Rhinitis: A Cause of Nasal Discharge in Dogs & Puppies
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Race Foster, DVM

Rhinitis is the term applied to an infection or inflammation of the nose. If the sinuses are also involved, it is called sinusitis. There are many bacteria, fungi, and viruses capable of infecting the noses of dogs. These infections behave very similarly to common colds in people. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, as well as viruses such as parainfluenza, adenovirus, canine distemper, and herpes are common nasal invaders and will cause cold-like symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms depend somewhat on the type of infection causing the disorder. In general, one may notice excessive nasal discharge, occasionally becoming a thick yellow or greenish-colored mucous. The dog may sneeze frequently, trying to clear the nasal passages of mucous. In advanced cases, the mucous may become bloody. The dog's sense of smell is usually impaired, which may affect his appetite.

Despite common belief, nose temperature is not a good indicator of being sick or healthy. Normal dogs may have hot, cold, dry, or wet noses. Body temperature is, however, an important indicator. A dog with severe rhinitis may have an elevated body temperature. If this is the case, the dog generally becomes lethargic and has a poor appetite.

What are the risks?

The risks again depend on the exact organism(s) involved. Most cases remain confined to the nose and sinuses. In these instances, the risks are minimal. If, however, the infection(s) spreads to the more delicate regions of the respiratory system such as the trachea, bronchi, or lungs, then the dog may be affected more severely. In addition, if the nasal discharge is one of many symptoms such as seen in canine distemper and hepatitis, the condition is extremely serious.

What is the management?

Any dog suffering from a nasal infection should rest. In addition, the dog should be isolated from other pets, so as to minimize the probable spread of contagious diseases. If the symptoms persist, the dog has a fever, or the rhinitis is accompanied by other symptoms, have your dog seen by a veterinarian.

In chronic cases needing treatment, a veterinarian will usually perform a culture of the nasal mucous. This aids in identifying which organism(s) is responsible for the infection. Once this is performed, appropriate medications are selected. Antihistamines such as Benadryl are occasionally used to help dry and open the airways. Antibiotics such as amoxicillin, Tribrissen, and Keflex are commonly used against bacterial infections. Vaporizers, like those used for humans are also beneficial. Place the pet in a wire crate in a small area such as a bathroom, and vaporize the air. The moist air makes breathing easier, just as in humans.

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