This article was updated on September 18th, 2023
Panting and runny nose are both common occurrences in our furry family members. But what if these symptoms occur together? While both can be due to minor issue, or even completely normal at times, they could also indicate a more serious medical concern. As a veterinarian, here are my top causes and advice to concerned pet parents.
Overview of panting and runny nose is dogs
Panting involves quick (200-400 per minute), shallow breaths, and is a common method dogs use to cool down and respond to environmental factors. While panting after play or during hot weather is typical, excessive or unexpected panting may be a reason for concern and could be associated with pain or various underlying medical conditions.
A runny or congested nose is also a common occurrence in dogs. Nasal discharge can vary in consistency and color, come from one or both nostrils, and could be due to several different factors ranging from minor allergies to tumors in the nasal passages.
Is a dog panting with a runny or stuffy nose a reason to be worried?
Panting along with a runny or congested nose could mean that your dog has a single condition causing both symptoms, or two separate things. It could be related to a relatively minor issue (such as allergies), something not emergent but requiring veterinary care (such as dental disease), or something life-threatening (such as heat stroke or pneumonia). It is important to assess the entire situation, including other signs of distress or illness in your pup. If concerned, it is always best to seek veterinary care. Let’s look at the most likely conditions causing your dog’s problems.
Most likely conditions causing runny noses AND panting in dogs
Allergies in dogs are common – they can be allergic to something in the environment, in their diet, or to fleas. The most common symptoms of allergies in dogs are cutaneous (affecting their skin), including pruritus (itching), redness, hair loss, and chronic or recurrent skin infections and ear infections.
Sometimes, dogs will also have gastrointestinal or respiratory signs associated with allergies. This may include vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and red eyes. Environmental allergies may cause symptoms seasonally.
Allergies can be frustrating for both dogs and their pet parents. Mild cases may respond to antihistamines such as Benadryl (always discuss proper dosage with your vet). In many cases, a workup including blood and skin testing is required, followed by management strategies including steroids, Apoquel, Cytopoint, hydrolyzed protein diet, consistent flea prevention, and lifestyle changes.
Symptoms of respiratory infection in dogs include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, eye discharge, increased panting, lethargy, decreased appetite, and fever. There are many types of respiratory infections. Some are mild and easily treatable, such as kennel cough, while others are more severe, such as pneumonia or distemper.
Some infections are caused by bacteria, while others are caused by viruses or fungi. Diagnosis typically involves bloodwork, chest X-rays, and, in some cases, nasal swabs. Treatments may include antibiotics for bacterial infections, supportive care, and sometimes hospitalization. Make sure to keep your dog up to date on recommended vaccines to help protect them from common illnesses. Read our article about nasal infections in dogs – by Dr. Guise.
Overheating or Heat Stroke
All pet parents have seen their dog pant to cool down. If a dog is warm or overexerted, they can sometimes have a clear nasal discharge as well. However, excessive panting, fatigue, collapse, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, and nasal discharge can be signs of heat stroke.
If you suspect that your dog is overheated, immediately move them to a cool and shady area, provide fresh water, and cool their body with cool damp towels. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary care.
Dogs frequently use their noses to explore the world around them, so it’s not uncommon for a piece of plant or other foreign body to get stuck up there. Clinical signs include sneezing, pawing at the face, nasal discharge (often from one nostril), possible bleeding, and signs of discomfort such as panting. Prognosis is excellent once the foreign body has been removed, although this may require sedation or anesthesia on the part of your vet. Don’t try to remove the foreign object yourself.
Dental disease is extremely common in our furry family members. Periodontal disease is the most common, but other possible conditions leading to nasal discharge include tooth root abscess (pocket of infection associated with a diseased tooth) and oronasal fistula (abnormal connection between the oral cavity and the nasal passage). Symptoms often include bad breath, difficulty eating, red or swollen gums, nasal discharge, and facial swelling (Read our article about common teeth issues in dogs). Dogs with mouth pain may pant due to discomfort.
