Closeup of a dog's nose

Is your dog’s runny nose just a passing sniffle, or could it be something more serious? 

As a veterinarian, I've encountered numerous cases where a dog's runny nose has left pet owners concerned and seeking answers. A dog's nose is a vital part of their sensory system, and when it starts running, it could indicate various underlying issues. In this guide, I’ll cover the common causes of a dog's runny nose and identify effective treatment options to help your furry friend breathe easily again.

Common causes of a dog's runny nose or nasal discharge

Why does my dog have a runny nose? A dog runny nose can be caused by a variety of factors, each requiring different treatment approaches. Understanding these causes is crucial in providing the right care for your pet.


Dog allergies are a common culprit behind a runny nose. Just like humans, dogs can be allergic to pollen, dust mites, mold, or certain foods. When exposed to allergens, their nasal passages may become inflamed, leading to excessive mucus production and a runny nose.

To further understand dog allergies, it's essential to know that they can manifest in various ways. In addition to a runny nose, allergic dogs may experience symptoms such as itching, redness, and skin irritation. These symptoms often occur seasonally or in response to specific triggers, helping veterinarians differentiate between allergies and other causes of nasal discharge.

Dog standing in a flower field

Environmental Irritants or Harsh Smells 

Strong odors, such as smoke, perfume, or cleaning chemicals, can irritate your dog's nasal passages, causing a dog nose running situation. Essential oils, a commonly used product, are also a major culprit for nasal irritation in dogs. This sensitivity to environmental irritants is particularly common in breeds with flat faces or short noses, as their nasal anatomy makes them more susceptible to respiratory issues.

As pet owners, you can take proactive steps to minimize your dog's exposure to harsh smells. Using pet-safe cleaning products, avoiding smoking indoors, and providing adequate ventilation in your home can help reduce nasal irritation and improve your dog's respiratory health.

Nasal Blockage

Sometimes, a dog with a runny nose may have a foreign object lodged in their nasal passage. This blockage can obstruct normal mucus drainage, leading to nasal discharge. Common culprits include grass seeds, small toys, or even bits of food that dogs may accidentally inhale.

If you suspect your dog has something lodged in their nose, avoid attempting to remove it yourself, as this can worsen the situation. Instead, seek veterinary attention for safe and effective removal, preventing potential complications like nasal tissue damage or infection.

Bacterial, Fungal, or Viral Infection

Infections, whether bacterial, fungal, or viral, can cause inflammation in the nasal passages, resulting in a ‘dog has runny nose’ scenario. Common bacterial infections that affect dogs' nasal health include Bordetella bronchiseptica, which can lead to kennel cough, and Staphylococcus aureus, which may cause sinusitis or rhinitis.

Fungal infections, such as aspergillosis or cryptococcosis, can also affect dogs' nasal cavities, especially those with weakened immune systems or chronic respiratory conditions. Viral infections like the canine influenza virus (CIV) or parainfluenza virus can cause respiratory symptoms, including nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing.

Another possible cause, though less common, is a nasal mite infection (Pneumonyssoides caninum). The most common symptom of nasal mites is sneezing, but nasal discharge is often seen as well.

Nostril Problem or Nose Cartilage Issue

Anatomical issues such as a deviated septum or cartilage abnormalities can contribute to chronic nasal discharge in dogs. Breeds with brachycephalic features, such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers, are predisposed to nasal structural abnormalities due to their shortened nasal passages.

These structural issues can lead to breathing difficulties, snorting sounds, and nasal discharge, requiring specialized care and sometimes surgical intervention to improve airflow and reduce respiratory symptoms.

French Bulldog with shortened snout anatomy

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a serious viral infection that can cause a range of symptoms, including nasal discharge. Vaccination is crucial in preventing this disease. Canine distemper affects multiple organ systems, including the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system, making it a significant health concern for unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated dogs.

Early vaccination, proper hygiene practices, and minimizing contact with infected animals can help protect your dog from canine distemper and other contagious diseases.

Nasal or Sinus Inflammation

Inflammation of the nasal or sinus tissues can occur due to various reasons, including infections, allergies, or irritants, resulting in a ‘dog snotty nose’ situation. Chronic inflammation can lead to persistent nasal discharge, nasal congestion, and discomfort for affected dogs.

Management of nasal or sinus inflammation often involves a comprehensive approach, including identifying and addressing underlying causes, providing symptomatic relief with medications, and ensuring a clean and healthy environment for your dog.

Closeup photo of a dog's runny nose

How to help a dog with a runny nose

My dog has a runny nose––what can I do? A dog with a runny nose needs attentive care to alleviate discomfort and address the underlying cause of the issue. Here are effective ways to help your pet breathe easier.

Allergy Relief Treatment Options

If allergies are suspected, you can try allergy supplements for dogs as a first line of defense. Your veterinarian may recommend antihistamines, corticosteroids, or allergy shots to alleviate symptoms and reduce nasal discharge. Antihistamines help block the effects of histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions, while corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.

Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, involve gradually exposing your dog to small amounts of allergens to desensitize their immune system over time. This can help reduce allergic reactions and improve nasal symptoms in allergic dogs.

Avoid Allergens or Nasal Irritants

Identifying and minimizing your dog's exposure to allergens or nasal irritants can significantly improve their nasal health. This includes:

  • Using hypoallergenic bedding and cleaning products
  • Avoiding smoking around your pet
  • Avoiding essential oils, candles, and scented sprays around pets who are sensitive to these products
  • Keeping indoor environments well-ventilated
  • Regularly grooming your dog to remove potential allergens from their fur

By removing as many environmental allergens as possible and reducing your dog's exposure to nasal irritants, you can help alleviate nasal discharge and improve their overall respiratory well-being.

