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canine health problems
Dog with a runny nose

You can tell a lot about a dog with a boop to the nose. Your pup has over 100 million olfactory receptors, compared to the roughly 6 million in yours. So what does it mean when you notice their snoot is a little runnier than usual?

👉 A sick dog’s nose can be hot or cold, wet or dry. 

A common misconception about healthy noses is they should be cold and wet. In reality, when it comes to monitoring your dog’s nose health, a good rule of thumb is to watch for any abnormal discharge.

Generally, clear discharge isn’t a cause for concern unless it presents with other symptoms, like coughing, nasal congestion, lethargy, or appetite changes. Keep an eye out for nose discoloration (paler than normal), excessive dryness, or texture changes, too. If their nostrils are flaring more than usual or they’re panting differently, they could be having respiratory problems as well.

🚨 If nasal discharge isn’t clear, and instead white, cloudy, yellow, green, bloody, or smelly, it’s time for a vet visit.

Because nasal problems can be caused by a variety of factors, a quick veterinarian exam is often the fastest and safest way to get to the root of the issue.

👉 Pay attention to what your dog’s nose looks like when they’re healthy so it’ll be easier to spot problems later on.

Common runny nose causes and how to treat them

1. Sweat

There’s a good chance you’ve experienced this type of clear, odorless nasal discharge at least a few times with your pup. It’s the most common (and least serious) reason for runny noses, and it happens because dogs don’t regulate their body temps through their skin like humans do. Instead, they sweat it out through their paw pads and noses.

These kinds of runny noses should go away on their own once your pup cools off and usually don’t require further treatment, but if symptoms persist or change, consult your vet just in case.

2. Seasonal allergies

Another common cause for clear nasal discharge is allergies and seasonal weather changes. Dogs can be allergic to a number of irritants, ranging from pollens, foods, and prescription drugs, to chemicals, dander, dust mites, and spores.

👉 A runny nose caused by allergies often comes with other symptoms, like sneezing, itchiness, coughing, or eye discharge.

Helping your dog avoid allergy triggers is the fastest and easiest way to treat and prevent these symptoms. Your vet can prescribe antihistamines and/or anti-itch medications to make your pup more comfortable, but if symptoms continue or get worse, they’ll likely recommend an allergy test.

3. Environmental irritants

Cleaning products, dust, cigarette smoke, candles, incense, and other perfumed substances can all play a factor in nasal irritation. Be on the lookout for excessive sneezing or itching as well.

The best treatment is to limit exposure. As with allergies, Benadryl or prescribed antihistamines can be safe and effective for dogs having a reaction to an irritant, but always consult your vet beforehand.

4. Genetics

Some breeds are more prone to runny noses than others. Brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced/shortened snouts) tend to have narrowed nostrils, also known as stenotic nares, that can cause extra nose irritation and breathing trouble.

👉 Seasonal changes can be especially hard on your brachycephalic pup.

A simple cosmetic surgery can be performed on stenotic nares to widen the nostrils and make breathing easier,  but always be mindful of overexertion during those humid summer months and chillier winter days.

5. Canine influenza, colds, and respiratory infections

Just like humans, dogs are prone to viral and bacterial infections that can cause all kinds of runny noses. And since canine influenza and other viral respiratory diseases have no cure, they need to be treated by a vet ASAP to prevent spreading disease.

👉 Most respiratory infections are mild and relatively easy to deal with, but others can cause more serious complications if left unchecked.

Keep your pup as comfortable as you can and away from other animals while they’re recovering from an infection. Some dogs may need fluids, meds, antibiotics, and sometimes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment. You can also ask your vet for a nutrition plan to help with recovery.

And remember: always use dog-safe disinfectant solutions to clean your home and avoid reinfections!

6. Kennel cough

Bordetella, more commonly known as kennel cough, is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection that can leave your dog with a nasty, “honking” cough for weeks, and at times, a runny nose. Because kennel cough spreads so easily, you should keep your dog away from other animals if they’re showing symptoms and consult your vet about treatment.

👉 Kennel cough is easily preventable with a yearly vaccine. Talk to your vet to ensure your pup is up-to-date on their shots!

Most dogs with kennel cough recover after 1-3 weeks, but it can sometimes take up to 6 weeks in senior pups or dogs with underlying health issues. Untreated, ongoing kennel cough can eventually lead to pneumonia, so be sure to always follow up with your vet if you don’t start to see improvement.

Most cases are mild and go away on their own without medications, but meds can certainly speed up recovery time and prevent further spread. Keeping your dog in a well-humidified room and using a harness instead of a collar can significantly reduce symptoms. Your vet may also prescribe an additional antibiotic post-treatment to reduce the chance of a secondary infection.

