This article was updated on August 6th, 2023
Dogs’ noses are incredibly important to them, and this area can be extremely sensitive. As a dog owner, seeing a red spot or pimple on your dog’s nose can be very concerning – but should you be worried? This article reviews some common causes of red spots and pimples on a dog’s nose and when you should see your vet.
Top Causes of Red Spots on Dogs’ Noses
Dogs explore the world with their noses and this often leads to them poking them in things they shouldn’t! If your dog has got on the wrong side of a thorny bush, a cat or even the corner of a table, you may see the evidence on their nose. If it’s very sore it’s best to get it seen by your vet, but if your dog only has a small red spot or graze this is likely to heal by itself. Look out for any signs of infection like swelling, increased pain and discharge as wounds can allow bacteria in.
2. Allergies, bites and stings
Along with injuries, dogs exploring the world with their noses can also lead to contact allergies (for example to a specific plant), insect bites and stings in this area – especially in the summer months. These can cause a reddened area or spot to appear as well as itching and swelling. If your dog is distressed or the swelling and inflammation are severe, it’s worth seeing a vet as they may need medication; however, many insect bites, stings and allergic reactions will settle over a couple of days on their own. If you suspect your dog has been in contact with a toxic substance, you should always contact your vet for advice.
Infections can develop anywhere on your dog’s skin, including over the muzzle and around the nose. Bacterial infections typically cause redness, little bumps (papules) and pimples, also known as pustules. Ringworm, a fungal infection, is more likely to affect a focal circular area and cause white crusting. Infections can also cause itchiness and discomfort.
Very mild infections – for example one or two pimples developing after a dog has grazed its nose – may resolve with time. If they are more severe – for example, they’re spreading, causing distress or are very inflamed – or they persist over a few weeks it’s worth seeing a vet as they may need treatment.
Mainly seen in young, short-coated breeds, canine acne can cause red bumps and pimples to develop across your dog’s muzzle, lips or chin. The cause isn’t fully understood – but potential causes include genetics, trauma and allergies. It’s thought that rubbing or scratching the skin breaks the hairs and pushes them deeper into the skin, resulting in inflammation and secondary infection.
Treatment may include topical or oral medication as well as addressing any underlying causes.
Tumors on the nose are relatively uncommon but we can still see a range of different growths affecting the muzzle, nose and lips. These include mast cell tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, squamous cell carcinoma and benign growths, like histiocytomas and warts. Benign growths are much more common in young dogs, while in older dogs there is a greater risk of malignancy.
Tumors on the nasal planum itself (the hairless part of the nose) are less common; the main tumor seen here is squamous cell carcinoma, which can be very aggressive – early diagnosis is essential for treatment.
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
Any new, persistent lump in this area should be assessed by a vet as early diagnosis is critical for treatment of tumors in this area. Tumors are not necessarily malignant. In the picture below, a skin tag, wart or cyst appeared on this dog’s nose. A diagnostic test in your veterinarian’s office is often required to confirm an exact and accurate diagnosis. If this new nose bump is indeed a skin tag / wart / cyst, a veterinarian would usually just leave it alone and monitor it to ensure it is not bothering your dog or becoming infected. However, if the diagnostic test indicates this is a tumor, surgery might be recommended.
6. Autoimmune conditions
Autoimmune disease in dogs is uncommon but can affect the nose. Cutaneous lupus and pemphigus, for example, can cause redness, ulceration and swelling on and around the nose. In their early stages, you may only notice a small red spot. These are progressive if left untreated but the prognosis is usually good with treatment. With most autoimmune conditions, treatment will involve long, tapering courses of medication.
When to see a veterinarian
Any red spot, pimple or lump that persists for several weeks should be checked by a vet. There are some indications that your dog may need seeing more urgently, which include:
- Progression – the affected area spreading out or becoming more inflamed.
If a lump grows rapidly, it should be assessed sooner rather than later.
- Severe inflammation, soreness or itching – if your dog is distressed, they should see a vet.
- Systemic symptoms – if your dog is lethargic, reluctant to eat or showing other symptoms like sneezing and nasal discharge, they should be seen more urgently
What will happen at the vet?
Your vet’s recommendations depend on the suspected cause. Further tests may include:
- Fine needle aspirate – if your vet suspects a tumor and it’s large enough, they may take a small needle sample to assess under a microscope. This usually costs $150-200.
- Biopsy – if they can’t take an FNA or there are more diffuse changes affecting your dog’s nose or muzzle, your vet may recommend a punch biopsy under sedation or anaesthetic. Costs depend on the exact procedure but typically range from $400-800.
- Skin scrape – if your vet suspects an infection, they may recommend a skin scrape to identify bacteria or fungal elements
Treatment depends on the cause and could include topical or oral medications, surgery or other treatments.
Related post: Scabs and Lumps on Your Dog’s Nose: What to Do.