- A runny nose isn’t usually cause for concern — Owners should look out for other symptoms accompanying the runny nose, like coughing, discolored discharge, or appetite changes.
- Sweating and allergies are the most common triggers — More severe reasons your dog could be experiencing a runny nose include injuries, nasal tumors, and periodontal disease.
- Consult your veterinarian if you are concerned — A quick trip to the vet is the safest and most effective way to get to the bottom of why your dog’s nose is running.
Humans are all too familiar with runny noses. Whether it’s because we have a slight cold, are experiencing allergies, or we’re watching a sad movie, the sniffles come and go year round. But when it comes to our dogs, the underlying reason for a nasal discharge may not always be as clear. With over 100 million olfactory receptors in dogs compared to the roughly 6 million in us, the possibilities can seem endless!
When (and when not) to worry
Generally speaking, a clear discharge from your pup’s snout isn’t cause for concern unless it presents with other symptoms. These could include coughing, nasal congestion, lethargy, or appetite changes. Owners should also be on the lookout for nose discoloration (paler than normal), excessive dryness, or texture changes. If their nostrils are flaring more than usual or they’re panting differently, they could be having respiratory problems as well.
As with any health issue, consult your veterinarian to rule out underlying conditions and receive the best guidance on how to treat your dog’s runny nose.
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|
👉 Any color or texture aside from the first one (clear and runny) should prompt a vet visit.
Common reasons for a dog’s runny nose
So why is your dog’s nose on the run? Here are root causes in order of least to most severe, and what you could do about each one.
Perhaps the most common (and least serious) reason for a canine’s runny nose is that they are sweating. Dogs can’t regulate their body temps through their skin the way that humans do, hence the heavy panting when they exercise or overheat. Instead of secreting sweat through their pores, they do it through their paw pads and noses. In the case of the latter, this sweating will present itself in the form of clear, odorless water in the nasal passage.
Help your dog cool down
Keeping your dog inside during the hottest parts of a summer’s day (typically around 3:00 pm when the sun reaches its highest point) and giving them plenty of clean water can help prevent overheating and heat stroke. Owners can rest assured that a sweat-induced nose run should go away on its own when their fur baby’s body temperature goes back down and doesn’t require further treatment. Of course, if symptoms persist or change, it doesn’t hurt to bring them to the vet for a checkup.
2. Seasonal allergies
Another likely culprit for your pooches’ runny nose is allergies. The same way that seasonal weather changes and flowers in full bloom spell trouble for a lot of human’s sinuses, dogs can be susceptible to pollens, dander, and spores. Other irritants that may trigger canine allergies include certain foods, prescription drugs, and dust mites. If your dog is experiencing allergies, their runny nose may sometimes be paired with other symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness, coughing, and eye discharge.
Avoid allergy triggers
The fastest and easiest way to avoid seasonal allergies in dogs is to steer clear of irritants that cause these symptoms whenever possible. Your vet may prescribe antihistamines and/or anti-itch medications to make your pup more comfortable, but if symptoms continue or get worse, they’ll likely administer an allergy test.
3. Environmental irritants
Your dog’s runny nose may be a product of their environment. Cigarette smoke, cleaning products, dust build up, and lit candles and incense are all possible irritants once inhaled indoors or outdoors. While these reactions can be seasonal, they can also be long-term if caused by a permanent element of your home or regular environment for your canine companion. Atopic reactions like sneezing and itching may accompany your dog’s runny nose in this instance.
The best way to treat environmental irritants is to separate or remove such triggers. In addition to prescribed antihistamines, the same Benadryl you have in your medicine cabinet can be used to safely combat allergic reactions your dog is having to elements of their surroundings that can’t be removed. Owners should always consult their vet to determine the right dosage for their respective pet.
Some dog breeds are more genetically predisposed to runny noses than others. Brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced/shortened snouts), like pugs and boxers, tend to have nostrils with narrow airways that make them more prone to irritation and breathing trouble. These dogs tend to experience more extreme sensitivities to seasonal changes than other breeds, including respiratory issues and heat intolerance.
