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Dog runny nose: Causes and treatment

Dog with runny nose

What are the causes and treatment for a dog with a runny nose

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Everyone knows the torture of a runny nose. Your dog can’t blow her nose, or wipe it. She doesn’t even know how to sniff back that snot properly.

By G. John Cole

Updated on the 29/04/2021, 14:06

And as for dog sneezing, it’s torture just to watch. Every sneeze looks like the first time she’s experienced it – and she doesn’t know what it is.

Let’s take a look at some of the causes and treatments for a dog with a runny nose.

What are the causes of dog runny nose

Just like with the human nose, the causes of discharge from a dog’s nose are manifold.

A runny nose is also very common. Some dogs just have a runny nose from time to time, and it will pass. But if your dog’s nasal discharge is not ‘clear’-coloured, or her runny nose comes with other symptoms, you should take her to see her vet (It is especially important to act quickly if there is blood in her snot).

A runny nose happens when the mucous membranes in the dog’s nose produce mucus and other fluid to wash out a contaminant. That might be pathogens such as bacteria or viruses, or something to which she is allergic, or parasites, or even dust. It could be something that she has ‘snorted up’ in the garden, such as a grass seed that has become stuck. It could even be a tumour that provokes this reaction.

Dogs can get upper respiratory infections (URI) at any time of the year. If she has an URI, that runny nose may contain thick green mucus, and she may sneeze and have runny eyes at the same time. She may even have a cough and a fever. In fact, the symptoms can be similar for many causes of respiratory disease, including kennel cough, so it’s important to take your dog to the vets if she is unwell.

A runny nose, eyes, and lethargy can also indicate that your dog has a dog version of a common cold, respiratory (breathing) problems, or even Canine Distemper. This is what makes it so tough to determine the cause of your dog’s runny nose. If it is combined with any other symptoms, it is best to take her to a vet.

Dog runny nose and upper respiratory infections

Upper respiratory infections are spread through the air when an infected dog barks, coughs, or sneezes, just like with human colds. The virus (or sometimes bacteria) can also be spread through infected water bowls or other objects, or through people who’ve had contact with an infected dog.

It takes two to four days for the virus to go full-blown. Some dogs may not show many symptoms or will just have very mild symptoms. Those who are more severe, may suffer a runny nose, sneezing, or mucus discharge from the nose, as well as coughing and difficulty breathing if the upper respiratory infection progresses to a lower respiratory infection in the lungs.

Your vet won’t be able to ‘cure’ a viral infection, but he can help you to make your dog more comfortable throughout her illness and minimize symptoms, such as that runny nose. He may also prescribe drugs to prevent your dog’s infection from getting more serious, or progressing to pneumonia – which can be fatal. This might include antibiotics, even though it isn’t usually bacteria. This is because viral infections can cause your dog’s immunity to be hit hard, resulting in opportunistic secondary bacterial infections.

Your vet will also advise you to disinfect your house and dog bowls, especially if you have another dog.

Dog runny nose and allergies

Yes, dogs get pollen and dust allergies, just like you! Your dog is also susceptible to mite allergies, or food allergies. The most common type of allergy which influences your dog’s nasal passages is an environmental allergy. As a result, your dog may have seasonal flare-ups and struggle during the summer but be much better in the winter. As with a human, working out a way to manage your dog’s allergies can significantly improve her quality of life.

Your vet may prescribe medications such as immunosuppressants, antihistamines or corticosteroids to counter the allergy. And/or he might give suggestions on how to eliminate the allergen from your dog’s environment.

Tests for a dog with a runny nose

Dog experts Kristiina Ruotsalo and Margo S. Tant suggest that a vet will begin by studying your dog’s complete history and carrying out a physical examination. So, you should keep a diary of your dog’s illness. Make a note of when it started, how the runny nose looked, and how often he’s sneezing. Your dog’s vet may look at the ears, nose, and mouth of your dog, as well as listening to her heart and lungs, and feeling down the windpipe. If the cause of your dog’s runny nose is not immediately apparent, your vet may carry out further diagnostic and screening tests. He might test her blood, urine, or snot with a swab.

Can dog’s colds go away on their own?

Mild upper respiratory tract infections often pass on their own once your dog’s immune system has fought it off. As long as your dog is still bright and eating, and your vet has given the all clear, you can nurse your dog at home while the infection passes.

Can I give Benadryl for a runny nose?

While Benadryl is considered relatively safe for use in dogs, you should never self-medicate your dog without the advice of your vet. Your vet will be able to assess your dog’s size, weight, age and other health conditions, and determine if Benadryl is the drug of choice. He will also be able to advise you of an accurate dose.

What do you do for a dog with a runny nose?

Dogs with a runny nose can often benefit from a humid environment to improve their breathing. You can consider running a humidifier in your house, or creating a humid environment in your bathroom, by allowing her in the bathroom with you when you take a hot shower or run a bath.

A runny nose on a dog is often no cause for alarm, but for the sake of your pet and others around her it is a good idea to get her checked out if you are worried.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS