If your dog sounds congested, the first thing to do is not to panic. Just like their owners, dogs can catch a very similar virus to the common cold, which will leave them with a stuffy nose that’s often accompanied by coughing, weeping eyes, and tiredness. Dogs recover quickly from this, without intervention. But, there are some other reasons why your dog could be congested.
A dog suffering from a congested nose will likely feel pretty miserable; they may struggle to breathe, eat, drink, or find enjoyment in any previously loved activity. Generally, this will be a very short-term thing and doesn’t necessarily mean you have an unwell dog or expensive vet visit on the horizon.
We know that dogs use their nose to explore the world, and when this scent is taken away, it can be pretty irritating and lead to a very grumpy dog. But should you be overly worried? I have explained the things to look out for to tell if your dog’s congestion will likely be short-lived or may require medical assistance, further on in this post.
This post will also discuss what you should do if your dog sounds congested and talk about different medications and available treatments. I have also included some of the home remedies that can be very effective in treating a dog with nasal congestion.
Why Do Dogs Get Nasal Congestion?
As explained above, dogs can catch a virus that is very similar to our common cold. This virus displays the same symptoms and is caught in pretty much the same way as humans catch a cold; by being in contact with the infection. There are several other causes of congestion in dogs, and these include:
- Fungal Infections
- Bacterial Infections
- Dental Infections
- Foreign Bodies in the Nose
- Medical Condition
Much less frequently, dog nasal congestion could be a side effect of heart disease.
In even rarer cases, it may be that your dog has a condition, such as Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome, which is causing the narrowing of the nasal passages. This condition likely would require surgery to fully correct.
Dog Sounds Congested: How To Tell If They are Really Affected?
Not all symptoms of congestion are apparent. Aside from heavier snoring, or loud breathing, it can be difficult to determine if your dog is suffering from nasal congestion. There are some symptoms to look out for, which are key indicators of a dog being congested, these are:
- Unusual Breathing Sounds
- Reduced Appetite
- Low Mood
- Low Energy
- Nasal Discharge
- Weeping Eyes
Is it Worthy of a Trip to the Vets When Your Dog Sounds Congested?
In the majority of cases, a dog having a stuffy nose shouldn’t warrant an expensive vet visit. This is certainly true if the nasal passages are naturally clear within a day or two, and the dog generally appears happy and healthy.
However, if your dog is still congested after more than two days, only one nostril is affected, or if there is a green discharge or fever, then a medical examination would be wise. In addition, if you notice any neurological issues, such as loss of balance, incoordination, or the dog’s head drooping, then a drive to the vets should happen as soon as possible.
Nasal congestion could be the result of heart failure or a respiratory infection. If nasal congestion is left untreated and doesn’t go within a day or two, it may result in a sinus infection or other similar conditions. It may also be down to a serious medical condition that requires urgent medical treatment for the best prognosis.
What to Expect at the Vets Consultation?
If you decide that it is time for medical intervention, a vet will listen to your concerns and perform an examination to detect any possible medical conditions that could have led to nasal congestion.
The examinations may include a blood test, where the results could indicate an infection. Your vet may also want to take samples from inside the nasal passages or conduct an x-ray if they suspect a foreign object is the cause of the stuffy nose.
Veterinary Treatment Options for Nasal Congestion
It depends considerably on what was the cause of the nasal congestion as to what the treatment will be. If, for example, the vet detected a frozen pea up there and swiftly removed it, this should be a straightforward and low-cost vet visit. However, other causes could have more complex treatment plans.
If you’re struggling to afford veterinary care, often by discussing this with your veterinarian, a payment plan can be worked out. Or, there is some valuable information here, provided by the Humane Society, about obtaining lower-cost vet care.
Allergic Reaction: If your vet finds that the cause is down to allergies, they can be managed with topical creams, steroids, or antihistamines—more about how to manage home life with a dog who has allergies, below.
