Dog with a runny nose

Key takeaway

A dog’s runny nose can be caused by a number of issues, including allergies, infection, illness, or a foreign object trapped in the nasal passage. Treatment focuses on addressing the underlying condition causing your dog’s runny nose.

Healthy dogs are prone to having runny noses every once in a while, similar to people who begin sneezing and sniffling when allergy season rolls around. However, if your dog has a runny nose on a regular basis or the discharge coming from their nose appears unusual, this can be a cause for concern.

So, why does your dog have a runny nose? There are a wide range of potential causes. A dog’s runny nose may simply indicate seasonal allergies or it may be a sign of a more serious illness. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to seek out treatment for your dog’s runny nose and provide them with some relief.

This article takes an in-depth look at runny noses in dogs. We explore the possible causes of a dog’s runny nose, explain the diagnostic process, and review potential treatment options. If you’d like to learn all about runny noses in dogs and how they can be treated, read this article from start to finish. Alternatively, you can navigate to any section in the article using the links below.

Causes

There are many possible causes for a dog’s runny nose. While many of the causes for a dog’s runny nose are mild, some are more serious. A runny nose in a dog could potentially point to illness, which is why it’s important to seek treatment right away when you begin to notice symptoms.

Ultimately, identifying the underlying cause of your dog’s runny nose is essential in finding relief. Once a cause is identified, your vet can put together a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the root cause of the condition.

Below, we’ve listed out some of the most common causes of runny noses in dogs. While many of these conditions are very treatable, some of these health issues are more complicated than others. Read on to learn more about possible causes of a runny nose in your dog.


Allergies

If your dog has a runny nose, this may be due to allergies. Dogs can be allergic to a particular food item, fleas, or environmental allergens. If your dog has a runny nose with clear nasal discharge, this may point to environmental allergies. In most cases, allergies are fairly harmless and very treatable. Treatment will focus on eliminating symptoms by removing the allergen in question from the dog’s environment.

Before you can treat allergies, you must be able to recognize the symptoms. Other allergy symptoms in dogs include:

  • Itching
  • Red or inflamed skin
  • Ear infection
  • Excessive grooming or licking
  • Digestive issues

If allergies are the root cause of your dog’s runny nose, identifying the allergens affecting your dog is easier said than done. It can be extremely difficult to tell which food item or environmental allergen is impacting your dog. This is where allergy testing and elimination diets are useful. By having your vet conduct testing or design a specialized diet for your dog, you can potentially get to the bottom of their allergies.

Infections

A number of different infections can trigger runny noses in dogs. Thus, if your dog’s nasal discharge is thick or has a green or yellow color to it, this could point to a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection as being the cause of your dog’s runny nose. Other symptoms associated with infections include1:

  • Discharge has an unpleasant odor
  • Your dog is experiencing nosebleeds
  • Coughing due to post-nasal drip

Keep in mind that infections come in many shapes and forms. Below, we’ve provided a few examples of infections that could potentially be responsible for your dog’s runny nose.

Dog having a physical examination performed by vet

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex

The canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), also known as “kennel cough”, is a common and broad disease complex caused by a variety of viral and bacterial organisms.

Common viral causes of CIRDC include:

  • Canine adenovirus 2
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine influenza viruses
  • Canine herpesvirus
  • Canine parainfluenza virus

Common bacterial causes of CIRDC include:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus
  • Mycoplasma spp

CIRDC is spread through direct contact and is typically diagnosed by veterinarians after a dog's owner notices abrupt coughing, sneezing, or nasal discharge. These symptoms often occur after a number of animals have shared a common space, like a pet care facility, for example.

Treatment is determined by the severity of the disease (i.e. minor indications vs. pneumonia), the length of time your dog has been unwell, and whether or not your dog’s symptoms are progressing. Antibiotics may be prescribed in some cases.

Infected dogs can spread the disease quickly, so it’s important to separate your from other pets during your veterinary appointment and in other public spaces.2

Graphic outlining causes of runny noses in dogs

Nasal mites (parasitic infection)

Canine nasal mites are parasites that inhabit the sinuses and nasal passages of dogs. The irritation they cause to nasal passages can cause runny noses in dogs. These mites can affect all kinds of dogs, regardless of breed, sex, or age.

