A case of the sniffles may seem like no big deal to you, but a sinus infection can cause your dog serious discomfort. Depending on the cause, your dog may need more than at-home treatment to completely clear a sinus infection.
Discover what might be triggering the sneezing and snot in your dog, and what you can do to treat it.
What’s the difference between sinusitis and rhinitis in dogs?
Sinusitis is the inflammation of the lining of the sinuses. The sinuses are air-filled, bony cavities that connect with the nasal cavities. During a sinus infection, these cavities become filled with fluid and develop inflamed lining.
Rhinitis is the inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose. If both the nose and sinus cavities are affected, the term rhinosinusitis is used.
Both of these conditions can occur alone, or as part of an upper respiratory infection. They also appear similar in dogs, causing many of the same signs of illness.
Signs of a canine sinus infection
If your dog develops a sinus infection, they’ll likely experience nasal congestion and other signs of infected sinus cavities. Here are some of the most common signs you’ll see in your dog if they have a sinus infection:
- Nasal discharge. Discharge can be clear but may turn to a mucoid yellow or green discharge if a bacterial infection develops.
- Eye discharge. Inflammation of the upper respiratory passages may cause tearing and conjunctivitis.
- Stuffy nose. Nasal congestion occurs when the sinus cavities become full of fluid.
- Coughing. Your dog may cough in an attempt to eradicate sinus drainage dripping down the back of their throat.
- Open-mouth breathing. If your dog can’t breathe through their congested nose, they’ll breathe with their mouth open.
- Loss of appetite. If your dog can’t breathe or smell well, they’re less likely to have a normal appetite. Offer strong-smelling food in an attempt to perk up your dog’s appetite.
- Fever. A sinus infection can cause your dog to develop a fever, which is a temperature reading at 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- Gagging. Dogs often gag on the sinus drainage that slips down the back of their throat, and may try to hack it up.
- Head shyness. Fungal sinus infections can be painful, and can cause your dog to shy away if you try to pet them on the head.
- Bad breath. A foul odor to your dog’s breath could be caused by the bacterial component of a sinus infection, or because of a primary dental issue.
- Sneezing. Sneezing is an attempt to clear the upper airways of discharge.
- Reverse sneezing. A short, rapid inhalation designed to clear the nose.
👉 Here’s everything you need to know about dog sneezes.
What causes a doggie sinus infection?
In people, a sinus infection can be the result of a common cold, allergies, smoke, and dental infections. The same causes can lead to a sinus infection in your furry pal, since sinus infections in people and pets are similar. If your pooch has developed a sinus infection, it may have been caused by one of the following issues:
- Viral. Viral infections are the most common cause of acute sinusitis in dogs. Canine distemper, canine adenovirus types 1 and 2, canine influenza, and canine parainfluenza are usually to blame. Supportive care is the only option for managing these viral conditions.
- Bacterial. Primary bacterial infections are rare in dogs, but they may result from Bordetella bronchiseptica infections. Typically, secondary bacterial infections develop with a viral infection, so antibiotics will help resolve the bacterial component, but not the viral aspect.
- Dental disease. Sinus infections can develop if a tooth root abscess extends into the maxillary (upper jaw) recess. Extraction of the abscessed tooth is typically the best course of action followed by antimicrobial treatment. Prevent dental problems from occurring in your furry pal by brushing their teeth and seeing your vet for regular cleanings.
- Allergens or environmental irritants. Allergic sinusitis may occur seasonally, such as with pollen production, or year round, like with house dust and molds. Fortunately, there are many effective allergy medications available for dogs.
👉 Check out our in-depth guide to seasonal allergies in dogs for more information.
- Foreign body. A foreign object, like a stick, grass awn, or weed, lodged in the sinuses or nasal cavity can cause a sinus infection. Foreign bodies may be able to be flushed out, or physically removed with tweezers or hemostats.
- Oronasal fistula. An oronasal fistula is an abnormal opening between the oral and nasal cavities. This allows water, saliva, plaque, bacteria, and even small food particles to enter the nasal cavity and cause chronic sinus infections. Surgical closure of the fistula is essential for healing.
- Cancer. About 80% of nasal tumors in dogs are malignant and locally aggressive, meaning they attack the tissue surrounding the tumor. Radiation therapy is the treatment of choice for nasal tumors.
- Fungal. Aspergillus fumigatus is the most common cause of fungal infections that lead to sinusitis in dogs. It’s treated by the administration of an antifungal drug directly into the nose and nasal passages while the dog is under anesthesia.
