My Dog Has a Discharge From Her Nose

    A clear, runny nose without other signs of illness is a common problem, usually dealt with by watching and waiting for time to allow the signs to abate or for some underlying problem to make itself more obvious. Every other type of nasal discharge is worth being concerned about, however. Bloody, purulent, gray, and viscous discharges should all be regarded as signs of a problem.

    What to Look For

    With your dog comfortably seated or lying down, take a peek at her nose. Look at the discharge and note if it's coming from one nostril or two. Go slowly as you gently wipe the discharge away with a clean, white towel or paper towel to see how quickly more comes out.

    What to Do

    Once you've gotten a good look at your dog's nose, ask yourself the following questions:

    • What does the discharge look like? As mentioned above, a clear, watery discharge is certainly cause for closer observation, but never an emergency unless it is accompanied by other, more serious symptoms.

    Any nasal discharge that has a thick, creamy, or gelatinous consistency and/or appears yellow, green, or gray and/or contains blood is a more immediate concern. This type of nasal discharge could be a symptom of many problems, ranging from relatively benign respiratory allergies to life-threatening forms of cancer.

    • Is the discharge coming from one nostril or both? Unilateral (one-sided) discharges are less likely to be viral in origin, but should be taken no less seriously. If they persist for more than a day, see your vet.
    • Is your dog up to date on his vaccines? Upper respiratory viruses are often the cause of nasal discharges. Once your dog's immune system is challenged by one of those viruses, opportunistic bacterial organisms move in, causing discharge.

    Vaccinations against distemper, parainfluenza, and bordetella provide protection against the most common upper respiratory pathogens. If your dog is either overdue for his boosters or you have no record of his having received them, an immediate veterinary visit is important, not only to maximize your dog's chances for recovery, but also to prevent your dog from spreading the disease to others.

    • Does your dog have other symptoms as well? Dogs with mild viral infections or allergies often have watery eyes and occasional sneezing in addition to their clear nasal discharge. As long as these symptoms occur in an otherwise active, energetic dog with a good appetite, you can just watch and wait for further developments. Fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea combined with a nasal discharge, however, should be addressed immediately. See your dog's vet to have these symptoms evaluated.

    When to Get the Vet

    Puppies with nasal discharges of the thick or colorful variety are an immediate worry, especially if they have yet to be vaccinated. The canine distemper virus is a primary concern. If the discharge is from both nostrils, get your puppy to a hospital immediately!