Just like in humans, clear nasal discharge and sneezing without any other signs of illness occurs commonly in dogs. This is typically due to inhaling irritants or upper respiratory tract viral infections and is not usually serious. Nasal discharge that contains blood, smells, or is gray and thick indicates a more serious problem may be present and veterinary attention should be sought-- especially if an unvaccinated puppy is involved. Nasal discharge and sneezing can be a sign of relatively benign viral infections or allergies, but parasitic infections, more serious infectious diseases such as distemper, or nasal cancers can also trigger discharge. Assessing the type and severity of the discharge is necessary to determine appropriate action.
What to Look For
When your dog presents with nasal discharge, possibly accompanied by sneezing, assessing the severity of illness is recommended to obtain appropriate treatment.
Examine your dog's nasal passages to determine the following:
Is the discharge from one or both nostrils? One-sided discharge is more likely to be from inhalation of an irritant like a seed, presence of a parasite, or a foreign substance. Bilateral discharge is more likely due to viral or bacterial disease.
Is the discharge clear? Colored? Purulent? Thick or watery? Clear, thin, discharge is usually indicative of a simple virus or allergy. Colored, noxious or thick discharge can be indicative of a more serious disease or condition.
You should also take note as to whether other symptoms are present, such as fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite, which could indicate more serious illness that requires veterinary attention.
Another important factor to consider is whether your dog up to date on their vaccines, if they have been exposed to other dogs that may have been carrying contagious disease, and whether they have been in an environment where they might have inhaled a foreign substance or allergen.
If they have not been vaccinated or you believe they may have been exposed to a contagion, you will need to isolate your dog so they do not spread any acquired disease and seek veterinary attention to obtain treatment.
Some causes of nasal discharge may include the following, and if certain circumstances are present make them more likely:
Allergies, especially to pollen or in dusty environments during seasons when allergies are more prevalent
Kennel cough or upper respiratory, viral, or bacterial infection if exposed to other dogs and in stressful environments.
Canine Distemper, in unvaccinated dogs
Mites, if your dog is outdoors or exposed to bedding from other infected dogs
Foreign body, grass seeds, or awns in dogs that are outdoors, especially in rural settings
Intranasal tumor, more common in older dogs
Palate disorder, usually manifests in young dogs or puppies
If you suspect serious disease, mites, fungal infection, foreign body, palate disorder, or serious bacterial infection seek veterinary assistance to resolve.
What to Do
Clear discharge and sneezing without other symptoms should be monitored to see if it resolves on its own. Supportive care such as humidifying the air, providing immune system boosters, rest, and plenty of fluids will help comfort your dog and aid in their recovery. If allergies are present, antihistamines, corticosteroids, or allergy shots may be recommended by your veterinarian. Medications are also available from your veterinarian for kennel cough if symptoms worsen or linger.
If mites or fungal infection are present, your veterinarian can provide medication to resolve. Palate disorder or nasal tumors may require surgical intervention. Unfortunately, nasal tumors tend to be malignant and treatment options can be limited. Foreign bodies can be flushed out or removed by your veterinarian. Diseases such as canine distemper require isolation and intensive medical care by your veterinarian. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics if necessary.
When to See Your Vet
While nasal discharge and sneezing is not uncommon in dogs and usually does not indicate serious disorder, monitoring of your dog’s condition for other signs of illness and assessment of possible cause of the discharge is necessary to ensure your dog receives appropriate treatment to relieve their condition. Veterinary care may be necessary to treat growths in the nasal passages, blockages, foreign bodies, or other infections. Allergies and viral infections can usually be supported at home with veterinary-prescribed medications or natural medications appropriate for dogs.