Apart from nasal discharge, other symptoms of nasal mites include nosebleeds, sneezing, impaired smell, itchiness around the face, labored or noisy breathing, and head shaking. To make a diagnosis, a vet will typically examine your dog’s nasal passage with an endoscope or use a nasal irrigation device to extract fluid from the nasal passage.

If your vet confirms that nasal mites are the cause of your dog’s runny nose, then they may prescribe antiparasitic medication to relieve symptoms.3

Nasal aspergillosis (fungal infection)

Certain fungi can cause nasal infections in your dog that lead to a runny nose and other health issues. Nasal aspergillosis in particular is a fungal infection that affects many animals, both domestic and wild. There are several species of Aspergillus known to trigger respiratory infections in animals.

Oftentimes, the infection will be localized in the nasal cavity or sinuses of a dog, but in rare cases it may spread to the eyes and skull. Common symptoms include nosebleeds, lethargy, pain around the nose, sneezing, and sores around the dog’s nostrils.

To reach a diagnosis, a vet may examine your dog’s nose with an endoscope or order x-rays, CT scans, or other lab tests. Treatment of nasal aspergillosis typically involves the prescription of antifungal medication, which is administered either orally or nasally.4

Foreign object in nasal passage

As you likely know, dogs are curious creatures and they indulge this curiosity using their noses. Dogs have a magnificent sense of smell and regularly put their nose to work in exploring the world around them. They’ll sniff just about anything so that they can learn more about everyday objects and better understand their physical environment.

While a dog’s sense of smell is a great asset, it can also be a source of trouble sometimes. All of that sniffing can lead to foreign objects (such as blades of grass, seeds, and wood splinters) getting stuck in a dog’s nose. This, in turn, can lead to nasal discharge in dogs, as well as general irritation and nosebleeds.5

If you suspect your dog’s runny nose is due to a foreign object being stuck in their nasal passage, it’s better to seek treatment sooner rather than later. If left untreated, the foreign object could lead to infection or worse.

Nasal cancer

A runny nose in a dog is one symptom of a nasal tumor. Other symptoms include nosebleeds, facial deformities, and neurologic abnormalities. Although nasal tumors only make up 1% of all cancers seen in dogs—and affect older animals more often than younger ones—it’s still important to take the proper precautions if you notice your dog has a runny nose.

To diagnose a nasal tumor, your vet may first order a CT scan to understand the scope of the condition. From there, they may conduct a tissue biopsy and extract tissue from around the nasal area.

If nasal cancer is diagnosed, there are a few treatments that can be attempted. Definitive radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT) may be employed to fight cancer. However, if the cancer has spread into the bones, life-saving treatment may not be possible.6

Temperature regulation

Dogs don’t have the same temperature regulation capabilities that humans do. Instead of sweating throughout their body, dogs sweat on the pads of their feet and, sometimes, through their noses.1 Therefore, a dog’s runny nose could simply be a sign that their body is trying to cool down.

A dog with a runny nose due to heat will typically excrete nasal discharge that’s clear and thin. If your dog is struggling with temperature regulation, the easiest way to soothe your dog’s runny nose will likely be moving them to a cooler location.

Diagnosis

If you’re concerned about your dog’s runny nose, schedule an appointment with a vet as soon as possible. Promptly reporting symptoms will help your vet determine an accurate diagnosis. An early diagnosis also means that treatment can start sooner, which enables your pup to get quick relief.

When you take your dog into the vet, they’ll generally review your dog’s medical history, conduct a physical examination, and consider all symptoms being displayed. At this point, your vet may order a range of tests to help facilitate an accurate diagnosis. For instance, a rhinoscopy, x-rays, or other lab work may be ordered to dig deeper and discover the root of the issue.

Additionally, your vet may take a sample of your dog’s nasal discharge and examine it for clues that point to a specific health condition. This sample can be analyzed to detect the presence of potential fungal or bacterial infections that may be causing your dog’s runny nose.

Treatment

Pet owner and pet at vet consultation

The most effective treatment method for your dog’s runny nose is going to depend on what’s causing the nasal discharge. Below, we explain some of the available treatment methods for the causes described earlier in the article.

Allergies

In most cases, the simplest and most effective way to treat a dog’s runny nose due to allergies is to avoid the problematic allergen altogether. However, this can be a significant challenge if you’re not sure what the offending allergen is.

An allergy test or elimination diet trial may help to shed some light on the allergen affecting your dog. In some cases, allergy relief medication can be an effective way to mitigate your dog’s allergies and stop the dog’s runny nose.

