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Nasal Infections in Dogs: Types of Infections and What to Do

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3 dog noses under a blanket

Several years ago, my husband and I adopted a rescue dog from the southern United States. It didn’t take long for our other dog to develop congestion from bacteria that were unfamiliar to her immune system. She became lethargic and had a nasal discharge along with other symptoms. Because I had experience treating sinus infections as a veterinarian in practice, I recognized her symptoms.  Fortunately, with rest and antibiotics, she returned to her spunky self in a few days.

Like humans, dogs can suffer from upper respiratory tract infections including rhinitis and sinusitis. In this article, we’ll look at the types of nose infections dogs can have, their top causes, and how you can recognize them. We’ll give you pointers about how to help your furbaby when he gets a nasal infection and when it’s time to go to the vet. 

So, let’s get started.

What types of nose infections do dogs get?

Infections of the upper respiratory tract may involve the trachea, sinuses, and/or nose. The two types of conditions that include nasal passages are sinusitis and rhinitis. 

1. Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs when the mucosal lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed or damaged. Usually, sinus infections include fluid buildup in the cavities, which can be painful or uncomfortable for your pooch. Because the sinus cavities are connected to the nasal passages, the symptoms often affect the nose.


Dogs can get this type of infection as readily as humans, and the signs are very similar, including:

  • Runny nose
dog with nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Sneezing
dog sneezing outside at the park
  • Occasional nose bleed
dog with nose bleed
  • Watery eyes/eye discharge
watery eyes on dog
  • Coughing and gagging
dog Coughing and gagging
  • Fever
  • Pawing at the face
  • Loss of appetite

How will my vet diagnose sinusitis?

Dogs suffering from sinus infections that won’t resolve in a few days should be seen by a vet. To diagnose the underlying cause, the doctor will examine your dog and run tests that may include:

  • X-rays
  • Endoscopy of nasal passages
  • Blood work
  • Nasal swab/flush and cell culture
  • Nasal biopsy

Treatment for sinus infections

Because many sinus infections are caused by viruses, treatment includes supportive care to make your dog more comfortable. At home, you can help your pooch with TLC.

If your pooch requires more than supportive care and TLC, your veterinarian may treat your dog with

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Antifungal medications for fungal infections
  • Surgical removal of foreign bodies or polyps
  • Antihistamines or steroids for allergies
  • Radiation therapy for tumors

The cost of diagnosis and medications for sinus infections starts at around $300. If surgery or radiation treatment is necessary, the cost may be $1500-2500 or more.

Severity and prognosis

  • Mild cases of viral sinusitis may resolve on their own. 
  • If a secondary bacterial infection occurs, early treatment is key. Generally, mild to moderate infections respond well to the appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medication. 
  • With severe infections, tissues in the nasal passage can deteriorate and fail to filter dust and microorganisms. Secondary bronchitis and pneumonia may occur.
  • Chronic infections are difficult to cure and often require lengthy treatment.

2. Rhinitis

Rhinitis is inflammation of the tissues lining the nasal passages. Sinusitis and rhinitis may occur separately or at the same time. Viruses are the most common cause of rhinitis, and the symptoms resemble the common cold in humans.


  • Nasal discharge that may be clear, yellowish, green, or red
  • Excessive or repetitive sneezing
  • Sudden onset of snoring(some dogs snore normally)
  • Coughing
  • Pawing at the face
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Bad breath
  • Reverse sneezing(short, rapid inhalation)
  • Head shaking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nose bleed
  • Fever 

How do vets diagnose rhinitis?

When dogs show signs of rhinitis, your veterinarian will start with a history and physical examination. Depending on findings from the physical examination, the doctor may run any of the same diagnostic tests as he would for a sinus infection.

What is the treatment for rhinitis?

