Dog Nasal Tumors (what you need to know about this cancer)

Nasal tumors in dogs are more common than you might think.

They are also incredibly serious.

Knowing what to look out for can make all the difference in outcome, if the cancer can be picked up before it has become too advanced. This is what you need to know.

Dog nose tumors - question 70 of the Dr Alex answers show

Do you have any information on dogs with nasal tumours? How common is it and what dog breeds are most prone to this? - Vemina

Dog Nasal Tumors

Nasal tumors in dogs make up about 1%, or 1 in a 100, of all cancers seen in dogs.

As for which dogs are most at risk, it seems to be longer nose dogs that are also living in towns and cities, so those living in urban areas, that are at a higher risk of developing nasal cancer.

Tumor type

The most common tumor type in dogs is something called an adenocarcinoma, followed then by something called a squamous cell carcinoma. Unfortunately, both of these are really nasty tumors as I'll come onto.

Were we to be talking about a cat instead, lymphoma would be the most common and, from a cat's point of view, this is actually much better. Lymphoma can respond to treatment much better than the adenocarcinoma and the squamous cell carcinoma tumors that we see up the noses of dogs.

Nose Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of a nasal tumor include nasal discharge, which is typically a really pussy and snotty discharge coming from the nostrils. This discharge would just be from one nostril, at least to start with. As the tumor eats through the nasal cartilage and begins invading the other side of a dog’s nose, a discharge can certainly can then come from both nostrils.

The nose can also start bleeding, your dog might develop noisy breathing, and regular sneezing may be a feature. Once the tumor has grown to a certain size, a dog can alse develop facial deformity. The side of the nose starts to bulge outwards as the cancer begins to take up more space and put pressure on the bone. Progression then means that the cancer can start eating through the bone and then pushing out towards the outside of the face.

Understandably then, a dog with a nasal cancer can experience head pain. This might manifest as a dog starting to rub their face. Cry out, be reluctant to eat, or shy away from contact with the family.

Nerve problems are another issue as well, because there's lots of different nerves that run along the side of the face that can be affected and disrupted by a nasal tumor in a dog.

Other diseases to consider

These symptoms are quite similar to fungal infections and also foreign bodies, certainly some of them anyway. Nasal discharge can be very common, the sneezing, sometimes the rubbing of the face as well can be present in all 3 diseases.

We're not going to necessarily get the facial deformity. Certainly not with foreign bodies, and not likely from fungal infections either. But in the early stages at least, they can all look very similar.

Nasal Tumor Diagnosis

So how can we then diagnose whether we've got a tumor in the nose of a dog, or whether we're dealing with a fungal infection? Aspergillus is the most common one here, or you could be dealing with a foreign body instead. This could be something like a grass seed or awn up the nose, or a piece of stick, or even a blade of grass.

We may be able to make a tentative diagnosis with x-rays, although actually a CT scan is often the best way to go about looking to see what's going on in the nasal cavity. CT gives much better detail, and gives a 3D picture as well. After this, we can follow that with something called rhinoscopy. This is when a small camera is passed up the nose, allowing us to actually visualize what's going on.

That's not available everywhere but it's something that, if it can be done, is brilliant. Actually visualizing the problem after being directed where to look with imaging (the nasal cavity is a bit of a maze otherwise!), allows us to take a biopsy from the correct spot or hunt down the foreign body.

Without rhinoscopy, we are left to flush, probe and biopsy blind. This often works but is certainly less than ideal.


Unfortunately, we're often only diagnosing nasal tumors in dogs once they're already quite advanced. Once the tumor has already been present for quite a long period of time.

If the tumor is invading the bone, if it’s causing facial deformity, or if the cancer is close to the eyes or brain, then unfortunately curative surgery is generally not possible at all.

If you are able to pick up on the problem earlier, then in some cases surgical removal of the whole nose, or the whole front part of the nose, is possible. This can result in a complete cure. It can be quite a radical surgery, and it's normally only really reserved for small tumors that are located towards the very front of the nasal cavity, towards the nostrils and away from the brain.

Life Expectancy

Now there are other treatments that we can use.

Chemotherapy is not great. Nasal tumors really don’t respond very well if we are using chemotherapy as the only treatment. Dogs will only have about a 30% response rate, only about 1-in-3 dogs will gain any benefit, and generally any response is also really short lived.

Radiation therapy in addition to chemotherapy can give better results. I wouldn't say much better, but the average remission time with this combined treatment of nasal tumors is somewhere around 12 months, with a range from 9 to 15 months.

If the tumor is extending into the brain, then even with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, a dog would only be expected to get 4 to 6 months of remission.

Unfortunately for a dog with a nasal tumor, the prognosis really is not very good. Treatment can involve radical surgery and some intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But even going through all that, a dog is more often not going to get a really long period of life after a diagnosis is made.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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