7. Distemper

Canine distemper is a very serious and highly contagious infection that affects the respiratory, GI, and central nervous systems. It can cause sticky, yellow nasal discharge, eye discharge, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, calluses on the nose and footpads, seizures, or death.

🚨 Distemper is incurable and often fatal, but it’s preventable with a vaccine and boosters. Always keep track of your pup’s shot records!

Puppies need three rounds of the vaccine between the ages of 8 to 16 weeks, and then need a booster 1 year after the first series. All dogs need a booster every 3 years after. Since there’s no cure for distemper, routine vaccination is the best and safest option for your pup’s health and safety.

A visit to the vet is absolutely vital in diagnosing and treating the disease. Treatment for Canine Distemper usually is supportive care while hoping the dog can mount an appropriate immune response to fight the virus. Certain medications, like antibiotics, airway dilators, and IV fluid therapy can also be helpful.

8. Nasal and sinus inflammation (rhinitis and sinusitis)

Since dogs are prone to quite the spectrum of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections (and can even get nasal mites), they’re also vulnerable to resulting upper respiratory tract malfunctions like rhinitis and sinusitis.

🚨 Nasal and sinus inflammation can cause serious respiratory filtration dysfunction and lead to dangerous exposure to dust and other microorganisms.

Rhinitis and sinusitis come with a variety of symptoms outside of discolored nasal discharge, including body odors, bloody noses, coughing, and fevers. Treatment usually depends on the cause of the inflammation and requires immediate veterinary care to prevent further damage to your pup’s respiratory tract. Antibiotics, antifungals, and sometimes even surgery might be necessary, especially for chronic infections.

9. Nasal blockage

Sometimes a runny nose can be caused by foreign objects obstructing your dog’s nasal passages, like foxtails and grass awns. It can also cause excessive sneezing and nosebleeds.

👉 Remember, a dog’s nose is highly sensitive and bleeds easily with minor trauma.

It’s always better to consult a vet to have the object removed. That said, if you can see the object in their nose and feel comfortable trying to remove it yourself, make sure to use a clean pair of tweezers or small pliers, and plan a follow-up vet appointment to ensure your pup is OK. It’s very important to get the object out as soon as possible, both for your dog’s comfort and to prevent infections.

10. Polyps / nasal tumors

If your pup’s nose is excreting blood, pus, or mucus, it could be a sign of an overgrown mucus-producing gland (polyp), or in more serious cases, nasal tumors. They can be benign or cancerous. Be on the lookout for noisy breathing, ongoing nasal discharge from one nostril, sneezing, swelling, on one side of the nose, and/or decreased appetite.

Most treatment options for polyps and nasal tumors involve surgery. Because polyps have a tendency to grow back/reappear, additional treatment recommendations might be required from your vet. Benign tumors can be removed with surgery, but cancerous ones are usually managed with radiation and/or chemotherapy since surgical removal is rarely successful.

11. Periodontal disease

Runny noses can also be a sign of underlying periodontal disease (better known as dental disease). PD causes a significant amount of bacteria buildup in the mouth and gums, leading to gingivitis, gum recession, and tooth rot abscesses that can cause unilateral nasal discharge.

🚨 Bacteria buildup can also get into your pup’s bloodstream and travel to other areas of the body, potentially leading to infections in the heart and kidneys.

Regular at-home dental care and professional dental cleanings by your local vet when recommended are the best ways to treat/prevent periodontal disease. Prescribed oral rinses, prescription dental food, over-the-counter dental powder (Perio Support), and dental chews can also be used to slow tartar buildup.

12. Cleft palates, cleft lips, or oronasal fistulas

If you notice your dog has a runny nose or unusual discharge specifically after meals, this may be due to a cleft palate/lip or an oronasal fistula. A cleft palate or lip is a congenital abnormality that causes two sides of your dog’s palate not to fuse, while an oronasal fistula usually happens due to oral infections or the loss of a tooth.

Both conditions can lead to chronic nasal infections and are most commonly treated with surgery.

What color is your pup's snot?

Color and texture What might be causing it
Clear and runny Sweat, allergies, seasonal changes, overexertion, genetics, environmental irritants, foreign bodies/obstructions
Yellow, green, or cloudy Distemper, canine influenza, rhinitis, sinusitis, respiratory infections
Bloody discharge Injury, foreign object blockage, cancer, tick disease, rat poison (rodenticide) ingestion
Food or water coming from your dog’s nose Cleft palate, cleft lip, oronasal fistula

When your dog should see the vet

If your dog has mild, clear nasal discharge and is acting normal (not coughing or running a fever), then your pup’s runny nose may be caused from something like sweat or seasonal allergies and may not require an immediate vet visit. For discolored discharge and other symptoms, you should consult your vet as soon as possible.