Once your veterinarian has a diagnosis and determines the cause of the rhinitis, he can recommend an appropriate course of treatment, which may include

  • Antibiotic or antifungal medications to address microbial infections
  • Antihistamines to reduce swelling
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • Surgery to remove tumors, polyps, or foreign bodies or repair fistulas

The cost of diagnosing and treating rhinitis in dogs is similar to the cost of sinusitis.

What is the prognosis for rhinitis?

The prognosis depends on the type and severity of your dog’s rhinitis. When the cases are mild and have early diagnosis and treatment, they often respond well to treatment. However, chronic or allergic rhinitis generally requires long-term treatment and may reoccur.

What are the top causes of nasal infections in dogs?

There are a variety of reasons dogs develop nasal infections. The top causes include:

  • Viruses including canine influenza, parainfluenza, and adenovirus are the top cause of nose infections.
  • Bacteria rarely initiate nasal infections, but they can cause secondary infections from allergies or viral infections. However, Bordetella bronchiseptica can trigger an upper respiratory infection that is commonly known as kennel cough.
  • Dental disease can lead to nasal infections in dogs. When canines suffer from a tooth root abscess in the upper jaw, the bacterial infection can extend into the nose and/or sinuses.
  • Fungal infections can also trigger sinusitis and rhinitis in dogs. The most common causative agent is Aspergillus fumigatus. 
  • An oronasal fistula or opening between the mouth and nasal cavities can cause chronic nasal infections. The abnormal hole allows bacteria, food particles, water, and more to enter the nasal passageway. Fistulas require surgical repair.
  • Trauma from a car accident, dog fight, or other blows to the face can alter your dog’s respiratory passages and make them more susceptible to infection.

How can I help my dog at home when he has a nasal infection?

There are several things you can do at home to help your dog feel more comfortable and encourage recovery. At-home support may include

  • Using a humidifier or vaporizer in rooms that your dog frequents. You can also bring your pup into the bathroom and run a hot shower to create steam. The extra moisture can help soothe the nasal passages.  
  • Providing ample fresh drinking water. Dogs that frequently pant, cough, and sneeze are at risk of dehydration. 
  • Encouraging your dog to rest. You may want to provide quiet times in a crate or secluded area to provide ample rest for his body.
  • Using a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to gently remove excess mucus from the nasal passages. Be careful to avoid causing irritation or damage to the tissues as that can exacerbate the symptoms.
  • Soothing the nose with a dog-safe nose balm helps to prevent chapping of the nose. 
  • Encourage your dog to eat by providing wet food or other appealing options. Maintaining good nutrition gives the body the tools to fight infections.
  • Flush Fido’s sinuses with saline – talk to your vet about the appropriate and safe way to do this. When done properly, a nasal flush can help your dog breathe better by clearing mucus from the nasal passages.
  • Use a small pillow to elevate your dog’s head when he’s resting.

Can I use over-the-counter (OTC) medication to help my dog?

If your dog has mild symptoms, you may be able to use OTC antihistamines such as Benadryl. Always consult with your veterinarian before administering any OTC drugs to your dog to make sure the product is safe. If your pup is on other medications, the doctor will know whether there are potential cross-reactions between the drugs.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

How do I know if my dog has a nasal infection? – the key signs

Nasal infections affect passageways of the upper respiratory tract. Usually, they involve inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose and/or sinuses. There are some common signs to watch for regardless of the type of nasal infection your dog develops.

  • Nasal discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Open-mouth or labored breathing
  • Pawing at the face
  • Tears
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of membranes around the eyes)

Are there conditions that look like nasal infections but are not?

