Runny Nose in Dogs

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 2, 2008
Runny Nose in Dogs

Nasal Discharge in Dogs

The throat is the end of the two major air passages, which begin at the nostrils. Very fine scrolls of bone called turbinates fill the nasal passages. They have a covering of pink tissue (mucosa), much like the lining of the mouth. As the air passes through the turbinates in the nose, it is warmed and filtered on its way to the lungs. The nasal cavity is separated from the mouth by what we call the “roof” or the hard palate.

The source of a nasal discharge is typically in the upper respiratory organs such as nasal cavities, sinuses, and the postnasal area. However, if the dog has a swallowing disorder or a digestive tract disease, secretions may be forced into the postnasal area. If the secretions are coming from the eye, it may be caused by nerve damage to the middle ear.

This nasal discharge may be watery, thick and mucus-like, or it may have pus or blood in it. (Blood-tinged discharge is a good indicator that there is a blood disorder.) Nasal discharge usually occurs when infectious, chemical, or inflammatory invaders irritate the nasal passages. It may also be from a foreign object that has become lodged in the nose. If your dog has a middle ear disease, it may decrease the normal secretions and cause the animal to secrete an abnormal amount of mucus.

Remember that it is normal for your dog to sneeze and have a nasal discharge, just as it is for humans. It is only when it becomes severe or chronic that you need to become concerned.


  • Inflamed eyes(s)
  • Reduction in nasal air flow
  • Diseased teeth
  • Secretions or dried discharge on the hair of the muzzle or forelimbs
  • Swelling of face or hard palate (due to tumor or abscess of fourth premolar)
  • Polyp (may be visible on ear exam, or by pushing the soft palate down on oral exam)


  • Dental disease
  • Infectious agents (i.e., bacteria, fungi)
  • Foreign bodies (primarily occuring in outdoor animals)
  • Nasal mites (primarily occuring in kennel-raised dogs)
  • Weak immune system
  • Chronic steroid use
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic inflammation of the ear
  • Cancer (more likely in middle-sized to large dogs with long noses)


  • Rhinoscopy
  • Dental exam
  • Culture of discharge for fungus and bacteria
  • Biopsy of nasal cavity
  • Bronchoscopy, if discharge has been accompanied by coughing
  • Blood pressure and blood test, including coagulation profile
  • Tear test to evaluate for possible facial nerve damage from chronic ear infections


The condition will not require hospitalization unless surgery is recommended, or if an exploratory scope of the nasal cavity or the sinuses is required. If it is determined that the cause is fungal, your veterinarian will prescribe medication.

Living and Management

Keep your pet warm and make sure they get enough to eat and drink. In addition, keep the nasal passages clean, especially if there is a discharge or chronic sneezing. Finally, keep your dog’s living area clean.

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