Dog with a Runny Nose: what can you do? (causes + treatment)

There are several different causes of mucus, congestion and a runny nose in a dog. Finding out the main cause is absolutely essential if you are going to be able to find the correct treatment.

 
treat than runny nose with picture of a dog’s nose dripping with water
 

I live in mauritius,and i find it hard to get good vet advice.and i have a little griffon dog..and I’m pretty sure she has post nasal drip...it sounds like she has plegm stuck in the back of her throat..what would u recommend to soften it up??she also prone to allergies...and the vet prescribed zyrtec antihistamines...im not a great fan of all things chemical,so i try adding turmeric and coco oil..i notice when i give her a spoonful of honey it seems to enable her to clear her throat do a little gag..all advice you can give will be hugely appreciated? - Amanda

Causes of Runny Nose in Dogs

  • Fungal infection

  • Something stuck up the nose

  • Cancer

  • Allergies

  • Viral infections (not a long term problem in dogs)

A chronic nasal discharge can be caused by a number of different problems, and while I don't think most of these are going to be a concern in this dog, it’s worth running through the causes of a long standing nasal discharge

Fungal Disease

To quickly run through them, dogs can get a fungal disease. This type of infection is more common in longer nosed dog breed,s and in tropical climates as well. They generally causes a snotty or bloody discharge, and it's normally from one side, at least initially.

Foreign Bodies

Foreign bodies can be snorted up into the nose. Like grass seed, a blade of grass, or a bit of stick. They tend again to get a snotty bloody discharge, that is one-sided, from one nostril, unless multiple things have been snorted up each side of the nose. It also tends to be accompanied by sneezing.

Nasal Tumor

Dogs can get nasal tumors, tumors in the nose. I have a separate, thorough article about nasal tumors in dogs.

Allergic and Immune-Mediated Disease

Finally, we can get allergic and immune-mediated disease causing a chronic long term inflammation within the nose, termed chronic rhinitis. Chronic rhinitis is also known as postnasal drip in humans. It is not a term that we tend to use in dogs. It is the human term for chronic rhinitis.

You notice I didn't include infection (at least bacterial infection) in the list. This is because infections in noses are generally not a primary problem. They are not normally the main problem.

Dogs can of course get infections up their noses, but they normally come about because there is something else going on. It might be a long term inflammation, an allergic disease, foreign body up there, or there is a tumor which can then result in an infection which responds to antibiotics.

They do not tend to be the first thing we think about. If a dog does have an infection and responds to antibiotics, we still need to be thinking about the underlying cause. Without tackling the underlying cause, the infection will simply come back once the antibiotics are stopped.

Diagnosing the Cause

What can we do for diagnostics? How can we go about diagnosing what the causes of a nasal discharge is?

History

A good history to start with is vital. What's going on? How long has it been going on for? Has it fluctuated and changed in severity? Did it come on very quickly or slowly? Is it only a problem at certain times of the year?

Tests

We could do blood tests (this is one way to look for evidence of fungal disease especially). We can take a swab of the nose to have a look at under the microscope, and to see what grows in the laboratory. We could do x rays. We could do CT scans and biopsies. There is a lot that we can do.

The nose can be a frustrating and difficult place to try and find out what the underlying problem is. It really is not very accessible and the potential diseases can all look very similar.

Treatment Trials

We can also give a treatment trial.

That could be, for example, antibiotics and steroids if we think they have an allergic disease or an immune-mediated problem. Then monitor the response to that.

This course of action is especially appropriate if this is the first time we are seeing the problem and it has not been going on for a long time, or if it's very mild disease and there are no other concerns on examination.

The problem with this is that it could lead to a delay in diagnosis which, if the cause is cancer, could have serious implications as to long term prognosis.

The best treatment is going to depend on the underlying cause. What's going on so that we can tackle that specifically. You can tell from all of the potential different causes that the treatment for each is going to be very different.

A fungal infection will need specific anti-fungal treatment. If there’s something stuck up the nose it clearly needs removing. If there’s cancer then surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are all potential options

Home Treatment

I think allergies are the most likely problem for Amanda's little Griffin here. Given the history, given the presentation, the fact that she is prone to other allergies, and she's responded well to antihistamines in the past.

