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Dog Runny Nose: What Causes It and When To Be Concerned

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While runny noses for humans are usually nothing more than a mild discomfort, a dog runny nose can signal more serious problems. Sometimes, a runny nose is a symptom of an easy to treat issue such as seasonal allergies. Other times, it’s a sign of a condition that needs to be addressed immediately by a qualified veterinarian (DVM). 

Either way, it’s difficult for pet owners to watch their furry best friends suffer. Here, we’ll show you the main causes of a dog runny nose from least serious to most concerning. You’ll also find tips on how to treat mild problems at home and how to know when it’s time to see a vet.

Common Causes of a Runny Nose in Dogs

Dog runny nose: Three dog noses peek out from under a blanket

There are many things that can cause a runny nose in dogs. They range from mild irritants, like seasonal allergies, to serious diseases, like distemper and cancerous tumors. Here are the most common reasons dogs get a runny nose.

Allergies

Dogs may develop a runny nose due to seasonal allergies or food allergies. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis in dogs include things like clear discharge from the nose, watery eyes, sneezing, reverse sneezing, constant scratching, and itching. 

Dogs may suffer from allergies year-round or only seasonally depending on the irritant. If your dog’s runny nose is caused by allergies, you can typically treat it at home using natural remedies and over-the-counter medications. If you’re not sure what’s causing your dog’s allergies, a veterinarian can help you find out by conducting allergy testing.

Biology

Some dog breeds suffer from a runny nose simply because of their genetics. Flat-faced dog breeds can have trouble breathing due to the shape of their airways. Dogs like boxers and pugs may suffer from a runny nose when the cartilage in their nasal passage becomes weak. Surgery is the best way to fix these problems, though many dogs live for years with a mild runny nose without any more significant problems.

Foreign Bodies

A dog runny nose can be caused by foreign objects that obstruct the nasal passages. Common obstructions include things like foxtails and grass awns. Symptoms that accompany a foreign object obstruction include sneezing, pawing at the nose, and nose bleeds. The best course of action is to see if you can remove the object from the dog’s nose using tweezers or very small pliers. If you can’t find the object or don’t know if you got it all out, head to the vet.

Infections

Dogs can get a variety of infections including bacterial, fungal, and viral infections as well as nasal mites. Many of these diseases cause a runny nose along with other symptoms, including bad odor, bloody nose, coughing, and choking on mucus. Infections should be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. While some are mild and easy to treat, others may cause complications, including upper respiratory infections and pneumonia.

Polyps and Tumors

All dogs can develop nasal polyps and tumors but some breeds — like dachshunds and bulldogs — may be predisposed to these ailments. Signs of polyps in dogs include swelling in one nostril, blood, decreased appetite, and a pus-filled discharge. Some nasal polyps are benign while others may indicate cancer. 

Nasal polyps can’t be treated at home as they most often need to be removed with surgery or radiation if they are cancerous. Polyps commonly reoccur, so make sure to monitor your dog if he or she has had polyps before.

Canine Distemper

Distemper is a potentially deadly disease that can easily be avoided with proper vaccinations. Distemper is a highly contagious virus that is similar to measles in humans. Dogs can get distemper by touching infected surfaces and by breathing in airborne particles. The virus can also be passed on to puppies by their mothers before they are born. 

Dogs can contract distemper from other dogs as well as from wild animals such as coyotes and raccoons. Dogs can get the virus from wild animals through direct contact — like biting or playing — or by standing near an infected animal that coughs or howls.

The canine distemper virus attacks a dog’s entire system and can dramatically affect dog health. Initial stages include symptoms such as watery eye discharge, fever, and hardening of the dog’s paw pads. Without early treatment, the dog may start exhibiting neurological symptoms, including seizures, paralysis, convulsions, and even death.

There is no cure for canine distemper. A veterinarian can help you manage symptoms, though the outcome is largely dependent on the strain and severity of the infection. While there isn’t a cure, this disease is completely preventable. Puppies should receive a three-shot vaccine between eight and 16 weeks of age. Keep your pets away from wildlife and be cautious when socializing unvaccinated puppies.