- Autoimmune disease. Some types of autoimmune diseases can affect your dog’s nose and respiratory passageways. While immunosuppressant medications can help manage the disease, they may increase your dog’s sinus infection risk.
- Polyp. Nasal polyps can cause reverse sneezing, nasal discharge, nosebleeds, and sinus infections, but they may be able to be removed through flushing, radiation therapy, or a rhinotomy.
- Weakened immune system. If your furry pal’s immune system has been weakened already by another illness, they’re at a greater risk for sinus infections. Feeding your pet a high quality diet and providing veterinary wellness care can help protect them from infections.
- Parasites. Parasites like Cuterebra can lurk inside your pooch’s nose. As you can see, there is nothing cute about removing a Cuterebra!
- Asthma. Although asthma in dogs isn’t common, this respiratory disorder can predispose your pup to developing a sinus infection. Treating your dog’s asthma with the appropriate medications can help prevent more damage to the upper airways.
- Trauma to the face. Being hit by a car or attacked by another dog can change your dog’s nasal anatomy and predispose them to developing sinus infections.
When to see a vet for your dog’s sinus infection
If your dog’s symptoms have lasted more than 48 hours, it’s time to bring them to the vet for diagnosis. To discover the cause of your dog’s sinus infection, your veterinarian may take X-rays, perform an endoscopy, take a nasal biopsy or culture, or run blood work.
Depending on the cause, your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal therapy, perform surgery, or administer radiation therapy. Some dogs may have chronic sinus infections, which require ongoing treatment to manage signs that occasionally pop up.
How to soothe your dog’s sinus infection signs at home
There are plenty of ways you can keep your dog comfortable at home while they’re recovering from a sinus infection. Here are some top methods to keep your pup’s nose clean, reduce inflammation and irritation, and help them get on the mend.
A high-quality vegan nose balm
Natural Dog Company Snout Soother®
Flush your dog’s sinuses — A saline flush when performed correctly and under your veterinarian’s instruction can help break up and flush out mucus, allowing your dog to breathe easier.
Increase air moisture and humidity — Run a humidifier or place a vaporizer in the area your dog spends most of their time. You can also bring your dog into the bathroom when you take a hot shower.
Keep your dog’s nose clean — Gently wipe your dog’s nose with a warm, damp washcloth to remove discharge and ensure they can breathe clearly.
Remove mucus from inside your dog’s nose — Use a nasal aspirator or bulb syringe to gently suck out excess mucus from your dog’s nose.
Encourage your dog to eat and drink — Offer canned food with a strong odor to tempt your pooch into eating, and consider adding a water fountain for a fresh water supply.
Give your dog an antihistamine — Antihistamines, like Benadryl and Zyrtec, can help alleviate your dog’s runny nose. Plain diphenhydramine (Benadryl) without nasal decongestants can be used, at a dose of 1 mg per pound, with no more than 75 mg total. For a Zyrtec dose, consult our comprehensive guide.
👉 Always consult your vet before administering over-the-counter medications to your dog.
Steps on how to flush your dog’s sinuses
Step 1: Gently take your dog’s muzzle and tilt their head back.
Step 2: Drip the saline into your dog’s nostrils. Never forcibly squirt the solution up their nose.
Step 3: Allow your dog to swallow, demonstrating that the saline ran into the correct location.
Step 4: After a few swallows, switch to the other nostril.
Step 5: Reward your pooch for a job well done!
👉 Need a visual aid? Check out this video that shows how to flush your dog’s sinuses at home.
Frequently asked questions
How can you tell if your dog has a sinus infection?
If your pooch has a sinus infection, you may notice the following signs:
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
- Watery eyes
- Head shyness
- Appetite loss
How do you clear a dog’s sinuses?
Home remedies to clear your dog’s sinuses include using a humidifier, flushing the sinuses with saline, using a nasal aspirator, or giving Benadryl. Be sure to ask your vet before administering any human over-the-counter medicines to your pup.
Will a dog’s sinus infection go away on its own?
Most causes of sinus infections in dogs require some form of treatment, whether it’s as simple as a course of antibiotics or as complex as radiation therapy. You can give your dog a couple of days to see if their sinus infection resolves on its own, but if it doesn’t, seek veterinary care.
How long do sinus infections last in dogs?
Typically, sinus infections last a week or two once treatment is started. However, long-term damage and scarring can lead to chronic sinusitis.
Can you flush a dog’s sinus?
Yes, you can safely flush your dog’s sinuses with saline to help clear out foreign objects and sticky mucus.