Nasal Tumors in Dogs: A Helpful Guide

For anyone who has welcomed a dog into their family, learning he may have a life-threatening illness is devastating news. Unfortunately, when malignant nasal tumors are diagnosed in dogs, it is usually indicative of some form of nose cancer. Because these tumors are hidden inside the nasal cavity itself, it may be difficult to detect when dogs are suffering – so by the time a dog begins to show symptoms, the disease has already metastasized (spread). This is one of the many reasons why it’s so crucial for pet owners to pay close attention to a dog’s disposition and daily activities, as there are often a host of physical and behavioral cues that can reveal signs of illness, health issues or disease.  And just as there is no cure for cancer for humans, the same rules apply for dogs – however, pet owners can explore different treatment options to keep their pooch as comfortable as possible if he happens to be diagnosed with nasal cancer.

Before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to have a full physical examination at a trusted pet clinic or veterinarian’s office. The vet will be able to determine what the cause of illness is for dogs displaying any signs of nasal distress or abnormalities. This article will discuss nasal tumors in dogs, signs and symptoms of canine nasal cancer, and useful information for pet parents to help provide the best quality of life for terminally ill dogs afflicted with this disease.

Understanding Canine Nasal Tumors: Identifying The Types & Symptoms

Identified as malignant, locally-aggressive tumors, nasal tumors affect both dogs and cats. A result of the disorganized uncontrolled production of cells that line the nasal passages, these cancerous tumors form within a dog’s nasal cavity. There are several types of canine nasal tumors, including:

  • Carcinomas: These dog tumors form in the lining of the nose and account for about two-thirds of all canine nasal tumors.
  • Sarcomas: This type of tumor develops in the bone, cartilage or connective tissue within a dog’s nose, and accounts for approximately one-third of nasal tumor diagnoses in dogs.
  • Lymphoma: Although tumors may stem from nasal lymphoma in dogs, it is quite rare. If caught in the early stages, it may be treated; however, nose cancer is almost always malignant with a high rate of metastasis to the skull cavity, lymph nodes and lungs.
  • Nasal adenocarcinoma: The technical terminology for nose cancer, nasal adenocarcinoma is a type of tumor found in a dog’s nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. An aggressive cancer diagnosed primarily in senior dogs, breeds with longer snouts, and dogs living in urban regions, nasal adenocarcinomas originates from the sebaceous glands within the nasal cavity. Nose cancer accounts for 2.5% of canine tumors.

While nasal tumors are typically slow to metastasize, it generally spreads to the animal’s lymph nodes or the lungs. Locally invasive tumors also deteriorate the surrounding bone and tissue of the snout while obstructing the nasal passages. A veterinarian will be able to diagnose the tumor type and severity using X-rays of the skull, CT scans, tumor biopsies and rhinoscopy.

Clinical symptoms of canine nasal tumors may include:

Nose Cancer In Dogs: Causes, Diagnosis & Disease Progression


Although this type of canine cancer is associated with specific risk factors, the precise cause of nasal cancer in dogs is unknown. In fact, there are few cancers that have a single identifiable, straightforward or known cause, as it is widely recognized as an elusive disease. The majority of cancer-related illness stems from many risk factors, spanning from genetic and hereditary-based reasons to environmental causes. With particular regard to canine nasal tumors, some of the most commonly acknowledged risk-factors for dogs include:

  • Location: Research has shown that dogs who live in urban areas are prone to the pitfalls of pollution, thus heightening the risk for developing nose cancer
  • Environmental: Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke has been linked to this aggressive disease in dogs
  • Genetics: Breeds with longer snouts/muzzles are more prone to nasal tumors


When it comes to the diagnosis of canine nasal tumors, a veterinarian will conduct a battery of different procedures in order to gather accurate data. Once the vet has performed the appropriate diagnostic procedures, he or she will be able to identify, diagnose and treat the animal accordingly, depending on the results. Typically, a nasal tumor diagnosis may include:

  • Lymph node tissue samples: Tissues samples are taken from the lymph nodes so that the vet can analyze them for the presence of cancerous cells, as well as detect metastasis.
  • Nasal bacterial culture: In addition, the vet will likely perform a nasal bacterial culture and analyze the sample.
  • Rhinoscopy: A rhinoscopy (minimally invasive examination of the nasal passages) may be conducted for further data.  This exploratory scope of a dog’s sinuses can help the vet pinpoint what the underlying problem is inside his nasal cavity. For example, a rhinoscopy can identify if there is the presence of nasal polyps, tumors (sarcomas and carcinomas), foreign items, and even changes in bone density. At the very least, a rhinoscopy can help narrow down the list of possible health issues, even if the direct underlying cause isn’t determined.
  • Imaging: Imaging helps the vet to determine the location and size of the tumor. Several different forms of imaging (including X-rays, radiographic scans and computed tomography (CT) scans) will be performed so that the vet can accurately identify and diagnose the tumor, determine how rapidly it is growing, and if it has spread into other areas of the cranium.
  • Biopsy: In the instance where a tumor or other abnormal tissue findings are present, a vet may also perform a biopsy. Once the biopsy (surgical removal of a piece of tumor or related tissue sample) is done, a laboratory pathologist will examine the findings under a microscope; this secondary phase is known as histopathology.