Diagnosis and treatment involve an oral exam and dental x-rays under anesthesia. Any diseased or damaged teeth will need to be extracted. The best way to help prevent dental disease in your dog is to practice home care, including daily brushing.
Cancer or Nasal Tumor
Chronic or bloody nasal discharge from one or both nostrils, sneezing, facial swelling, pain in the nasal area, and panting due to discomfort or nasal congestion/blockage are possible signs of a nasal tumor. If your vet suspects a nasal tumor, they may recommend imaging (X-rays or CT scan), rhinoscopy, and biopsy to determine the type and severity. Possible treatments involve surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and supportive care. Prognosis varies with type and stage.
Other symptoms to keep an eye on (and what they mean)
If a dog is panting and has a runny nose, there might be underlying causes or complications that need attention. Here are some additional signs owners should watch for in conjunction with panting and a runny nose:
- Change in appetite: A sudden decrease or increase in appetite can signal underlying issues, ranging from dental problems to systemic disease.
- Lethargy: If the dog is less active than usual, it can be a sign of an underlying health problem.
- Coughing: This could indicate a respiratory problem, like pneumonia, kennel cough, bronchitis, heart disease, or tracheal issues.
- Difficulty breathing: Labored or noisy breathing, especially when at rest, can indicate a respiratory or heart problem. This also includes continuous, relentless panting.
- Fever: A temperature (over 103 F) can indicate an infection or other health conditions.
- Discolored nasal discharge: While a clear discharge might be related to allergies or irritants, yellow, green, or bloody discharge can indicate an infection or more severe condition. See picture below.
- Swelling: Swelling around the face or nose might indicate trauma, dental issues, or an abscess.
- Other: Any other symptoms, evidence of pain, or changes in your dog’s behavior should be noted and relayed to your vet.
Steps you can take at home to help your dog
Without knowing the underlying cause, it is difficult to advise pet parents about home remedies. However, the following steps can done considered while waiting for your veterinary appointment:
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
- Continue to monitor for worsening clinical signs and seek veterinary care if indicated.
- Clean the nose: Use a soft, damp cloth to gently wipe away any mucus or discharge. If you suspect a foreign body is there, do not attempt to remove it yourself.
- Humidify the environment: Dry air can irritate the respiratory system. Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air or bring your dog into a steamy bathroom during your shower to help soothe irritated nasal passages and clear congestion.
- Avoid contact with other dogs as they may be contagious.
- Avoid allergens, smoke, perfume, or other possible irritants.
- Provide a cool, quiet, resting space in case your dog is overheated or stressed.
When to see the veterinarian and what to expect
When a dog is panting and has a runny nose, owners might wonder when it’s time to consult a veterinarian. Here are some guidelines for when to see the vet and what to expect:
When to See the Vet
- Persistent symptoms: If the panting and runny nose persist for more than 24-48 hours without an obvious cause (like a short bout of overexertion).
- Additional symptoms: Accompanying signs like coughing, sneezing, fever, lethargy, appetite changes, discolored nasal discharge, or unilateral (one-sided nasal discharge).
- Severe symptoms: Intense distress, difficulty breathing, prolonged and relentless panting, or any sudden onset of alarming symptoms always necessitate an emergency vet visit.
- History: If the dog has recently been to a location where infectious diseases are common (e.g., dog parks, kennels).
Diagnostics and Treatments
Your vet will start by getting a thorough medical history and nose-to-tail physical exam. Additional testing may include bloodwork, nasal swabs, X-rays, advanced imaging such as a CT scan, rhinoscopy, and biopsy.
Treatments will vary greatly depending on the underlying cause – a foreign body or diseased tooth can be removed, and bacterial infections will be treated with antibiotics. Other possible treatments may include anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, pain medications, other medications, supportive care, and surgery.