Because the main symptoms of a nasal infection are a result of inflammation, any condition that irritates the nasal passages can imitate an infection. When you notice a runny nose, sneezing, and other signs of congestion, common rule-outs for infection include:

  • Foreign body – Dogs occasionally inhale pollen, dust, or other irritants that can cause inflammation. 
  • Allergies – Canine allergies trigger the same inflammation of the respiratory passages as an infection. While they may stand alone, allergies sometimes cause secondary infections. 
  • Trauma – If your pooch suffers a bite or injury to the face and nose, the trauma can cause tissue inflammation with or without infection.
  • Parasites – Some parasites such as mites or Cuterebra may enter the nasal passages and irritate the lining. They can be difficult to remove.
  • Nasal polyps – Benign growths in the nasal cavity interrupt airflow and can irritate the lining causing inflammation. 
  • Nasal tumors – Tumors in a dog’s nasal cavity are usually cancerous. The growths tend to be malignant and attack the surrounding tissues causing inflammation and discomfort. The treatment of choice for a nasal tumor is radiation therapy. 

Will my dog’s nasal infection go away on its own?

If your dog has a mild cold virus, it may resolve on its own with supportive care at home. However, more often than not, nasal infections in dogs require treatment. As long as your dog’s runny nose is clear mucus and he’s eating and drinking, you may be able to observe him for a few days. But if the symptoms don’t resolve after about 48 hours, contact your veterinarian.

When do I need to take my dog to the vet for a nasal infection?

Canine colds can be more serious than they are in people. So, if your dog shows signs of a nasal infection that last more than 48 hours, you should contact your veterinarian. Other reasons to take your dog to the vet include

  • Your dog is having difficulty breathing
  • The nasal discharge is green or yellow
  • Your dog refuses to eat/drink
  • Your dog is lethargic/depressed
  • Your dog has a fever
  • Your dog shows any neurological problems like ataxia or a head tilt

Example case: Jennifer and her dog Lacy

One morning, Jennifer noticed her dog Lacy was sneezing repeatedly and had a drippy nose with a tannish discharge. When Jennifer took her for a walk, Lacy seemed to get tired quickly, and she spent the rest of the day dozing in the house. 

Suspecting a cold, Jennifer allowed Lacy to rest and used a vaporizer in her room to keep the air humidified. At dinnertime, Jennifer used a tasty topper on Lacy’s food to encourage her to eat. However, Lacy didn’t show signs of improvement after a few days of TLC from Jennifer.

When Jennifer contacted her veterinarian, the doctor encouraged her to come in for an exam. After a history and physical, the vet took a nasal swab for culture and x-rays of the nasal cavities. Lacy had a sinus infection with fluid buildup. When the culture results came back, they indicated a bacterial infection was beginning.

The veterinarian began a course of antihistamines to reduce inflammation, nasal flushing to help draw out excess mucus, and two weeks of oral antibiotics. Jennifer followed the doctor’s instructions and completed all medications. Because she noticed Lacy’s infection early, she responded to the treatment and fully recovered in a few weeks.

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take for a nose infection to heal?

Usually, nose infections heal in one to two weeks once they are diagnosed and the appropriate treatment ensues. However, severe cases can cause tissue damage that leads to chronic infections. The earlier you seek treatment the more likely your dog’s condition will heal in a few weeks.

What if my dog is still having issues after going to the vet?

If your veterinarian diagnoses and treats your dog for a nasal infection, but he continues to have issues, it may mean

  • He has a chronic infection that requires more aggressive treatment
  • There is a foreign body somewhere in the nasal passageway
  • Your dog suffers from allergies that are causing ongoing inflammation
  • Your dog has a nasal tumor or polyp that needs to be removed/treated

Contact your veterinarian for further workup, or you may choose to get a second opinion from another vet.

Are nasal infections the same in humans as they are in dogs?

The nasal infections that dogs and humans get are similar in many ways. They can be caused by the same factors and tend to respond to similar treatment regimens. Both humans and dogs develop symptoms like a runny nose and congestion. 

However, some of the medications that work for humans, such as acetaminophen or naproxen sodium are harmful to dogs. Additionally, when a dog develops a nasal infection, it usually requires treatment or it could progress to more severe infections.


  • Dr. Liz Guise, Veterinarian

    Dr. Liz (Elizabeth) Guise graduated from the University of Minnesota with a doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She worked as a veterinarian for two years before working for the US Department of Agriculture for 13 years.

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