Sinus or Respiratory Infection: A 7 – 14 day course of antibiotics will be initially prescribed by your vet if they suspect a sinus or respiratory infection. You will then be invited back, after the course, to see if the congestion has gone or if other avenues need to be explored.
Fungal Infections: Antifungal medication would be recommended, in addition to nasal sprays or saline drops – prescribed by the vet.
Managing Home Life With A Dog Who Has Allergies
Allergies are relatively common in dogs but do mean as owners; we need to change home life to some degree. Food allergies, environmental allergies, and skin allergies pose a challenge for dogs and their owners, making life more complicated. If the nasal congestion in your dog is due to an allergy, your vet will determine what the allergen is, but it may be:
- Food Allergy:
The most common foods dogs are allergic to is beef, wheat, dairy, eggs, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, and fish. You may be advised to switch to hypoallergenic dog food or a special diet if this is the cause of your dog’s allergy.
- Environmental Allergy:
An environmental allergy could mean your dog can’t be around pollen, dust, or mold. If your dog is allergic to things in the environment, this could result in an atopic allergic reaction or Atopic Dermatitis.
Your vet will determine the allergy through tests and advise you on how to avoid the subject. Many herbal remedies can help to keep treatment costs low.
- Skin Allergy:
The most common skin allergies are caused by fleas, food, and environmental allergens. These types of allergies will cause almost continuous itching, which can lead to further infections and can also include gastrointestinal problems.
Is it Ok to Give a Dog Decongestants?
People take decongestants for a stuffy nose without visiting a doctor first, but with dogs, it is different. Although dogs can benefit from a decongestant, they shouldn’t be administered without consulting your vet first.
Some decongestants that are designed for humans will contain harmful ingredients for dogs, so you should avoid giving your dog a human medication – pretty much always. Additionally, decongestants are even more dangerous for dogs suffering from certain health conditions.
Home Remedies to Consider For Dog Nasal Congestion
If your dog has no other symptoms, aside from a stuffy nose, and it has not yet passed 24-hours, then some home remedies could help to alleviate the congestion. But, please bear in mind that if the symptoms persist or worsen, it is vital to contact your veterinarian.
A few of the best home care strategies and remedies for congested canines include:
You may be able to loosen the mucus to let it drain by gently massaging your dog’s nose. This will also feel nice to the dog, in the same way it does when massaging the bridge of the nose if we are congested.
- Nasal Aspirator
You could try using a nasal aspirator (such as this one) to suck out the excess mucus. It is important to ensure that you only insert the tip into the nasal passages and do so very gently.
Encourage your dog to accompany you into the bathroom while you shower. The steam from the hot water filling a smaller room will help moisturize the dog’s nostrils, potentially helping the mucus drain.
If your dog is anything like mine, it can be challenging to get them into the bathroom. It may be an idea to try encouraging him with some tasty treats or a new fun toy to make him more comfortable and let him know this will be a good experience.
A humidifier will raise the amount of moisture in your home’s air and will work more effectively if you confine your dog to a smaller room with the humidifier. I particularly like this one, as due to it being silent, it won’t scare or irritate an anxious or unwell feeling dog.
Nasal congestion is a common condition that is usually short-lived. Typically, dogs will recover independently within a day or two and require no help from their owners – although the odd treat wouldn’t go a miss to try and perk them up a little!
You can try at home certain things to help relieve the congestion, just as you would for yourself. These things include gentle massage, steam, and the use of a humidifier. If the cause of the congestion is an allergy, then there may be things that you’ll need to change at home, such as shampoos, household cleaners, or the food you currently give to your dog.
However, if your dog is still congested after a couple of days, it is best to seek medical advice. A visit to the vets for canine congestion doesn’t necessarily mean it will be an expensive one; it may be a simple removal of a foreign body, allergy test, or prescribed medication.
In very rare cases, a dog sounding congested could be down to a medical condition, like heart disease or Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. These conditions are much more worrying but equally much less likely to be the cause of the congestion.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.