The dog’s nose is a rather complex structure and, while it is quite exposed, injuries to the nose are not overly common. However, nasal damage can occur and it will sometimes be serious.
As with any bone in the body, the bones of the nose (including the labyrinth of turbinates and the long, slender nasal bone) can be damaged and even broken. Read on to learn more about this injury and the consequences it can have.
How Can Dogs Break Their Nose?
Despite the nose sitting proudly at the front of the face, it is actually not damaged all that often. The body is cleverly designed and much of the front of the nose is made from cartilage. This material is tough and flexible and not prone to breaking.
Due to the skin and cartilage in front of them, the bones of the nose are set back in the face and are not that easily damaged. However, if there is significant trauma, a break can occur.
We can see broken nasal bones after, for example, a nasty dog fight, a fall from a height or a car accident. Quite significant impact would be needed to cause a break and the dog often breaks other bones, including the jaw bone, in the process.
More commonly, we see nasal bone damage caused by internal disease such as a fungal infection or aggressive cancer. These breaks occur slowly and the nose is often quite misshapen and swollen from the outside.
Symptoms of a Broken Dog Nose
When a break occurs from trauma, signs can include:
· Bloody discharge from the nose
· Localised bruising and discoloration of the skin
· Tenderness in the area and a reluctance for the face to be touched
· Noisy or irregular breathing
· Rubbing the face on the ground or pawing at the nose
· A reduced appetite
If the nasal bones are broken due to a disease process such as an infection, signs occur much less abruptly. Over time, you may have noticed changes such as a chronic discharge, recurrent nose bleeds, a visible facial deformity and the slow growth of a mass in the region of the nose.
Due to the discomfort, dogs are often lethargic and off their food. They may also hide away and be reluctant to exercise and play.
How is a Broken Nose Diagnosed?
The first thing a vet will do is to thoroughly examine your dog all over. This is especially important if they have had a recent trauma or accident. If they do have a broken nose, this may just be the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
If signs have been going on for some time and there is discharge, this should be swabbed. This discharge can be cultured (checking for bacteria or fungi) and should also be analyzed under the microscope so the cells can be examined.
An x-ray may be useful in diagnosing a broken nose. However, not every injury will be easily assessed from these 2-D images. Oftentimes, we need more sensitive imaging such as a CT scan or MRI scan in order to fully assess the nose and the surrounding structures.
If a mass is detected, it can be biopsied. This is how we can determine if the mass is a cancer or something else such as a benign polyp.
How to Treat a Dog’s Broken Nose
How we treat a dog’s broken nose will depend on the extent and location of the break, as well as what has caused the break. Treatment options will be specific to the patient.
For most, we will first provide pain relief and anti-inflammatories. Depending on what is going on, your dog may need additional medicine such as antifungals or antibiotics.
If there is a mass, surgery may be required to remove it. Sadly, not all masses can always be completely removed and we will sometimes be limited to performing a ‘debulking’ surgery. This is a procedure whereby we remove as much of the invasive growth as possible.
Surgery to repair bones is usually only undertaken if e.g. the upper jaw is broken and the nose is unstable or airflow is affected. This can be a complex surgery and referral to an orthopedic specialist may be required. Smaller breaks can repair by themselves without intervention.
What Is The Prognosis For a Dog With a Broken Nose?
How your dog will recover varies. Those with simple fractures that have occurred due to trauma, usually recover well with minimal intervention. If the broken bone is not affecting the structures around it, we would expect healing in a couple of months or so (depending on the dog’s age and the extent of the break).
When a broken nose has occurred because of a medical condition, the prognosis can be poorer. For example, if there is a large tumor, it may not be possible to fully remove it. Sadly, about 80% of nasal tumors are metastatic.
Advanced fungal infection, particularly if a patient is immune-compromised, can also be difficult to cure. The fungus can erode the bones, breaking them down over time.
How to Care For My Dog With a Broken Nose?
Your dog’s specific plan is something your vet will talk through with you. For most, they will need a few weeks of pain relief and anti-inflammatories.
If your dog is causing damage to themselves by rubbing excessively at their nose, a buster collar should be used temporarily to protect it and allow it to heal.
As chewing objects may cause pain, we should stick to soft food. Steer clear of any chews, hard treats or dental sticks. We should also avoid playing with things that go in the mouth (such as chew toys, sticks and tug toys), to give the bone a chance to heal.
If my dog’s nose is bleeding, does this mean it’s broken?
A dog’s nose can bleed for a wide range of reasons and, most of the time, will not be associated with a fracture. We can see nose bleeds when the tissue inside the nose is inflamed or ulcerated. We can also see them in dogs who have blood clotting disorders or lungworm.
Nose bleeding is also seen in those with advanced dental disease, particularly those with oral abscesses. If the bleeding is coming from one side, we’d also consider a foreign body or a mass within the nostril.
As bleeding is abnormal, a vet check is sensible to determine what is going on with your dog’s nose.
Will my dog lose their sense of smell after a broken nose?
If your dog has broken a nasal bone due to trauma, this should not affect their sense of smell. However, if they have significant nasal disease (such as an advanced tumour), this can impact their ability to smell.
When nostrils are blocked, dogs cannot inhale scents through their nose and can no longer smell. These dogs also have to breathe through their mouths. This is a very uncommon issue.
Are certain dogs more prone to a broken nose?
While any dog can break their nose, some will be more susceptible.
Very active, young dogs tend to be the ones that we see suffering a traumatic break. Unneutered males are especially prone to road traffic accidents, dog fights, and head trauma.
In the older patient, we can see bones breaking or being eroded away secondary to underlying disease. Those with longer noses, such as the German Shepherd and Afghan Hound are more prone to fungal disease within the nasal cavities.