Dogs explore the world around them through their nose and sense of smell. As most dog owners will tell you, they’ll put their noses in just about anything to have a good sniff! Their nose is essential to them and so the thought of an abnormality on their dog’s nose, be it soreness, scabs, warts, lumps or bumps, is very concerning to many dog owners.
The nose is one of the most recognizable areas of our canine companions’ anatomy and so abnormalities usually don’t go unnoticed. I’ve seen many dogs presenting with nose issues in my time as a practicing veterinarian, from scabs and infections to warts and nasal tumors. Some of these are completely harmless, and others can represent more serious, even life-threatening, conditions.
It’s important to realize that in addition to a change in the appearance of your dog’s nose, they may display other symptoms such as nasal discharge, nose bleeds, sneezing or excessive itching. Pay careful attention to these as they may help determine what the underlying cause of your dog’s symptoms are.
This article will help owners gain an understanding of what sort of issues can affect our dog’s nose and when owners should be concerned.
Types of dog nose scabs, warts, spots, tumors and other lumps and bumps
1. Scabs on nose
A scab is a broad term for any dry crusting of the skin that often occurs because of a wound or inflammation/infection. As the skin heals, the dead skin cells dry up and shed off in a scab but this can often indicate that there is another underlying issue, especially if the scabbing is recurring. Scabbing can take on many different appearances, from white crust on a dog’s nose, a sore or dry nose or even pink spots on a dog’s nose. The causes of scabbing vary but some of the most common offenders are an infection of the skin on the nose, allergies or autoimmune conditions.
Any small wounds or abrasions will provide an opportunity for bacteria to invade the skin of your dog’s nose and multiply in number, causing damage and irritation to the surrounding tissue in the process. A red and inflamed nose, especially if there is pus or discharge present, will often be an indication that an skin infection is present. While uncomfortable for your dog, most infections are treatable; mild infections may resolve on their own whereas more severe ones will likely require antibiotics prescribed by your vet.
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The two most common fungi that can affect the nasal area are ringworm and aspergillus. Ringworm often presents as circular, hairless lesions whereas aspergillus often appears as white, ulcerated lesions. Owners will often describe such lesions as white crust on their dog’s nose. Aspergillus in particular can become quite difficult to treat if left too long so if you suspect a fungal infection seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
Infection with mites is known as mange. A specific type of mite called demodex can affect the skin on the nose, this results in hair loss and scabbing. Dog’s affected will often become very itchy as well. Mange can be easily prevented and treated with antiparasitic treatments.
Some autoimmune conditions cause your dog’s own immune system to attack the skin cells on the nose. This results in inflammation, shedding of the skin and makes the area vulnerable to secondary bacterial or fungal infections. Two such autoimmune conditions are cutaneous lupus and pemphigus. These are usually diagnoses of exclusion – other more common conditions are ruled out first; if you suspect your dog might have an autoimmune condition then consult your veterinarian immediately.
Environmental or food allergies in dogs can result in your dog developing lesions on their nose or face. I’ve had owners explain that their dog suddenly has a pink or red bump or spot on their nose – this is often a result of an allergic reaction. Allergens cause inflammation in the skin resulting in red, inflamed lesions. Furthermore, this damages the skin’s natural barrier to infection allowing bacteria to get in and cause further damage. Food allergies can be ruled out by starting your dog on a hypoallergenic diet and seeing if they improve. Anti-allergy medication is also available for dogs with severe allergies.
Your dog’s scabby or crusty nose might simply be due to dry skin. Flat-faced breeds such as French Bulldogs and Boxers tend to be more susceptible to this. A simple fix is to apply vaseline twice daily to help keep the moisture in.
2) Lumps and bumps on a dog’s nose
Growths, warts and tumors can appear anywhere on your dog’s body and the nose is no exception. Owners will explain that there’s a bump or red raised spots on their dog’s nose. While nasal tumors are not very common, accounting for 1% of tumors in older dogs, it’s still good to be aware of what to look out for and when you should visit the vet. These tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous) – unfortunately, about 2/3rds of nasal tumors are cancerous.
