Runny Nose in Dogs: What You Need To Know

runny nose in dogs

If your dog has a runny nose, normally it’s not a big deal. But if it comes with other signs, that could mean something more serious is going on. Here’s what you need to be aware of.

Tan and white dog laying his head on the bed

Runny noses aren’t just a human problem—our pets can get them too. If you’ve ever noticed your dog’s nose dripping, you might wonder what’s going on. Could it be from allergies or a respiratory infection?  In this guide, we’ll explore the common causes of runny noses in dogs, how to recognize the symptoms, and what you can do to help your pup feel better.

Understanding Runny Noses In Dogs

A runny nose in dogs refers to the presence of fluid, mucus, or discharge from the nostrils. This discharge can vary in color, thickness, and amount, depending on the underlying cause. Your dog doesn’t necessarily have to be ill to have nasal discharge.

Is it something to worry about?


The nasal discharge could be due to a mild infection or related to a tooth issue. It’s important to monitor your dog’s nasal discharge closely and observe any other symptoms to decide your next course of action.

What Are Some Symptoms To Watch For?

In addition to nasal discharge, dogs may show other symptoms including:

These signs can give important hints about why your dog’s nose is runny and what to do next.

Beagle laying his head on a bed

Causes Of Nasal Discharge 

There are many reasons why your dog might have a runny nose. While some are not serious, it could also signal an ongoing infection. Here are some things to watch for to figure out why your dog’s nose is runny:

Seasonal Allergies

Just like people, dogs can have allergies too. Things like pollen, dust, or certain foods can make a dog’s nose runny. When a dog’s body reacts to something it’s allergic to, it can cause sneezing and nasal discharge.

Respiratory Infections

Infections, such as colds or the flu, can make dogs’ noses run. Below are some common bugs that dogs can catch:

Bacterial infections

Kennel cough (Bordetella) — This is a contagious respiratory disease that causes a loud cough, almost like honking, and can last up to 6 weeks in older dogs or pups with health issues. It’s often called kennel cough and can be prevented with a yearly vaccine.

Viral infections

Canine influenza — This flu spreads through the air and is usually caught from being around other infected dogs. Symptoms include discolored eye and nasal discharge, fever, difficulty breathing, and lethargy.

Distemper — This is a very contagious viral disease that dogs can get from other dogs or wild animals like raccoons and foxes. It affects the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems, causing sticky, yellow nasal discharge, eye discharge, loss of appetite, vomiting, seizures, and in severe cases, death.

Fungal infections

Fungal infections, such as those caused by the Aspergillus species, can also lead to nasal discharge in dogs. Aspergillus is a common fungus found in the environment, including soil, dust, and decaying organic matter. When dogs inhale fungal spores, particularly those with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions, it can lead to infections in the nasal passages.

This disease is commonly found in German Shepherds.

Conformational Issues

Dog conformation issues refer to problems with the overall structure and appearance caused by genetics or breeding. This could be another reason for your dog’s runny nose. Genetics show that certain dog breeds with longer snouts are less likely to have breathing problems.

Therefore, breeds like Greyhounds, Beagles, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, and others are considered healthier breeds with fewer medical issues.

On the flip side, some breeds are more prone to breathing problems due to their short noses, known as brachycephalic dogs. While this trait may make them look cute, it increases their risk of respiratory issues and heatstroke. Examples include Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus.

Breeding also plays a role in conformation issues. Pet owners should prioritize their dog’s health when breeding to avoid problems that could affect the dog’s nasal health.

Dental Disease

Surprisingly, dental problems like periodontal disease can also cause a runny nose in dogs. If a dog has a bad tooth or an infection in their mouth, it can affect their sinuses and cause nasal discharge.

Nasal Tumors or Polyps

Although less common, tumors or growths in a dog’s nose can also cause a runny nose. These growths can block the nasal passages and lead to increased mucus production. 

Other things to watch for include loud breathing, continued leaking from one nostril, sneezing, one-sided nose swelling, and reduced hunger. Although polyps are harmless, nasal growths can occasionally be cancerous. To find a tumor, a dog usually needs to be put under anesthesia for a thorough nasal cavity exam.

Environmental Irritants

Irritants like dust, pollen, smoke, or strong odors can irritate a dog’s nasal passages and trigger a runny nose. Dogs may be particularly sensitive to certain environmental factors, especially if they have allergies.

Keeping your home clean, minimizing exposure to smoke or strong scents, and avoiding areas with high pollen counts can help reduce the risk of irritants causing a runny nose in your dog.

