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Dog With a Blocked Nose and Trouble Breathing

Dogs Trouble Breathing

A dog with a blocked nose will have trouble breathing through the nose. Respiratory sounds such as snoring or snorting are signs of potential airway obstruction in dogs. It's important therefore to find out the underlying cause for the blocked nasal passage so that the dog can breathe more comfortably. There are many possible causes for a dog with a blocked nose. Identifying the underlying cause often requires some diagnostic tests ran by a veterinarian. Issues causing trouble breathing through the nose in dogs may vary from less serious to quite serious such as cancer. A dog with a blocked nose should therefore see a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Dog Blowing Air Out of the Nose

A Lesson in Anatomy

A dog's nose is composed by different parts. The visible part that one can see, basically the leather-like part that is hairless right at the end of the nose, is called the nasal planum. The very tip of the dog’s nose –the rhinarium – is the part that is typically moist and cool to touch. Dogs have two nostrils (nares) which are divided by the septum in the middle.

The internal part of the nose, which is for the most part invisible by human eye, is the nasal cavity. A dog's nostrils (right nostril and left nostril) divide into two airway passages which end in the throat. Dogs breath air through the nostrils and the air then reaches the throat and lungs.

The dog's nasal passages are filled with scrolled spongy bones with small passages that are known as turbinates. A dog's turbinates are covered with a layer of mucosa that is similar to the layer of mucosa lining the mouth.

The dog's roof of the mouth, which is technically the hard palate, is the ridged area that separates the dog's mouth from the nasal cavity found in the front part of the mouth. The soft palate is instead the fleshy tissue found at the back of the mouth. The soft palate is composed by muscle fibers responsible for closing off the nasal passages when the dog swallows.

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A Dog With a Blocked Nose 

A blocked nose in dogs often involves a narrowed nasal passage. In medical terms, narrowing of the nasal passages is referred to as "nasal stenosis." The term nasal refers to the nose, while the term stenosis is the medical term for narrowing.

A dog with a blocked nose will typically exhibit some distinctive symptoms that are noticed by the dog owners. Such symptoms may include snoring/snorting noises, a wheezing or whistling sound from the dog's nose, trouble breathing, occasional open-mouth breathing, stertorous breathing, decreased airflow through the affected nasal passage, and sometimes, depending on the underlying cause, nasal discharge and nose bleeds.

In some dogs symptoms become more evident when the dog is sleeping or eating. While dogs know how to pant, they will usually only do so when they are hot such as from warm weather or exercise. Many dogs with a blocked nose will not typically open their mouths to breathe as people would do when sleeping with a clogged nose.

A Matter of Stuffy Noses

dog sneeze

A dog with a blocked nose is often a dog with a stuffy nose. This underlying cause of stuffiness may stem from various potential causes. Inflammation of the nose is often a primary culprit. Finding the underlying cause for the inflammation is important.

A common cause of a stuffy nose in dogs is allergies. Allergies may cause nasal congestion which leads to a stuffy nose. Allergic rhinitis is similar to the"hay fever" people get and can be caused pollens (ragweed, goldenrod) or molds, dust mites or other indoor allergens.

In a dog acting otherwise fine, bright and alert, eating and drinking OK, Benadryl at a dose of 1mg per pound of body weight up to twice daily may help, explains veterinarian Dr. Edwards.

An airway infection like a sinus infection may be a cause as well. In this case, turning on the hot water in the shower, and letting the dog inhale some steam may help loosen up the snot that is causing the congestion. A non-medicated saline nasal drop (2-3 per nostril) may help as well suggests veterinarian Dr. B.

"Primarily dogs are nasal breathers. When they can't move air through their nares, of concern is some severe sinus infection (bacterial, fungal) or cancer."~Dr. Bruce

Other Possible Causes 

Sometimes a foreign object stuck in the nose may be a potential cause of problems. X-rays might not always show presence of a foreign item unless it's bone or something dense. A foreign object would need to be removed and this would require veterinary intervention.

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In some dogs breathing problems may stem from their conformation. For example, an elongated palate may cause snoring and these problems may tend to increase with age. In a dog with a normal palate, the tip of the soft palate should not touch the epiglottis. In a dog with an elongated palate instead the soft palate is long and extends into the larynx, causing the dog more effort to breathe and move the soft palate out of the way. Affected dogs may make snoring/snorting sounds even while awake.

Dogs with dental problems may manifest at times symptoms of a stuffy, congested nose. A dog's teeth have very long roots which reach the dog's nasal sinuses. When a dog develops a tooth root abscess, the infection can spread to the nasal sinus and cause trouble breathing, sneezing, nasal discharge and even a nose bleed. A slab fracture of the carnassial tooth, the large premolar in the back is very prone to tooth root abscesses.

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Cancer of the Nose 

Cancer affecting the cavity of a dog's nose can be insidious, staying hidden for months before causing symptoms, explains Dr. Timothy Fan, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in oncology. Cancer of the dog's nose may affect the nasal planum (the visible part) or the dog's nasal cavity.

Cancers affecting the dog's nasal planum are readily noticed by dog owners. A common type is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) which causes a typical non-healing wound.

Cancers affecting the nasal cavity, on the other hand are very insidious, because they cannot be seen. Some of these cancers are locally invasive (do not tend to spread to distant organs) but they tend to destroy the bony structures of the nose and can spread to lymph nodes in their end stages. The most common types of cancer affecting the dog's nasal cavity are carcinomas followed by sarcomas, with chondrosarcomas being the most common.

A dog with a blocked nose may sometimes be suffering from other tumors in the surrounding areas spreading. For instance, a malignant mast cell tumor, located just behind the hard palate may end up, blocking a dog's nasal passages.

Most nasal tumors in dogs occur between the ages of 2 and 16 years old, with a median age of onset of 10 years old, explains Dr. Margaret C. McEntee, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in oncology. Dogs with long snouts (dolichocephalic) are more predisposed due to their conformation which allows a greater surface area of the nasal passages.

Steroids may help with the tumor, but the tumor would have to be removed or debulked to help the dog breath better. A course of systemic antibiotics may cause temporary improvement but symptoms usually return.

Benign tumors such as polyps in a dog's nose may be a cause for trouble breathing through the nose, but they are unfortunately less common the malignant tumors.

At the Vet's Office 

The tissue sample taken from the liver is checked under a microscope.

The tissue sample taken from the liver is checked under a microscope.

If you suspect you have a dog with a blocked nose, it's important to see your veterinarian to find the underlying cause. If your dog's respiratory rate is high, and his gums are pale or blue/gray, you want to see your emergency vet because these are potential signs of not getting adequate oxygen.

Your vet will likely ask you several questions such as what symptoms you have been noticing, when the symptoms first started and when the symptoms become more evident.

Your vet will perform a physical exam. Your vet may check for specific signs of nose cancer by looking for facial asymmetry, pushing slightly on the eyes, occluding each nostril and testing the air flow using a glass slide or cotton ball. When there is a nose tumor, there will often be partial to complete obstruction of airflow.

Your vet may suggest some baselines laboratory tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry profile, and urinalysis. These tests are mostly done to rule out several medical conditions.

In order to view the inside of your dog's nasal cavity, your vet will need to resort to skull X-rays, and possibly, superior imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT-scan) or an MRI. These latter tests can detect destruction of the turbinate bones in the nose (often suggestive of nose cancer) at earlier stages than plain x-rays. Your vet may also suggest scoping your dog's nose.

Treatment for a dog with a blocked nose obviously varies based on the underlying cause. It's therefore important that a dog with a blocked nose see the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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