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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. RENN on September 6, 2020 at 4:33 pm



  2. DOROTHY SULLIVAN on July 27, 2019 at 5:21 pm


    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on July 29, 2019 at 6:57 am

      Hello Dorothy,

      Thanks for writing and we’re sorry to hear about your pup! In Chapter 36 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Sue, a veterinary oncologist, writes that it’s hard to come up with a prognosis for nasal tumors because there are three separate staging systems, each of which measures the extent of the tumor and how much bone invasion is present, and none of them actually help in predicting the course of the disease or the prognosis. However, she does write, that in general, if a nasal tumor is left untreated, the afflicted dog has a median survival time of three months.

  3. Kayleigh Anne on December 14, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Hi I was wondering what breeds are prone to nose cancer?

    • Amber Drake on December 15, 2017 at 7:40 am

      Hello, Kayleigh.

      According to Dr. Dressler in Chapter 36 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are certain breeds at a higher risk for developing nasal tumors including Airedale Terriers, Basset Hounds, Collies, German Shepherds, German Short-Haired Pointers, Keeshounds, and Olde English Sheepdogs.

      You can read more about nasal cancer in Chapter 36 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, which starts on page 360. We hope this helps.

      Warm wishes.

  4. Melissa Boorse-Humphrey on August 6, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Hi. Last week we had the CAT scan and Endoscopy of my black labs nostrils. And chest X-rays. Biopsies came back negative. No Cancer!! Thank God
    However her snorting is getting worse and the blood is getting to be more. She started an antibiotics yesterday(which probably should have been tried first before all the surgery). Do you have any suggestions? Is this normal? I’m really scared for her. We cannot afford any more surgery right now:(

  5. Susan Kazara Harper on June 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Hello Mike, Any attempt at giving you a number on which to focus, would not be responsible and would only distract you from enjoying your girl’s joy. 15 is a wonderful age… never enough of course, but it sounds like she is having a grand time. When my very senior dog was becoming very senior, I learned to take my direction from him instead of trying to guide things with my human will. When our dogs get to a good age they surpass us in wisdom. You know your dog better than anyone. If she is enjoying her life so much you see it in her eyes and her behavior. Sure she’s slowing down. Just give her the best nutrition you can, respect her choices, and really be with her. She will tell you, in your heart, if and when she needs help. Give her a wonderful cuddle for me please.

  6. Susan Kazara Harper on June 16, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Barbara, There is no danger to your children from Lexis cancer itself, but if you do treat with chemotherapy drugs you may need to isolate her at times, and keep the children away from any of her waste. That’s the “if” you will need to hear from your vet if you do use conventional treatment. Other than that, the joy they have in being together is healing for Lexi as well as your children. Help the children understand her journey and hold her in their hearts rather than being afraid of this strange situation. It will help you all.

  7. Mike Aponte on June 9, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Dr Dressler, We have a 15 year old female pit that has a nasal tumor on one side. She has all the common signs sneezing, lack of appetite, occasional bloody nose on that side and has lost a significant amount of weight. Yet even with all these common symptoms she continues to be the happy go lucky dog that will lick to you death and play fetch anytime. She even jumped into the canal behind the house unprovoked the other day to go for a swim!! My question is how long can we expect her to be with us at this point? She is a senior dog and sleeps probably 20 hours a day. I really have to push her to eat and she does eventually but she clearly doesn’t want too. Thanks for any advice that you can give us

  8. Barbara on May 23, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Does anyone know if it’s safe for my 3 and 7 year old kids to be around my dog lexi. She has been diagnosed with a cancer tumor in her nose and is sneezing blood. She sleeps in th kids room. I hate to move her because I don’t want her to get upset with a major change. But I am worried about the kids and the cancerous blood when she sneezes.

  9. Susan Kazara Harper on March 15, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Hello Joe,
    Is this tumor in a location which means that surgery is not an option? Radiation? Sometimes it is, even though it sounds like an extreme action to take. It’s great that Mario is still active and has a great appetite. He doesn’t know or care that the “c” word is part of his life. He just knows how he feels every day and how much you love him. I hope you’re getting him on the Dog Cancer Diet to really optimize that appetite and give him the foods that will help him stay strong. The main points of the diet are available in a free download at the top right of this blog, or at Also in Dr Dressler’s book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. About your questions, by all means reach out to the people in this blog, but also ask these questions to your vet. They are ideal. “What can I expect” “are there side effects” why does the vet recommend one treatment over another. Take notes. It’s easy to forget some details amongst the emotion of the vet office. While Mario is wagging his tail and enjoying his food, he knows that life is good and sweet. Please make sure you celebrate the days with him and don’t get trapped in the emotions of what may come. Worry is a prayer for what we don’t want. If things don’t go well, Mario will tell you when he’s had enough. In the meantime you have a gorgeous boy who just happens to have a fight to fight, and you can help. All the best to you both, and a special cuddle to Mario.

  10. Joe F on March 5, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Our faithful companion, Mario, 11 year old Weish Terrier, was just diagnosed with a sinus tumor. He had a CT scan which confirmed our Vets initial thinking. Mario is experiencing nose bleeds (not severe) & some trouble breathing. We have tried prednisone, antibiotics to try to keep him comfortable. Being a Terrier, Mario is still active, has great appetite & somehow I get the sense that he is hiding how uncomfortable he really is. We are at the point we where need to make some tough decisions. Our options are limited but we are considering Piroxicam to see if that calms things down. We absolutely don’t want Mario to suffer uneccessarily for our selfish reasons but he is a big part of our family & the thought of not doing all we can is not an option. Question that I have for anyone out there is to tell us your experience with this drug & what we can anticipate & what we can do to keep Mario comfortable or are we at the point to where the memories will be our best supportive option? Thank you for any help & to all you folks who are pet lovers like us, may there always be a Mario in your life!

    • CARL SULLIVAN on July 27, 2019 at 5:28 pm


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