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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Diagnosis of Nasal Tumors

Updated: October 5th, 2018

Tumors of the nose and sinus in dogs are often difficult to diagnose at first. These tumors are located inside the nasal passages, invisible to the naked eye, at least in the earlier stages.

Many times a guardian will notice that their four legged family member starts to sneeze more often.  The first thought can be,”Does my dog have a cold?”  Sometimes there will be a bit of a cough.  Discharge or blood from a nostril are not rare.  Finally, there can be changes (a swelling or a indentation)  in the outward appearance of the muzzle or around the eye.

Oftentimes, a veterinarian will simply dispense some antibiotics to see if it clears up.  The reason for this is that sinusitis (infection of the sinuses) is more common than tumors in the nose.

However, if a dog has a tumor in the nasal passageways, any positive effect of the antibiotics will be short lived.  The antibiotics won’t cure the tumor.

The reason why antibiotics may work for a while is that there is a little infection on the surface of the tumor.  This is common in nasal tumors.  The antibiotics deal with the infection and things get better, but it does not last.

Sometimes guardians will be upset that the tumor was missed initially.  This feeling is natural since nasal tumors are serious.

We also need to remember the big picture though.  If every dog that arrived at a veterinary hospital with a runny nose was taken for a skull X-ray under anesthesia and sent for a CT scan, most would say this did not make sense.

If 9 out of 10 dogs received the diagnosis of a simple nasal infection after all this testing, most guardians would be unhappy due to overly aggressive testing.

So we have to strike a balance.

How does one actually diagnose a nasal cancer?  Typically, in private practice, an X-ray is done as the first step.  This allows us to see if there is a proliferation that would not be there normally, within the sinus. Sometimes one can see bone loss in the area of the tumor.

Unfortunately, this is often not enough.  A vet may not be able to say definitively that the X-ray changes are due to a cancer in the nose.

A biopsy is often needed.  This can be done most of the time with a small scope that has a little grasping arm (bronchoscopy).  Sometimes the sinuses can be flushed out to collect some tumor cells that will give us a diagnosis.

These procedures are done under anesthesia.

In considering treatment, to really tell how far along these types of tumors have progressed, a CT (can scan) should be done.  X-rays are not very good at telling the extent of tumor spread in the nasal sinuses.

More information about these important cancers can be found in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Judie Black on June 1, 2023 at 7:00 am

    My border collie Nick had a melanoma inside his upper lip which was removed in May of 2020. It came back and was again removed that November. After a few months he began to swipe at his nose and rub on the ground. Something was growing in the nasal passages. Long story short, I put him on artemisinin and also andrgraphis. i then found a company in Florida that had CBD products for dogs and cats. He really thrived on that and here we are 3 years after the first cancer. A pretty much homemade diet helps too. Nick is probably going on 16 now. I had found him deserted on the side of the road almost 14 years ago. He still likes to chase his toy, go for hikes and his rides in the back of the truck, nose in the wind. ( we live in a very rural area so we are not in traffic)

  2. Becky on August 10, 2021 at 10:34 am

    My dogs nose started bleeding on the right side all of a sudden. Vet said it was an infection. Put him on antibiotics and steroids. Gave me syringes with saline and epinephrine to shoot up his nose to help stop bleeding. Finally after a month of his nose bleeding he blew out a big blood clot and was ok for 4 day then his nose started pour out blood and he kept sneezing out clots. Will this happen if a dog has a tumor in his nasal capacity? He was on Apaqual for a long time and I read where that can cause tumors and cancer.

    • Molly Jacobson on August 10, 2021 at 12:35 pm

      Hi Becky, thanks for writing, and I’m sorry to hear about your pup. Yes, a chronic bloody nose can certainly indicate a nasal tumor. It typically takes three months to get a confirmed diagnosis, because usually vets treat for infection first, (because they are SO common!) and only look for other possibilities when antibiotics don’t work. I would absolutely take him in for imaging so they can look for a tumor, check for high blood pressure (which could also be the cause) and also check for bloodclotting problems (another possibility). I’m not a veterinarian, but I am able to give you this information because I read it in Dr. Dressler’s book, specifically in the chapter Dr. Sue Cancer Vet wrote on nasal tumors, which starts on page 360. You might want to pick up a copy: so you are prepared if the worst-case scenario is true. Please take care of yourself in the meantime. Oh, and as for Apoquel, it isn’t confirmed that it directly causes cancer. It does, however, suppress the immune system, which is designed to destroy cancer cells early on before they become problematic. Here’s a podcast about it:

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