Does your dog have the sniffles? Just as humans can become congested with mucus, so can dogs. Also like humans, this can occur for a variety of reasons, from allergies to bacterial infections. If your dog does have mucus congestion, it calls for a trip to the veterinarian to determine the cause. After your veterinarian performs diagnostics, they can come up with a treatment plan to help your pet feel better.
Causes of excess mucus in dogs
Your veterinarian will check your dog for these possible causes of mucus congestion (sometimes spelled mucous) and related issues.
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Atopy: inhalant allergies in dogs
Mucus congestion can sometimes be triggered by environmental allergens known as inhalant allergies, or atopy. These can include tree pollen, grass or weed pollens, mildew, mold, and even dust mites. They can sometimes be seasonal allergies. Atopy most often manifests in itchiness, with affected dogs scratching their skin or frequently licking and chewing their paws. (One clue that this is happening, especially in dogs with white fur, is a reddish staining of the paws from saliva.) However, some dogs will show signs of allergies in the form of congestion and a runny or stuffy nose.
Rhinitis and sinusitis caused by infections are more common causes of excessive mucus in dogs than allergies. Rhinitis and sinusitis occur when the lining of the nose or sinuses, respectively, becomes inflamed. Along with sneezing, increased tear production, and labored breathing, nasal discharge is a telltale sign of both rhinitis and sinusitis. Often, rhinitis is seen in conjunction with canine parainfluenza, which is one of the respiratory viral infections that causes "kennel cough" in dogs.
Another virus, canine influenza, or "dog flu," can cause similar signs and has been in the news lately because of increased outbreaks. However, a bacterium, Bordetella brochiseptica, is actually the most common cause of "kennel cough." Vaccines are available to prevent many of these ailments, so check with your veterinarian to see if your dog's lifestyle makes them a good candidate for these shots.
Other causes of dog nasal discharge
Less common reasons a dog might have lots of nasal discharge and mucus include nasal polyps, fungal infections of the nose, and rarely, benign or malignant tumors. In some cases, inflammatory diseases or even foreign objects, like a blade of grass or even a piece of kibble stuck in your dog's nose, can be the cause of chronic rhinitis or sinusitis. It's not possible to figure out the cause of a dog's plugged up nasal passages on your own, so making a veterinary appointment is a must. If your dog is having obvious difficulty breathing, seek emergency care.
Nasal congestion and coughing in dogs
While mucus congestion in dogs often results in a runny nose or thick nasal discharge, breathing problems might also be concurrent with coughing. Coughing can occur when phlegm becomes backed up in a dog's throat and can be a sign of canine pneumonia, especially if the cough is wet and productive. Canine distemper can also lead to dog phlegm in the throat as well as mucus in the eyes and nose, so keeping your dog up to date on their vaccinations is the most effective step in preventing this illness.
Treatments for dog phlegm and coughing
Don't try any home remedies to clear up your dog's nostrils or throat without first speaking with your veterinarian. Treating mucus congestion in dogs will depend on the exact cause of the illness. If your dog has rhinitis or sinusitis, your veterinarian will need to determine whether your dog has a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection or something else.
If allergies are the issue, identifying the certain allergens can be done through dog allergy testing and will likely require dietary or environmental changes if the symptoms occur regularly. Immunotherapy injections, monoclonal antibodies, and kinase inhibitors can keep atopy at bay. Your veterinarian might prescribe an antihistamine or suggest an over the counter medication, like Benadryl. If you decide to use a nonprescription medicine, like Benadryl, it is important to consult your veterinarian for the correct dosage.
In the case of an infection, your veterinarian can prescribe antibiotics, anti-fungals, or other medications. For viruses, supportive care is often the go-to treatment. Veterinarians don't usually prescribe anti-viral medications for dogs because few anti-virals have been studied for use in dogs.
Supportive care might include placing a humidifier in the room with a coughing dog, which can sometimes help break up congestion. Nose drops prescribed by your veterinarian can also help. For dogs with a productive cough, coupage can be done to help dislodge mucus from the lungs. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this, and there are also videos online of veterinarians demonstrating coupage.
The bottom line
If you notice that your dog has mucus congestion, coughing, or a runny nose, touch base with your veterinarian. Because these signs have so many possible causes, including allergies, respiratory infections, or even nasal tumors, you'll need their help to figure out why your dog is sick. Once the cause has been determined, your DVM can go over the appropriate treatment options to help them feel better.