Nasal Discharge

You won't see dogs and cats wiping their noses (they can't hold a tissue), but they get drippy just as often as people do and for some of the same reasons, like allergies, colds, and sinus problems. Most nasal discharges aren't serious, but some are, so you need to look at the discharge closely, says Grant Nisson, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in West River, Maryland.

A discharge that is clear and watery is usually caused by colds or allergies and will go away fairly quickly. A thick, gooey discharge, on the other hand, occurs when something irritates the lining of the nose or sinuses and is more serious. It may be caused by a virus or, less often, by juices from the stomach that are backing up into the nose, says Mark E. Hitt, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland.

A dog or cat will sometimes have a whitish nasal discharge, which is a sign of a serious bacterial or fungal infection. These can be caused by bad teeth, pneumonia, a tumor, or even a bit of debris that is stuck in the nose. This type of discharge should always be seen by a vet, says Dr. Hitt.

A discharge with a pink tinge means that your pet has broken some of the delicate blood vessels inside his nose. This bit of blood looks scary, but it only takes a few vigorous sneezes to damage the nasal lining, so it is usually no big deal. If you see pink for several days in a row, however, the inside of the nose may be severely irritated, and you will need to call your vet. This is especially true if the discharge is more red than pink, which means that there is a lot of bleeding.

You may notice that the discharge contains milk or bits of food. This usually means that there is a hole between your pet's nose and the roof of his mouth that is allowing food to go where it shouldn't. In newborn puppies or kittens, this may be caused by a defect known as a cleft palate. In older pets, an injury to the palate from taking a hard fall, for example, can cause a food-filled discharge.

See Your Vet If...

  • Your pet's discharge is thick, bloody, whitish, or tinged with pink
  • There are bits of food or milk in the discharge
  • His discharge lasts more than a few days
  • Your pet can't open his mouth or is having trouble opening it
  • He can't close his mouth
  • He won't eat or has difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • His tongue, lips, or muzzle are swollen
  • There is a foreign object stuck in his mouth
  • His gums are red and swollen, or there is bleeding
  • Your pet is drooling or panting excessively
  • His tongue or gums are blue or pale
  • Your pet has ulcers on his tongue
  • He is gagging frequently
  • There is a lump anywhere on his face
  • He is pawing frequently at his mouth or face
  • There is a discharge from his mouth or nose that lasts two days or longer
  • His breath is consistently bad
  • Your pet's nose is dry, crusty, or bleeding
  • His mouth is foaming, or he's grinding his teeth
  • There is dried saliva around the mouth

Next Steps:

Back to Mouth, Nose, and Teeth Main Page
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