What can we do to clear the mucus and snot Amanda suspects is causing problems?

The first thing to clear any mucus that is building up in the nose and throat. If your dog has a cough and chronic bronchitis, then the same options apply.

Ensure Hydration

You need to ensure that your dog is well hydrated. That will help make sure that the mucus is nice and moist and runny, rather than thick and sticky. It is then easier for the dog to expel it and to shift it and move it.

We can ensure hydration by feeding wet food, by adding water to the diet, by putting ice cubes in the water. Maybe add a little bit of flavor, a little bit of a stock cube for example. We want to avoid anything with a lot of salt, but a low salt stock cube or boiling up a little bit of chicken or vegetables can give your dogs water a tempting flavor.

Refreshing the water regularly is important. Running water is another option. Some dogs will really enjoy drinking from running water. A simple way to provide this is to use a pet drinking fountain which can work amazingly well when it comes to increasing your dog’s water intake (like this version which has excellent reviews)

Steam

Next up, we think steam. If we feel really bunged up and congested, we feel better after we've had a hot steamy, shower. If you put your head over a bowl of hot water, that steam will also help. Again, it really helps get into the mucus, to help hydrate the mucus, and allow it to flow and be shifted much more easily by the body. We can do this for our dogs by taking them into the bathroom while you are having a hot shower so that they are in that steamy room.

Using a nebulizer is another option. This produces a mist of very fine water droplets that penetrate deep into the lungs. They are especially useful when it comes to treating bronchitis and pneumonia, rather than problems within the nose.

Honey

Honey may help soothe any throat irritation. It is something that many people will claim has a benefit. I suspect that if it does have a benefit (and there is no clear evidence apart from anecdote that it makes any difference at all), it is fairly minor. There isn’t really going to be any harm though, so give it a go. If you feel it's beneficial, then keep giving it by all means.

Curcumin

As far as turmeric goes, curcumin is the active ingredient that is found in turmeric. Curcumin does have an anti-inflammatory effect but, and there's a big but here, it is only found in very low levels in turmeric. To get to any potential beneficial effect of curcumin you'd have to feed your dog a very large amount of turmeric (depending on their size of course!).

A little sprinkle here or there is not going to make any difference. We also need to bear in mind that there is no real evidence of benefit as such in dogs specifically. There is wider evidence that curcumin can have an anti-inflammatory effect but I would not hang your hat on giving a turmeric supplement and expecting any really beneficial effect in a dog with nasal allergies.

Drug Treatments

I know Amanda says she doesn't like chemicals, but drugs are in many cases only isolated natural compounds in many cases. Some drugs are completely lab-derived, but in many cases we are simply purifying the active compound and removing the compounds that have no benefit or have the potential to cause harm.

Simple every-day examples are penicillin which is isolated from mold, and aspirin which is found in some tree bark.

Bromhexine

Bromhexine is a drug occasionally given in the short term to help shift the mucus more effectively. We tend to reach for it more if we've got a really mucusy airway, coughing or chronic bronchitis rather than a nasal problem.

Steroids

Some drugs do come with more side effects. For allergic diseases, we often think of steroids. Steroids do come with a higher risk of side effects, which I’ve discussed in my comprehensive guide to steroids in dogs.

That said, steroids can have a tremendous benefit and in certain conditions are definitely the best choice.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are generally very safe. They work well. The side effects are very few and there is no long-term concern. You can read all about using antihistamines for allergies in my post about giving Benadryl to dogs.

It really depends on how much of a problem this runny nose and congestion is causing Amanda's dog. If they've got a bit of a runny nose, occasional cough but are otherwise happy, it may be that some home treatment is all that’s needed to keep the problem under control without progressing.

To say with certainty though that we can completely disregard all potential drug treatments for everything though is a step too far.

We certainly don't want to be giving anything unnecessary, and that's why I say if this dog is able to be managed without treatment, fantastic. If we do need drugs at set times, or to keep things under control and avoid the potential for needing intermittent antibiotic treatment or long-term steroid treatment, then we should think about that strongly.


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

If you would like me to answer any question you have about your pet’s health, simply fill in this form and I’ll try and get you the information that you need. It’s that simple!