Is there anything more striking than the profile of a Collie? The clean lines of that long face are so regal, which is why a case of mine from a couple of years back still sticks in my mind. I was called out to a client’s home to euthanize a Collie with a nasal tumor. Long-nosed breeds are at higher than average risk for nasal tumors, and I’d seen Collies with them before, but this poor dog was so horribly disfigured that my heart broke to look at him.

Nasal tumors are more than a cosmetic horror, however. Here is the information my practice provides to the clients of pets that have been diagnosed with this condition.

What Are Nasal Tumors?

Nasal tumors are usually locally aggressive, malignant tumors that affect both dogs and cats. The most common tumor originating in the nasal cavity in dogs is adenocarcinoma, while lymphoma is the most common nasal tumor in cats. Animals usually present to their veterinarian for difficulty breathing through the nose, noisy breathing, mucoid/bloody nasal discharge, sneezing, or facial swelling.

Nasal tumors are slow to metastasize (spread), but when they do it is generally to local lymph nodes or to the lungs. Locally invasive tumors eat away at surrounding bone and tissue and obstruct the nasal passage. The tumor type and severity are commonly diagnosed using skull radiographs (X-rays), rhinoscopy, CT scans, and tumor biopsy.

How Are They Treated?

Surgery is a palliative option, but is usually not performed unless the tumor is small and located in the front of the nasal cavity, away from vital organs such as the eyes and the brain. Radiation therapy is the most favorable option for combating this type of cancer in dogs and cats. Chemotherapy is also an option, especially for nasal lymphoma in cats.

Piroxicam is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that can be given to provide pain relief and possibly increase survival time.

What Symptoms Can Present as the Disease Progresses?

Early Stages

  • nasal discharge — initially one-sided
  • sneezing +/- blood
  • noisy breathing
  • exercise intolerance
  • facial swelling
  • decreased appetite — due to worsening sense of smell
  • mild weight loss

Late Stages

  • persistent early stages
  • profuse nasal bleeding
  • facial deformity and pain
  • open mouth breathing
  • continuous panting — dogs
  • anorexia
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea — often black and tarry
  • vision loss, abnormal eye position
  • dull mentation
  • seizures — if the tumor reaches the brain

Crisis — Immediate veterinary assistance needed regardless of the disease

  • difficulty breathing
  • prolonged seizures
  • uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
  • sudden collapse
  • profuse bleeding — internal or external
  • crying/whining from pain*

*It should be noted that most animals will instinctually hide their pain. Vocalization of any sort that is out of the ordinary for your pet may indicate that their pain and anxiety has become too much for them to bear. If your pet vocalizes due to pain or anxiety, please consult with your tending veterinarian immediately.

What is the Prognosis?

As with any disease, prognosis is dependent on the severity of the disease and the treatment chosen. Surgery alone holds a 3-6 month median survival time. If left untreated, or as the disease progresses, tumors may completely obstruct the nasal cavity, making it impossible for your animal to breathe normally through its nose. Once at this stage, invasion of the tumor into the brain is likely, leading to neurological disorders.

A personalized treatment plan is important to slow the progression of nasal tumors. Talk to your veterinarian regarding the best treatment protocol for your pet.

© 2011 Home to Heaven, P.C. Content may not be reproduced without written consent from Home to Heaven, P.C.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: RedTC / via Shutterstock