Disease Progression

For nearly any pet parent whose dog is afflicted with malignant nasal tumors, the question is often universally the same – how does this cancer usually progress? Although extremely difficult for both family members and their beloved companions, it is essential for pet owners to have a clear understanding of how the disease will affect their dog and what to expect. By becoming proactive as a caregiver, dog owners can help to make informed decisions when it comes to providing the best quality of life possible to their pets.

While statistics show that less than 25% of pets will exemplify symptoms of the cancer spreading to the adjacent lymph nodes, most vet clinicians will recommend a routine staging. This may entail urinalysis and bloodwork, X-rays, a CT scan of the lungs, and even an abdominal ultrasound. In addition, the vet may recommend an FNA (fine needle aspiration) of the local lymph nodes. This procedure involves drawing a sample of cells directly from the lymph nodes via needle, and preparing a slide for pathological examination under a microscope.

Typically, nasal tumors won’t spread elsewhere in the body; however, they frequently metastasize locally. As a result, it is imperative for dogs to receive treatment as swiftly as possible, since they spread rapidly, are usually painful, and may affect the brain (due to the proximity of the nasal cavity to the brain). Although there is no cure for canine cancer, clinical treatments have been shown to help relieve the signs while controlling tumor growth and disease progression.

Treatment Options For Canine Nasal Tumors

In the instance that a dog has been diagnosed with malignant nasal tumors, the first course of action recommended will likely be pain management. Depending on his stage of cancer, a pet may be in a fair amount of pain; therefore, it’s important for owners to discuss the best treatment options. Vets will often prescribe medication in order to make him as comfortable as possible during treatment.

Unfortunately, canine adenocarcinoma isn’t responsive to surgery, as the infrastructure of a dog’s nasal cavity is both complex and closely situated to the eyes and brain. As a result, the risk of possible complications far outweighs the very small percentage of success. In rare circumstances, the vet may recommend a rhinotomy (a surgery that attempts to remove the tumor via an incision made in the nasal cavity); however, such procedures have been met with a fairly low rate of success, including a lower survival time (three to six months on average).

When treating nose cancer in dogs, time is of the essence – because adenocarcinoma cases progress so quickly, it is usually at the advanced stages at the time of diagnosis. In the case of a positive diagnosis, the vet may provide a referral to a veterinarian oncologist. This type of cancer physician specializes in the treatment of tumors; therefore, they’ll be able to provide expert advice regarding the dog’s prognosis and condition, as well as assist in making decisions regarding his treatment.  

The course of a dog’s treatment will depend on the specific type of tumor he has been diagnosed with. Below, a general overview of treatments that may be recommended by a veterinary oncologist:

Radiation & Chemotherapy

Although chemotherapy and radiation therapy haven’t been proven effective at treating canine adenocarcinoma, radiation is still considered a viable option to prolong a dog’s life while relieving/managing his pain. Depending on the dog’s tumor type, stage of cancer and overall condition, pet owners may wish to consider one of the following alternatives for radiation therapy upon an oncology specialist’s recommendation:

  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery:  Devised to minimize damage to tissue surrounding the tumor, this form of radiation therapy delivers a mega-dose of radiation which targets the center of the tumor. One of the biggest advantages of this form of radiation is that it only requires a one-time treatment.
  • Stereotactic Radiation Therapy: In order to diminish the risk of damaging tissue further around the site of the tumor, this form of radiation delivers up to three smaller doses over the course of three different sessions. This type of therapy is typically conducted when a tumor is located dangerously close to a dog’s vital organs (such as the eyes and brain), and requires multiple visits to a radiation specialist versus one.

For pet parents considering radiation therapy treatment for dogs affected by malignant nasal tumors, it’s imperative to speak with a veterinarian, oncologist and/or any specialists involved regarding the possible side-effects. They may include runny nose, inflammation, shedding of the skin, atrophy, hemorrhaging, degeneration, seizures, fibrosis, optic nerve degeneration, bone collapse and brain necrosis. Depending on the dog’s condition and the stage of his cancer, an oncology specialist can guide owners regarding treatment options; ultimately, it often becomes a moral decision made by the dog’s family. Therefore, dog owners may wish to consider the most humane course of action for their dog and whether or not radiation is a viable choice.

Prognosis For Nasal Tumors & Nose Cancer In Dogs

As reviewed, adenocarcinoma and other forms of malignant nasal tumors in dogs are typically fatal when left untreated. While statistics show that dogs affected by the disease have a lifespan of two to seven months prior to diagnosis, dogs who receive radiation have been reported to live eight to twenty months longer on average prior to diagnosis.

Looking Ahead: Monitoring Symptoms & Comfort Levels

In the instance where a family chooses to administer canine radiation therapy, it’s essential to monitor his symptoms, regularly follow up with the vet and/or specialists involved in his treatment, and contact the physicians’ offices whenever the dog’s symptoms change or become a cause for concern. Although some of the side-effects of radiation may be addressed with a course of prescribed medication or other treatment, the majority of the severe side-effects are unfortunately non-treatable.

The best thing pet parents can do is to keep their pooch as comfortable as possible in the event that he is diagnosed with a malignant nasal tumor. In addition to administering treatments as recommended by a vet (or even considering natural supplements to lessen his suffering), providing an ailing dog with creature comforts – such as a favorite toy, soft bedding, blankets in his sleeping quarters, etc. – will help ease his pain and let him know he is being loved and cared for in his time of need.

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