Infections

In the case of infections, antibiotics are often needed to combat harmful bacteria. For viral infections, treatment may simply involve supporting your dog’s immune system as it battles the infection and your dog recovers.² This may include the use of antibiotics or antifungals prescribed by your veterinarian.

Foreign object in nasal passage

If a foreign object is stuck in your dog’s nasal passage, it should be removed as soon as possible. This object may not only be the reason your dog has a runny nose, but also can serve as a source of pain and irritation. Plus, if the foreign object isn’t removed, bacteria from that object can provoke an infection in your dog.

To get a foreign object removed from your dog’s nasal passage, your dog will need to be anesthetized as the nasal passages are very sensitive.

Graphic outlining treatments for runny nose

Nasal cancer

As we mentioned above, treatments such as radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT) can be effective in battling nasal cancer in dogs. However, once cancer spreads to crucial areas such as the bones, little can be done to treat it.6 This is why it’s so important to take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice symptoms.

Temperature regulation

A dog’s runny nose may be a sign that they’re struggling to stay cool in the heat. If this is the case, you can treat your dog’s runny nose by moving him or her to a cool area to rest, preferably indoors. You should also provide your pup with plenty of water to ensure they’re properly hydrated.

Dog Runny Nose: Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when my dog has a runny nose?

If your dog has a runny nose, it shouldn’t be cause for immediate concern. If the nasal discharge is clear, it may be a sign of a seasonal allergy or a reaction to the heat. However, if nasal discharge is discolored, bloody, or has pus in it, you should take your dog to the vet. In some cases, a dog’s runny nose may point to an infection, something lodged in the nasal cavity, or illness.5

Is it normal for a dog’s nose to run?

While it’s not unusual for a dog to have a runny nose, excessive or discolored discharge may point to an underlying health problem. When in doubt, schedule a consultation with your vet.

What can you give a dog for a runny nose?

Treatment for a dog’s runny nose depends on what’s causing the issue. If allergies are at fault, then allergy medicine may help soothe symptoms. If an infection is the root cause, then antibiotics may prove effective. In any case, always talk to your vet before administering medication to your dog.

Closeup of dog noses

Final Notes

A sense of smell is central to a dog—it allows them to perceive the world around them and better understand their environment. So, if your dog has a runny nose, you very well may be concerned that it’s having a major impact on their life. Beyond that, you may be worried that a runny nose is a sign of a more serious underlying health condition in your dog.

While some serious ailments such as cancer are associated with runny noses in dogs, other causes tend to be more mild. In the majority of cases, a dog’s runny nose is very treatable when given proper and professional attention.

If your dog has a runny nose, you should seek treatment as soon as possible. With Dutch, you can quickly schedule an online consultation with a highly-qualified vet who can assess your dog’s symptoms, reach a diagnosis, design a customized treatment plan, and provide ongoing care. Dutch is also the only pet telemedicine company that can facilitate the delivery of prescription medication right to your door.

Get to the bottom of why your dog has a runny nose so that you can provide your pup with the treatment they deserve. Whether you’re trying to train your dog to stop barking or treat dog separation anxiety, it’s important to take advantage of the resources at your disposal. Set up a consultation with Dutch today to access high-quality treatment and premium pet care, all from the comfort of your own home.

References

  1. “Why Is My Dog’s Nose Running?” PetMD, PetMD, 26 Feb. 2018, https://www.petmd.com/dog/why-my-dogs-nose-running.
  2. The Health Sciences Academies - Vet.osu.edu. https://www.vet.osu.edu/sites/vet.osu.edu/files/documents/preventive-medicine/A%20Dose%20of%20Reading%20Program.pdf

  3. Kuehn, Ned F. “Canine Nasal Mites.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, June 2018, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/canine-nasal-mites.
  4. Taboada, Joseph. “Fungal Infections in Dogs.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, June 2018, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/fungal-infections-in-dogs.
  5. Flowers, Amy. “Dog Nose Discharge: Common Causes and Treatments.” WebMD, WebMD, 6 May 2021, https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/my-dog-has-discharge-from-nose##1.
  6. “Nasal Tumors in Dogs.” UF Small Animal Hospital, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, https://smallanimal.vethospital.ufl.edu/clinical-services/oncology/types-of-cancer-and-treatment/nasal-tumors-dogs/.