Nasal Cancer in Dogs

A Pet Owners Guide to Nasal Cancer in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Katelyn Son
By Katelyn Son
Medically reviewed by Jamie Freyer
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What is Nasal Cancer in Dogs? 

What is Nasal Cancer in Dogs

Nasal cancer in dogs is a tumor that develops due to the uncontrolled growth of the cells lining the dog’s nasal cavity, nasal passages, or sinuses.

Nasal adenocarcinoma is the most common type of nasal cancer in dogs, but types like nasal lymphomas, sarcomas, squamous cell carcinomas, undifferentiated carcinomas, mast cell tumors, and chondrosarcoma are possible.

Nasal cancer in dogs is generally locally invasive, eating into the normal tissues in the head, including the brain cavity. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

According to Pet Cure Oncology, nasal cancer in dogs is rare and accounts for about 1 to 2% of total canine cancer cases. Sadly, about 80% of nasal cancers in dogs are malignant.

What Causes Nasal Cancer in Dogs? 

The exact cause of nasal cancer or any cancer is hard to determine. In most cases, the condition is triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors:

  • Genetics. Similar to most types of cancers, nasal cancer may have a genetic element to it. This is evidenced by its higher prevalence in certain breeds such as Dachshunds and Collies.
  • Cigarette Smoke. Dogs frequently exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke are more likely to develop nasal cancer. Cigarette smoke is also a risk factor for other types of cancer, such as lung cancer.
  • Living in Urban Environments. Anecdotal evidence suggests a link between living in urban environments and a higher risk for nasal cancer in dogs. This may have to do with the higher pollution levels present in urban areas.
  • Sex. Male dogs have a slightly higher risk of developing nasal cancer than female dogs. However, nasal cancer can occur in both males and females.
  • Age. Nasal carcinoma is more common in older dogs, particularly those aged ten years or older. This does not mean that puppies and adult dogs cannot develop nasal cancer.

What are the Signs of Nasal Cancer in Dogs?

What are the Signs of Nasal Cancer in Dogs

Rubbing the nose and epistaxis (bloody discharge) are the two most commonly reported signs of nasal cancer in dogs. Here is a more detailed look at the clinical manifestation of nasal cancer in dogs.

  • Nasal Discharge. Dogs with nasal cancer may have purulent nasal discharge. If the tumor becomes ulcerated, the discharge might contain traces of blood. Some dogs may experience nose bleeds (epistaxis) as well.
  • Loud Breathing. Due to the tumor’s obstruction of the nasal airway, the dog’s breathing might become louder. Dogs with nasal cancer often start snoring after developing the tumor.
  • Constant Rubbing and Face Pawing. The presence of the nasal tumor causes pain or at least discomfort. In an attempt to soothe itself, the dog may repeatedly rub its nose and face or paw at the painful area.
  • Respiratory Disease. Because of the unique location of the nasal tumor, affected dogs may show signs and symptoms of respiratory diseases, such as continuous coughing and excessive sneezing.
  • Facial deformity. As the tumor grows, it can become visible from the outside, leading to a change in the shape of the face. The facial deformity usually only develops in more advanced stages and is a sign the condition has progressed.
  • Neurological Signs. Neurological deficits are possible in dogs where nasal cancer has spread to the brain. The extent of the neurologic signs depends on the size of the mass and the area of the brain that is affected.
  • General Signs of Illness. Nasal cancer in dogs is accompanied by various non-specific clinical signs of illness like weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, behavior changes, and generalized body weakness.

If your dog shows one or more of these signs, you need to call your trusted veterinarian and schedule an appointment.

Diagnosing Nasal Cancer in Dogs 

Diagnosing nasal cancer in dogs starts with a physical examination and discussion of the dog’s history. After that, the vet will start with more specific tests.

Nose Flush. When suspecting nasal cancer, the vet will flush the dog’s nose. Then, they will examine the cells present in the flush to test for cancerous properties. This isn’t a definitive test, but it can provide useful information.

Rhinoscopy. The vet may perform a rhinoscopy to determine the tumor’s size and location. The process involves using a rhinoscope (a special medical device with a light and a lens) to see inside the nasal airway.

Fine-Needle Aspiration. For a definitive diagnosis, fine needle aspiration is one of the best options. Fine needle aspiration involves the collection of cells from the mass with a needle, followed by their inspection using a microscope.