What to expect at your vet visit

  • Nasal exam. Your vet will first perform an exam to look at the entrance of both nostrils for sores, foreign bodies, or masses. They’ll also check the nose for any swelling and determine if any area is painful.
  • Rhinoscopy. If a mass or foreign body is suspected deeper in the nasal cavity, a rhinoscopy may be recommended. This involves general anesthesia and passing a small camera up into the nostril to look for a foreign body or nasal mass.
  • Tick and clotting panels. If your pup has nose bleeds (epistaxis), your vet may also recommend a tick panel or clotting panel to determine the cause.
  • Upper respiratory exam. If no nasal abnormalities are found, upper respiratory panels can be performed if an infection is suspected. These exams test for various viral and bacterial infections, and can include checking your pup’s complete blood count , serum biochemistry profile, urinalysis, parasite tests, and/or chest X-rays.
  • Oral exam. An oral exam may also be needed to diagnose any underlying dental disease or oronasal fistulas.

How to treat your dog’s runny nose at home

Crank up the humidity for congestion — Humidifiers are a great way to break up nasal congestion when they’re sick. The mist can help filter out unhealthy bacteria and get your pup feeling better, faster. Just make sure to keep it out of reach from restless doggos!

💡 If you don’t have a humidifier, run a hot shower for a bit and bring your pup into the bathroom for a little DIY steam treatment. 

Lots of rest and snoozles — Recovery from any reaction, infection, or surgery is sure to take some energy out of your pup. Help them to rest up and avoid overexertion, and they’ll be good as new in no time.

Fluids and diet are key — Just like with humans, keeping your pup well-fed and well-hydrated always makes for a speedier recovery. Talk to your vet about a nutrition plan and keep an eye on the water bowl.

Soft washcloths or warm compresses — Key word: soft! Gently dab, don’t press too hard, and be sure your dog isn’t in any pain or has nasal blockages/masses beforehand. Your pup likely won’t be the biggest fan at first, but it can help keep their nose moisturized and free of nasal discharge buildup.

👉 Never put anything inside your pup’s nose. It’ll be uncomfortable for everyone involved, and it can cause serious damage. 

Snout Soother. This balm is a slick and easy way to help with post-infection hyperkeratosis or irritation. Just always be sure to consult your vet before introducing a new product into your dog’s routine.

🚨 Remember: never use topical medication treatments made for humans on your pup! Including, but not limited to: peroxide, rubbing alcohol, Neosporin, or baby oil.

Keep up with cleaning — Dirty food and water dishes, toys, blankets, and bones aren’t only natural irritants, they can also cause reinfection.

Quarantine if needed — We don’t want any more sick pups out there!

In case of nosebleeds — Always report any nosebleeds to your vet and ask when you can bring your dog in for an exam.

Frequently asked questions

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

The majority of runny noses are a result of either sweat/exertion, allergies, or seasonal weather changes. You usually don’t have anything to worry about if the discharge is clear and odorless; however, discolored discharge and the presence of other symptoms can indicate a bigger issue.

Is it normal for a dog’s nose to run?

Because dogs sweat through their noses and paws, an occasional clear, odorless runny nose during playtime and other activities is actually a sign of a healthy pup! It means your dog is regulating their body temperature safely and naturally.

The only times to worry about a runny nose are when discharge is discolored, sticky, or smelly, or if your dog is exhibiting other abnormal symptoms. A few warning signs to look out for are:

  • Yellow, green, cloudy, or bloody discharge
  • Sneezing, coughing, itchiness
  • Eye irritation, changes in sleep patterns
  • Breathing problems
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

How do I clean my dog’s runny nose?

First, check to make sure your dog isn’t in any pain or has any nasal blockage from a foreign object. Next, take a clean, soft cloth or damp compress and gently dab the areas of concern. Don’t press too hard, and never scrub the skin!

👉 Always make sure any products you use are pup-safe. 

How do you know when your dog has a cold?

Canine colds are sort of similar to human colds (even though we can’t get them from dogs and dogs can’t get them from us, thankfully). You can usually tell your pup’s coming down with a bug by checking for these symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

What can I give my dog for runny nose and sneezing?

A runny nose from playing outside usually doesn’t need any kind of treatment. For allergic reactions, Benadryl or prescribed antihistamines can be safe and effective, but it’s best to ask your vet.

👉 If you suspect your dog’s runny nose isn’t because of sweat or allergies, it’s better to take them in for a vet diagnosis before giving them at-home treatment.