Consider nasal surgery
A simple cosmetic surgery can be performed on a dog’s narrowed nostrils, also known as stenotic nares, to widen them and make breathing easier. Owners can also be mindful of overexertion during humid summer days and chilly winter days, when dogs genetically prone to runny noses may experience the most irritation.
5. Foreign objects
In some cases, a dog’s runny nose is caused by an object blocking their nasal passage. Objects such as seeds, small toy parts, cotton, candle wax, and button batteries are small enough to enter your pet’s respiratory tract. Once stuck in the upper airways, they can cause runny noses, excessive sneezing, and nosebleeds. Additionally, if your dog is frequently pawing at their nostrils, they may have inhaled a foreign object.
Extract the object immediately
Owners should seek veterinary care 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 okay. It’s very important to get the object out as soon as possible, both for your dog’s comfort and to prevent infections.
6. Bacterial infections
Bacterial infections impact humans and their furry friends alike. They are often the result of a weakened immune system brought on from diet, lack of exercise, aging, or other illnesses. Owners who believe their pup has been infected should consult their vet ASAP before things get worse. Here are bacterial infections that can cause runny noses in dogs and how to treat them:
- Kennel cough — Perhaps one of the more alarming conditions that dogs can experience is Bordetella, a highly contagious upper respiratory disease characterized by a loud “honking” cough that can last for up to 6 weeks in senior dogs or pups with underlying health issues. Commonly known as kennel cough, this condition is easily preventable with a yearly vaccine that all owners should make sure their dog is up-to-date on. Medication may be prescribed to speed up recovery, along with an additional antibiotic post-treatment to reduce the risk of a secondary infection.
- Periodontal disease — Believe it or not, dental issues are among the reasons your dog’s nose may be running. Periodontal disease causes a significant amount of bacteria buildup in the mouth and gums, leading to gingivitis, gum recession, and tooth root abscesses that can cause unilateral nasal discharge. In addition to the nose, 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. Professional dental cleaning is administered to dog’s with PD, and may require extractions for teeth that can’t be saved.
7. Viral infections
In addition to bacterial infections, dog owners should consider whether their dog’s runny nose is the result of a viral infection. If you suspect your dog has contracted a virus, seek medical attention immediately before it gets worse. Here are viral infections that can cause runny noses in dogs and how to treat them:
- Colds — Although humans and dogs can both get colds, the viruses they’re susceptible to are unique to their species. In the case of dogs, their runny nose may be accompanied by watery eyes, congestion, and frequent sneezing in the event of a cold. After consulting your vet, owners can help their dog’s recover with lots of rest, hydration, and drippy nose cleanings.
- Canine influenza — The dog flu is an airborne virus typically contracted from being around infected dogs. Discolored eye and nasal discharge, fever, difficulty breathing, and lethargy are all symptoms your dog may exhibit. Although there is no specific treatment for canine influenza, your vet may recommend certain antibiotics and steroids to boost their immune system as they recover.
- Distemper — Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that your dog can contract not only through other dogs, but through wild animals like racoons and foxes. It affects the respiratory, GI, and central nervous systems of infected dogs, and can cause sticky, yellow nasal discharge, eye discharge, decreased appetite, vomiting, seizures, and even death. Since there is no cure for distemper, routine vaccination is the best and safest option for your pup’s health and safety. Treatment is usually supportive care while hoping the dog can mount an appropriate immune response to fight the virus.
Trauma to your dog’s nose or face can cause their nose to run. Lethargy, confusion or disorientation, or swelling of the nose are all signs your dog has experienced an injury of some kind and should be brought to their vet for further evaluation. If they begin vomiting or have different pupil sizes, seek emergency care, as they may have a concussion.
