Nosebleeds in dogs are unusual, and if your dog has regular nosebleeds, it’s something to look into.
The technical term for a nosebleed is “epistaxis,” derived from the Greek “stazein,” which means to “fall in drops” (the same root as the word stalactite).
The causes of epistaxis can be divided into 3 broad groups:
- Coagulation problems, or failure of the blood to clot properly
- An object taking up space in the nose — for example, a foreign body, tooth root abscess or tumor
- Disease somewhere else in the body that affects blood pressure or the blood
The most obvious symptom is blood dripping from the nose. This is often accompanied by sneezing caused by the tickle of blood at the nares. However, there can be more subtle signs depending on the underlying reason for the epistaxis.
If the dog has a blood-clotting problem, he may have blood in his urine or pass dark feces containing digested blood. Instead of being nice and pink, the lining of his gums may be pale or even white. These dogs often bruise easily, and a clue to this is seeing lots of pinprick spots of red on his gums known as petechiae, which are tiny local bleeds and an indication of a coagulation problem.
A dog with a physical problem, such as grass stuck up the nose, may sneeze a lot and rub at his nose. Those with a tumor, or a tooth root abscess, often have a subtle loss of symmetry when you scrutinize their faces.
Ill health that causes high blood pressure, such as kidney disease or Cushing’s disease, has its own set of symptoms such as excessive thirst, weight loss or gain and a lack of energy. Indeed, dogs with high blood pressure can have alarming symptoms such as sudden blindness or even a stroke.
What Causes Nosebleeds in a Dog?
To properly answer what causes a nosebleed, we must consider what causes the underlying problems:
- Coagulation problems. These can be caused by the immune system attacking itself, drug reactions, inherited disease such as hemophilia, rat bait poisoning or bone marrow disease. Another important cause of clotting problems is infection with angiostrongylus, otherwise known as French lungworm.
- Space-occupying lesions. Things like a piece of grass inhaled and then stuck in the nose speak for themselves. Dental abscesses develop as a result of tartar buildup, or if a tooth cracks and provides a route for bacteria to invade. Nasal tumors can and do happen, but no one is really sure why.
- General ill health. Many of these problems, such as renal disease or Cushing’s disease, are age-related.
The first steps to diagnosis include blood tests and measuring blood pressure.
A blood panel gives valuable information about organ function and underlying ill health. Plus the size, type and number of red blood cells tell the veterinarian a lot about if the dog is damaging his own red blood cells, and if he is replacing them, which can help identify certain coagulation disorders.
If the blood tests and blood pressure are normal, the next step is to take radiographs of the nasal chambers to identify signs of tooth root abscesses or cancer. If this draws a blank, putting a tiny camera up the dog’s nose to physically identify errant foreign bodies can help.
Treatment is best achieved by correcting any underlying health problems, such as kidney disease, that is causing the nosebleed.
In the case of a nasal foreign body, it should be removed, but the options for nasal tumors are limited.
This video explains what you can do if your dog has a nosebleed:
The best thing you can do for your dog is to keep him in good health and give him regular parasite treatments that are effective against lungworm.
- The 5-Minute Veterinary Consult. Tilley & Smith. Publisher: Williams & Wilkins.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.