Malignant nasal tumors can vary in appearance and the most common types include adenocarcinomas, sarcomas and squamous cell carcinomas. In addition to the appearance of a growth on your dog’s nose, other symptoms to look out for include:
- Nasal discharge
- Nose bleeding
- Asymmetry of the face or deformity
- Twitching of facial muscles/neurological symptoms
Nasal tumors are diagnosed through CT scans and sampling of the mass to determine if it is malignant or not. Because of the location of these tumors, surgical removal is often very challenging or not possible and as such malignant nasal tumors carry a guarded prognosis.
Benign masses tend to be less invasive and therefore easier to remove via surgery. Warts can appear on your dog’s nose for example, and these are generally benign.
While chemotherapy is an option to treat nasal tumors, it generally only has a 30% response rate, Radiotherapy is the treatment of choice which involves irradiating the cancerous cells to prevent further growth. Prognosis will depend on the type of tumor present, how soon treatment is started and the location on or within the nasal cavity. Most nasal tumors have survival times of about 12 months, unless there is extension of the tumor into the brain which results in a reduced survival time of 4-6 months. Nasal lymphoma, a type of cancer, has a slightly better survival time of 2 years or more.
Can I just monitor my dog and wait?
Not all of the conditions above will require immediate veterinary attention. If the scab or soreness is very mild then it’s okay to wait and see if the lesion gets worse. Many red spots on your dog’s nose caused by an allergic reaction will resolve themselves as long as the original allergen isn’t still present. Similarly mild bacterial infections of the skin on your dog’s nose might resolve themselves with time.
However, lesions that aren’t getting better or that are causing a lot of discomfort will likely require veterinary intervention. Similarly, for the reasons listed above, any lumps or bumps on your dog’s nose should be investigated sooner rather than later because of their tendency to be malignant.
Signs that your dog’s lump or bump needs veterinary attention
While a lump on your dog’s nose may be benign and nothing to worry about, there are some signs that might indicate that the growth is more sinister and should be investigated immediately. If the lump on your dog’s nose displays or results in any of the following then see your vet as soon as possible:
- Growing rapidly
- Redness or ulceration of the skin over the lump
- Neurological symptoms such as muscle twitching on the face
- Excessive sneezing
- Nasal discharge or nose bleeds
How a vet can help with a scab, wart, or lumps on your dog’s nose
Scabbing or flakey skin can be tested by looking under the microscope at a sample of your dog’s skin. Your vet might perform a skin scrape – this involves gently scraping a scalpel blade over the surface of your dog’s skin to remove the top layers of cells, these are then placed on a microscope slide for analysis. Similarly, hair can be plucked from the lesions to be analyzed. This allows your vet to get a glimpse into what type of cells are present and if there are any bacterial or parasitic infections present. These samples can also be cultured in a petri-dish to identify certain types of fungi or bacteria.
Lumps and bumps are tested by taking a sample of the growth for analysis under a microscope – this allows identification of the types of cells present and if there are signs of cancer. This sample can be taken in two ways – by fine needle aspirate (FNA) or by biopsy. The former involves putting a small needle into the mass and sucking out some cells, the latter involves cutting away a larger wedge of the mass for analysis.
Blood tests can also be helpful in identifying underlying allergies and for assessing the overall health of your dog.
Questions your vet might ask you
It’s important to be prepared for your visit to the vets as they’re likely to ask you many questions about the lesions you’ve noticed on your dog’s nose. Having these answers pre-prepared will help save time and allow your vet to reach a diagnosis much faster. These questions include:
- How long has the lesion been there?
- Is the lesion growing or changing in appearance?
- Is the lesion bothering your dog? Are they scratching at it?
- Is your dog otherwise well?
- Are they displaying any other symptoms?
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