Foreign Objects

Sometimes, dogs can accidentally breathe in or swallow things that don’t belong in their noses. This could be anything from a small piece of food to a foxtail. When this happens, it can irritate the nose and cause it to run.

Nasal Mites And Parasites

Sometimes, tiny bugs called mites or parasites can make a home in a dog’s nose. These bugs can irritate the lining of the nose and cause it to produce extra mucus, leading to a runny nose. If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors or around other animals, they may be more likely to pick up these pesky critters. Regular vet check-ups can help catch and treat any mite or parasite infestations before they become a big problem.


If your dog experiences trauma to their nose or face, it can lead to a runny nose. Signs such as lethargy, confusion, disorientation, or swelling of the nose indicate they’ve been injured and should see their vet for a check-up. If they start vomiting or have unequal pupil sizes, it’s important to seek emergency care as they might have a concussion.

Boston Terrier looking up

How To Stop A Dog’s Nosebleed

Various factors like allergies, infections, foreign objects, polyps, or bleeding disorders can trigger nosebleeds in dogs. While determining the cause is important, it’s ideal to stop the bleeding promptly.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Keep your dog calm and soothe them.
  2. Place a piece of absorbent material over the bleeding nostril.
  3. Apply a cold compress to the top of the dog’s nose, between the eyes and nostrils.
  4. Avoid tilting the dog’s head back or inserting anything into their nostril.
  5. If bleeding persists for more than a few minutes, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Cleft Palates, Cleft Lips And Oronasal Fistulas

If you observe your dog having a runny nose or unusual discharge right after meals, it could be due to a cleft palate/lip or an oronasal fistula. A cleft palate or lip, often found in beagles and Boston Terriers, is a birth defect where the two sides of the dog’s palate fail to join properly, leading to an opening in the upper lip. An oronasal fistula typically occurs due to oral infections or tooth loss.

Diagnosis For A Runny Nose In Dogs 

If your dog’s nose starts to have clear discharge and you’re concerned, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. An early diagnosis leads to more accurate results, and treatment can begin sooner, preventing complications or worsening of your dog’s runny nose.

The diagnosis may involve reviewing the dog’s medical history, a physical examination, and careful consideration of all symptoms shown. Your veterinarian might also order additional tests such as blood tests, Respiratory PCR Panel, x-rays, rhinoscopy, and other laboratory work for a more precise diagnosis.

For infectious agents like viruses, bacteria, or fungi, the vet will collect a sample of the nasal discharge and analyze it to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s runny nose.

Home Care Remedies

Warm Compress: Applying a warm, damp cloth to your dog’s nose can help soothe irritation and reduce congestion.

Steam Therapy: Steam can help loosen mucus and ease congestion. You can create a steamy environment by running a hot shower and allowing your dog to breathe in the warm air for a few minutes.

Hydration: Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water to stay hydrated. Hydration helps thin mucus and makes it easier for your dog to clear their nasal passages.

Elevate Head: Elevating your dog’s head while they sleep can help reduce nasal congestion and make breathing easier. You can do this by placing a small pillow or folded towel under their head.

Allergen-free Environment: Keep your dog’s living area clean and free of dust, allergens, and other irritants that can worsen nasal congestion.

When To Seek Veterinary Care

If a dog has a runny nose, pet owners should monitor their pet for any accompanying symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite, or difficulty breathing. If the runny nose persists for more than a few days or if the dog seems uncomfortable or unwell, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check-up.

The vet can examine the dog to determine the underlying cause of the runny nose and provide appropriate treatment if necessary.

Treating Your Dog’s Runny Nose

Treatment for your dog’s runny nose depends on the cause. The vet may recommend the following:

Antibiotics: If the runny nose is caused by a bacterial infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics like Clavamox or Doxycycline to clear up the infection.

Antihistamines: If the runny nose is due to allergies, antihistamines may help reduce the allergic response and alleviate symptoms.

Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct underlying issues such as nasal polyps or tumors that are causing the runny nose.

Final Thoughts

To wrap things up, keeping an eye on your dog’s runny nose is key to their health. If it doesn’t improve or if you notice other symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet for help. With the right care, your pup can be back to their playful self in no time.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are there any medicines I can buy without a prescription to help my dog’s runny nose?

It is not recommended to give dogs any over-the-counter medication for a runny nose without consulting with a licensed veterinarian. Some medications that we take for a cold that contain pseudoephedrine can be toxic to dogs.

Can my dog’s runny nose be caused by seasonal allergies?

Your dog can have a runny nose due to seasonal allergies, just like humans. Things like pollen, grass, or mold can trigger allergies in dogs, leading to symptoms like nasal discharge. Antihistamines like Benadryl may help but consult your vet first.

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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