity, and poor appetite.
- Other signs of illness, like coughing and red or runny eyes.
My Dog Just Has Mild Signs. What Can I Do at Home?
The Benefits of Steam
Steam helps to open up the nasal passages and loosen congestion. Use of a humidifier close to where your dog sleeps at night can be helpful, just like it can be for us. If you don’t have one, you can also bring your dog into the bathroom while you shower, allowing the steam to build up in the room for 15-20 minutes.
Immune Support Supplements
Ingredients that support the immune system like echinacea, turmeric, zinc, and vitamin C
can be really helpful, even for mild signs. It is important to remember that dogs, unlike people, can make their own vitamin C. This doesn’t mean extra vitamin C is unhelpful but avoid using supplements formulated for people that may have extremely high levels that aren’t necessary for dogs.
Keeping the Nose Clean and Hydrated
You can keep your pup’s nose clean and moist using a warm, damp washcloth. If you notice any increased crusting or debris developing, this can be a sign to see your vet. If the area around the nostrils appears dry, crusty, or irritated, you can use Vaseline to moisturize and protect the tissues. Just be aware of any cracking, ulceration, or bleeding that develops as a sign to have your vet take a look.
Feeding, Hydration, and Rest
Whenever your pup is a little out of sorts, make sure to keep up with the basics, ensuring adequate meals, water intake, and rest. If your pup isn’t eating well or seems lethargic, make sure to schedule a vet exam.
For minor runny noses or sneezing, especially if related to allergies or airborne irritants, antihistamines can be helpful. Common examples include Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine). Zyrtec tends to be a little less sedating for many dogs. Make sure to touch base with your vet for the proper dose based on your dog’s weight.
With any antihistamine, always make sure to never use the “D” form (Benadryl-D, Zyrtec-D). The decongestant ingredient pseudoephedrine in these product versions can make dogs very sick.
Concluding that Cold
Mild signs of sneezing or a runny nose in your dog may be normal and expected from time to time, just like they can be with us. However, pay close attention to any of the potential concerning changes listed and never let any concerns or changes persist without contacting your vet for an exam as soon as possible.
A vet exam can provide some reassurance for a problem that does still turn out to be mild, and for more serious concerns, it’s always better to detect these as early on as possible.
Dr. Chris is considered one of the country’s leading veterinarians. He completed a dual Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and Masters in Public Health at Virginia Tech, a top veterinary school in the country.