Nasal Disease In Dogs

Written by Shula Berg BVSc CertAVP(GSAS) GPAdvCert(SASTS) MRCVS
Clinically reviewed by Elizabeth McLennan-Green BVM&S CertAVP(SAM) MRCVS

Table of Contents

- Overview
- Symptoms
- Diagnosis
- Treatment
- Outlook

Nasal disease is fairly common in dogs, and can have many underlying causes. The nasal cavity is impossible to examine in a pet who is awake, and can be challenging to examine fully even with advanced diagnostics. Almost all causes of nasal disease have very similar symptoms, so a logical approach to diagnosis is required. 

Common causes of nasal disease in dogs include inflammation without underlying cause, foreign bodies, infection (such as with the fungus Aspergillus), and cancer of the nasal passages. Nasal disease can also be related to dental disease, especially if there is a communication between the roof of the mouth and the nose known as an oronasal fistula. 

What are the symptoms of nasal disease? 

The most common symptoms of nasal disease are sneezing, nasal discharge, ulceration or crusting around the nostrils, and nosebleeds. Some dogs may only experience one or two of these symptoms. Nasal discharge can be clear, yellow or pink, and may come from one or both nostrils. This is important to pay attention to as it can help your vet narrow down the possible causes. Some nasal disease will develop slowly, getting gradually worse, while other conditions may cause symptoms to develop very quickly. 

Most dogs with nasal disease are otherwise well. They may find it harder to breathe if the nose is blocked, and therefore may not be able to exercise as well as normal. Dogs who have had chronic or severe nosebleeds may become anaemic, and seem more lethargic than normal. 

Which tests are used to diagnose nasal disease? 

There are two methods commonly used to gain information about the nasal cavity. Both require general anaesthesia, and blood tests are often advised first to screen general organ function. If the nasal discharge is mostly in the form of nosebleeds, specific blood tests should be performed to assess the blood’s ability to clot. The following diagnostics may then be performed; 

Imaging 

X-rays provide an overview of the structure of the nasal cavity. They can detect fluid build-up, as well as destruction or distortion of bone (often seen with nasal tumours or Aspergillus). X-rays give us a 2D image of a 3D structure, so cannot identify fine changes. Alternatively, a CT scan will provide a 3D image of the nasal chambers and skull. This is much more detailed than an x-ray, and is ideal to look for changes in the nasal cavity. CT is, however, significantly more expensive, and not available at every practice. 

Rhinoscopy 

Rhinoscopy is the process of using a small endoscope (camera) to look inside the nasal cavity. Rhinoscopy allows us to look closely at the surface of the nasal cavity, and take biopsy samples if needed. Rhinoscopy is ideal to find and remove foreign bodies, and can often identify fungal plaques in the case of Aspergillus infection. Rhinoscopy provides a magnified view of a very small area at once, so is less effective at identifying overall changes. 

It is very common for both imaging and rhinoscopy to be recommended, as the results can be interpreted in combination. Some conditions do not cause obvious changes on either test; for example, it can be impossible to differentiate between allergic inflammatory disease and some cancers on examination alone. In these cases, biopsies of the nasal tissue will be taken. This causes some bleeding, but is rarely dangerous. 

How is nasal disease treated? 

Treatment of nasal disease depends on the underlying cause. Some conditions will lead to secondary bacterial infection, however, treatment of the primary cause is important and antibiotics may not always be needed. 

Inflammation of the nasal cavity is known as Rhinitis. This can be due to allergies or secondary to a foreign body, however, there is most often no known cause (known as Lymphocytic or Plasmacytic Rhinitis). There is no cure for Rhinitis, and it is often a case of managing it long-term. Various medications can be used to help reduce the symptoms, with steroids widely considered the most effective. Rhinitis is a frustrating diagnosis as there is no “fix”, however, it is important to know that we have ruled out other conditions. If Rhinitis is related to dental disease, this will need addressing separately, and any oronasal fistulae will be surgically repaired.  

Foreign bodies are often treated at the time of diagnosis, though occasionally can be challenging to remove. Symptoms often resolve rapidly once the foreign item has been removed, though if there is severe inflammation, this can remain for some time or lead to chronic Rhinitis. 

Fungal infection, with Aspergillus species, requires intensive and lengthy treatment. It can be difficult to diagnose, and sometimes multiple samples are required to provide sufficient confidence to start treatment. Typically, anti-fungal liquid or ointment is instilled into the nasal cavity under general anaesthetic. Depending on the severity of infection, this may need repeating over several weeks. 

Several different types of cancer can affect the nasal cavity. Sadly, most are not treatable and will eventually spread around the body. Most are slow-growing, however, so dogs can remain comfortable for some time after diagnosis. 

What is the outlook for dogs with nasal disease? 

The prognosis for nasal disease is variable depending on the cause. Foreign bodies have an excellent prognosis, while nasal cancer has a very guarded prognosis. Cases of Aspergillus infection have a fair prognosis, and can make a complete recovery if they respond to treatment. Dogs with chronic Rhinitis have a good prognosis, as the condition is not life-threatening. However, symptoms are unlikely to disappear completely, and it can therefore be a frustrating condition to treat. It is important to understand that there is no cure, and that any condition affecting the nasal cavity is at risk of causing secondary Rhinitis.

Disclaimer

Please note that the content made available on this webpage is for general information purposes only. Whilst we try to ensure that at the time of writing all material is up to date and reflects industry standards, we make no representation, warranties or guarantees that the information made available is up to date, accurate or complete. Any reliance placed by yourselves is done so at your own risk.

Page last reviewed: 23rd April 2024

Next review due: 23rd April 2026