When To Go to the Vet and When To Treat at Home

Dog runny nose: A puppy wearing a stethoscope

Some of the causes of runny nose — including allergies — can be treated at home. Other serious conditions such as distemper and polyps have to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can do at home and when you need to see a professional.

At-Home Treatments

In general, if your dog has a mild runny nose with clear nasal discharge, you can treat symptoms at home. If your pup’s runny nose is caused by allergies, try making a few lifestyle changes to reduce exposure to allergens. Take walks midday to avoid high pollen counts in the mornings and evenings. If your dog is allergic to grass, walk on dirt or paved paths, head to the beach, and avoid the dog park. If your dog is allergic to dust or grass, you can also opt to run and play on artificial turf fields. 

Use pet wipes to remove irritants from your pet’s fur and use air filters inside your home to remove potential allergens like fragrances. You can also give your dog an antihistamine or an allergy relief chew to help reduce symptoms like sneezing. Immune boosters can also help support a healthy immune system and decrease the severity of allergic reactions.

For dogs who suffer from food allergies, try a limited ingredient diet (LID). These diets remove the most common food allergens, including chicken, beef, and dairy. You can slowly reintroduce foods one at a time to see which ingredients are the culprits. Avoid brands that claim to sell hypoallergenic dog foods. Dogs, like humans, can theoretically be allergic to anything so there is no truly hypoallergenic food.

If your dog has a runny nose from a foreign object, try to remove the object using small pliers or tweezers. If you are positive that you removed the entire obstruction, monitor your dog. You'll only need to visit the vet if other symptoms develop. If you’re not sure what your dog inhaled or how much is obstructing the nasal passages, head to the vet.

For dogs who have infections, once you obtain the proper medications from your vet, treatment can be finished at home. Keep your dog comfortable and try to reduce anxiety with tasty treats and their favorite toys. In a few days or weeks, they should be back to normal. Just follow up with your vet if you have any questions.

Veterinary Treatments

If your dog’s runny nose is paired with chronic nasal discharge or discharge that is bloody, yellowish-green, or thick and crusty, make an appointment with the vet. Similarly, if your dog has a runny nose for more than one week, seek advice from your veterinarian. Keep an eye out for other symptoms of a serious problem, including lethargy, decreased appetite, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. All of these symptoms are cause for concern and you should take your dog in for help immediately.

When it comes to infections, you’ll need to go to the vet for medication and diagnostics, but can conduct most of the treatment plan at home. For bacterial infections, your vet will prescribe antibiotics while ointments and creams are more common for fungal infections. Your poor pup may need to wear a cone to prevent them licking the cream, but they’ll get over the humiliation with a few treats and some belly rubs.

What To Expect at the Vet’s Office

Dog runny nose: A vet works on a retriever's nose

Polyps, tumors, and serious conditions such as distemper need to be treated by the vet. Sometimes, you’ll also have to make a vet visit if your dog has inhaled a foreign object or has an infection. 

The first thing your veterinarian will do is take detailed notes on your pet’s history. Be prepared to tell the vet whether your dog has been to any kennels, doggie daycare facilities, or dog parks. These are areas where dogs can pick up bacterial infections, fungal infections, and upper respiratory tract infections like kennel cough.

Depending on the suspected cause of the runny nose, the doctor may take X-rays, a rhinoscopy, or a CT scan to get a better idea of the underlying cause. These tools are particularly common when diagnosing dogs that may have a foreign object obstruction in the nasal cavity and those who may have nasal tumors. These procedures can be discomforting to dogs so make sure to lavish them with love and bring a few treats for after the visit.

Stop the Sniffles and Ease Your Dog’s Runny Nose

Dog runny nose: A dog pokes his nose through the branches of a fir tree

Treatment starts with diagnosing the underlying causes of nasal discharge. There may be something lodged in your dog’s nostril, he might be suffering from a bacterial or viral infection like canine influenza, or he may simply have seasonal allergies. There may also be more serious causes affecting your dog’s health. 

Knowing when to go to the vet and when to treat at home can make all the difference. Some minor issues, such as allergies, can be treated at home while other times you’ll need to visit a professional. Now that you understand what to watch out for, you can make an informed decision the next time your pup has a runny nose.