Consult your vet
Your vet is the person most equipped to determine whether or not your dog is experiencing an injury and the severity of it. Walk them through your pet’s symptoms and they’ll advise you on the best treatment plan for their specific injury.
9. Polyps or nasal tumors
When examining your pup’s runny nose, visit the vet if you notice they are excreting blood, pus, or mucus, as it could be a sign of a polyp, or in more serious cases, a nasal tumor. Other signs to look out for are noisy breathing, ongoing nasal discharge from one nostril, sneezing, swelling on one side of the nose, and/or decreased appetite. While polyps are benign, nasal tumors can sometimes be cancerous. To diagnose a mass, a dog will typically need to be anesthetized while a physical exam of the nasal cavity is performed.
Surgically remove the mass
If your dog has a polyp benign tumor, routine surgery can be administered to safely remove it from their nasal passage. In the event your dog is diagnosed with a cancerous nasal tumor, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy are considered the best treatments to slow the growth of the tumors and prevent further spreading. Surgical removal of cancerous tumors in a dog’s nose is rarely successful.
10. 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, seen commonly in beagles and Boston terriers, is a birth defect that causes two sides of your dog’s palate not to fuse properly, resulting in an opening of the upper lip. An oronasal fistula, on the other hand, usually happens due to oral infections or the loss of a tooth.
The only effective way to treat clefts and oronasal fistulas is through surgery. For puppies, a feeding tube may be implemented to allow the opening to grow smaller.
What to expect at the vet
Owners should not hesitate to schedule an appointment with their vet to discuss their dog’s runny nose, regardless of the severity of it. Once there, a physical examination will be conducted to figure out the root of your dog’s sniffles and determine the best course of action, if any.
- 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. In the event that a mass or foreign body is suspected deeper in the nasal cavity, a rhinoscopy performed by a specialist 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 is experiencing a nosebleed (epistaxis), your vet may also recommend a tick 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 additional tests can check 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, as well as periodontal disease.
Treating your dog’s runny nose at home
In some cases, you may be advised to treat your dog’s runny nose from the comfort of their forever home. Making sure you take the safest measures to prevent further illness will be key when treating your dog yourself.
- Crank up the humidity for congestion — Humidifiers are a great way to break up nasal congestion when our favorite furballs are sick. The mist can help filter out unhealthy bacteria and speed up your pup’s recovery.
- Encourage lots of rest — There will be plenty of time for play and exercise when your dog is feeling better. Help your favorite furball to rest up and avoid overexertion, and they’ll be good as new in no time!
- Use 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.
- 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!
Preventing a runny nose
No one wants to see their canine companion uncomfortable. Taking steps to prevent a drippy nose will keep your pup happy and looking spiffy.
- Stay up to date on shots — Making sure your dog is caught up on their vaccinations is the most effective way to rule out preventable infections and diseases like Bordetella and distemper.
- Fluids and diet are key — Just like with humans, keeping your doggy well-fed and well-hydrated is crucial for a healthy immune system. Talk to your vet about a nutrition plan and keep an eye on the water bowl to make sure your little one always has something to drink.
- Kick irritants to the curb — If you know your dog has specific allergy triggers like incense or cigarette smoke, avoid exposing them to these irritants as much as possible so they have a comfortable home environment.
- Stay inside when it’s too hot or too cold — Avoid extreme weather conditions that prompt your dog’s nose to run wild.
Frequently asked questions
Should I be worried about my dog’s runny nose?
If your dog has clear nasal discharge, it is likely nothing to worry about and will go away on its own. If the runny nose is accompanied by other symptoms like difficulty breathing or coughing, or if the discharge is discolored, consult your vet.
How can you treat a dog’s runny nose at home?
Air humidifiers, plenty of rest, and soft compressions can aid a dog with the sniffles in getting back to normal. If their runny nose persists, seek veterinary care.
Can I give my dog Benadryl?
Yes, it is safe to give your dog Benadryl to treat allergy-induced runny nose. Be sure to consult your vet on the right dosage for your respective pup.