Observe Your Dog For Other Symptoms

While a dog nose running might seem like a minor issue, it's essential to monitor your pet for any other symptoms that could indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires prompt veterinary attention.

Other symptoms that might accompany a dog's runny nose

Besides nasal discharge, dogs with a runny nose may experience other symptoms that warrant investigation. These can include:



A lack of energy or enthusiasm could indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires prompt veterinary attention.


Frequent sneezing can indicate nasal irritation or allergies.


This may be due to a more serious issue like asthma or bronchitis and should be checked out immediately by your veterinarian.


Bleeding from the nose could be due to masses in the nasal passage or even bleeding disorders like low platelet levels.


Persistent coughing may point to respiratory infections like kennel cough, allergic bronchitis, or even heart conditions like congestive heart failure.

labored breathing

This is a sign your pet is struggling to get oxygen and is a medical emergency.

appetite changes 

A decreased appetite or reluctance to eat may indicate discomfort or illness.

Dog runny nose: nasal discharge characteristics

The characteristics of nasal discharge can provide valuable insights into the underlying cause of your dog's runny nose. When examining your dog's nasal discharge, consider the following factors:


The color of nasal discharge can vary depending on the cause. Clear or slightly white discharge is often associated with allergies or viral infections. Yellow or greenish discharge may indicate a bacterial infection, while bloody discharge can result from nasal trauma or serious underlying conditions.


Thin and watery discharge is common in allergies or viral infections. Thicker, mucus-like discharge may suggest a bacterial infection. Pay attention to any changes in consistency or texture over time.


Normal nasal discharge in dogs is usually odorless or has a mild scent. Foul-smelling discharge can indicate infection, especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, or lethargy.

How do veterinarians evaluate a dog’s runny nose?

When faced with a dog's runny nose, veterinarians employ various diagnostic approaches to identify the underlying cause accurately. These may include:

  • Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination allows veterinarians to assess your dog's overall health, examine the nasal passages for abnormalities, and check for other symptoms that may provide diagnostic clues.

  • Nasal Endoscopy: Nasal endoscopy involves using a specialized instrument with a camera to visualize the nasal passages internally. This procedure helps identify nasal abnormalities, foreign bodies, or signs of inflammation.

  • Imaging Studies: X-rays or advanced imaging techniques such as CT scans or MRI scans may be recommended to evaluate the nasal cavity, sinuses, and surrounding structures for abnormalities, tumors, or foreign bodies.

  • Nasal Swab Culture: If a bacterial or fungal infection is suspected, a nasal swab culture may be performed to identify the specific pathogen and determine the most effective treatment.

  • Allergy Testing: Allergy testing, including skin tests or blood tests, can help identify allergens that may be triggering your dog's allergic reactions and contributing to nasal discharge.

Dog with a humidifier to help with a runny nose

Treatment options for dogs with a runny nose

The treatment approach for a dog's runny nose depends on the underlying cause identified through diagnostic tests. Here are common treatment options:


Depending on the diagnosis, your veterinarian may prescribe medications such as antibiotics for bacterial infections, antifungals for fungal infections, antihistamines for allergies, or decongestants to alleviate nasal congestion.

surgical intervention

In cases of nasal blockages, structural abnormalities, or nasal tumors, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove obstructions, correct anatomical issues, or address underlying conditions.


For dogs with allergies, allergen avoidance strategies, medication, supplementation, or immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be recommended to manage symptoms and reduce nasal discharge.


Providing supportive care at home, such as maintaining a clean environment with as few allergens as possible, using humidifiers to ease nasal congestion, and ensuring proper hydration and nutrition, can complement medical treatment and promote recovery.

Many dogs may not need treatment for a runny nose, but it’s better to check with your veterinarian to rule out more troublesome causes. 

Can you prevent a dog’s runny nose?

While some causes of a dog's runny nose are unavoidable, several preventive measures can help minimize the risk and severity of nasal issues in dogs:

Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your dog's overall health, detect potential issues early, and discuss preventive care strategies.

Vaccination: Ensure your dog is up-to-date on essential vaccinations, including those for distemper, kennel cough, and other respiratory infections.

Environmental Management: Create a pet-friendly environment by minimizing exposure to allergens, avoiding smoking indoors, using pet-safe cleaning products, and maintaining good indoor air quality.

Healthy Lifestyle: Promote a healthy lifestyle for your dog through regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and appropriate weight management, as obesity and poor health can exacerbate respiratory issues.

A dog runny nose can stem from various causes, ranging from allergies and infections to foreign objects or structural abnormalities. By understanding these triggers and seeking timely veterinary care, you can help your canine companion breathe freely and enjoy a happy, healthy life.

Remember, if you're ever unsure about your dog's symptoms or need professional guidance, don't hesitate to consult your veterinarian. They're your best ally in ensuring your pet's well-being.

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Written By a Vetnique Vet

Veterinarian Dr. Hillary Wolfe smiling and holding a little dog.

Dr. Hillary Wolfe, DVM, CVFT

Dr. Wolfe is a traveling veterinarian and the owner of Tula Veterinary Nutrition. She is passionate about enhancing pet health and longevity through food, with a strong focus on natural nutrition and homemade diets.

Small Animal Veterinarian & Certified Food Therapist 

St. Petersburg, FL 

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