Biopsy. A biopsy, on the other hand, requires excising a tissue sample from the nasal tumor. In veterinary medicine, the process of analyzing tissue samples under a microscope is referred to as histopathology.

Other Tests. Staging might be necessary to determine the prognosis. Common tests used to stage nasal cancer include x-rays (radiographs), CT scans, MRI, bloodwork, and urinalysis.

How do You Treat Nasal Cancer in Dogs? 

How do You Treat Nasal Cancer in Dogs

Nasal cancer in dogs treatment depends on the type of tumor. The treatment of choice for nasal cancer in dogs is radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may also be pursued for some types of nasal cancers.

Veterinary oncologists rarely recommend surgery as a treatment option for nasal cancer due to the sensitive location of the tumor.

Radiation Therapy. The gold standard for treating nasal tumors in dogs is radiation therapy. A common side effect of radiation is ocular damage, resulting in dry eye or cataracts). To avoid side effects, oncologists use a so-called Stereotactic Radiation Therapy (SRT), in which the high-dose radiation is precisely focused on the tumor without damaging the surrounding tissues. 

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is sometimes utilized, but it is not as effective as radiation treatment. Chemotherapy can be used to destroy residual cancer cells after surgery. The usual meds are doxorubicin and carboplatin.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. Dogs with nasal cancer are usually prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs (like piroxicam). These meds are an important part of palliative treatment as they can help with swelling, inflammation, and pain.

As a pet owner, you can also work to ensure that your dog lives the highest quality of life at home. Ask your vet about holistic treatment options to boost your dog’s well-being. Available options include diet, physical therapy, acupuncture, and CBD.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Products. CBD for dogs can have various health benefits. The two most vital ones are anxiety and inflammation relief – both beneficial for dogs with nasal cancer. When choosing CBD for your dog, make sure you get a vet-approved brand like Honest Paws.

What can I do to Prevent Nasal Cancer in Dogs?

How to prevent cancer in dogs is a tough question with no specific answer. Nasal cancer in dogs is a complex issue triggered by a combination of factors. Here are some ideas on how to decrease your dog’s risk of developing nasal tumors:

  • Diet. A healthy diet is vital for boosting your dog’s immune system and preventing various diseases and conditions.
  • Healthy Weight. A good diet can also help keep your dog at a healthy weight. Obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases, including cancer. Regular physical activity is also important.
  • Avoid Smoke Exposure. Minimize or eliminate secondhand cigarette smoke from your dog’s environment. Do not smoke in their presence, and ensure proper ventilation if your dog lives indoors.
  • Regular Vet Checkups. Early detection is vital when dealing with nasal cancer in dogs. See your vet as often as needed to make sure your dog is in peak health, and if not, it gets treatment promptly.

One way to improve your dog’s odds against nasal cancer is by ensuring it gets the best treatment possible if it is diagnosed with the condition. The treatment for nasal cancer in dogs can get very expensive (often costing up to $5000).

To prepare yourself for such an expense, consider a good pet health insurance plan like OneVet Insurance. With the plan, you get 24/7 access to a licensed veterinarian, $3000 in emergency funds, and coverage for all pre-existing conditions for up to six dogs, all for only $19.99.

Is Nasal Cancer in Dogs Curable?

is nasal cancer in dogs curable

No, nasal cancer in dogs is not curable. The likelihood of curing nasal cancer is very low. Surgery is the treatment with the possibility of the best results because it can remove all or most of the tumor cells. However, it is rarely possible in nasal tumors.

The high rate of local and distant metastasis also makes nasal cancer more difficult to deal with. Once other organs are invaded by cancerous cells, it becomes impossible to manage the situation.

How Long Can Dogs Live With Nasal Cancer?

The median survival time for dogs with nasal cancer ranges between 6 and 18 months. Treatment success depends on the tumor type, tumor size, presence or absence of metastasis, and quality of treatment.

What are the Final Stages of Nasal Cancer in Dogs?

The final stages of nasal cancer can be extremely excruciating for a dog. The extreme facial swelling may disable their normal eating and breathing processes. Local spread or metastasis may also cause additional complications.

Therefore, it is not uncommon for dogs with nasal cancer to be humanely euthanized when the condition becomes impossible to control.