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.