By Christie Long
Epistaxis is a fancy word for nosebleed. Dogs get nosebleeds but usually not for the same reasons you did as a kid.
Trauma, like getting hit in the nose with a football, will cause a dog’s nose to bleed. But in the absence of an event like this, we’re left with figuring out why there is epistaxis, especially if it occurs more than once.
And when we talk about epistaxis in dogs, we’re running the spectrum from the occasional bloody sneeze to the actual full-on nosebleed.
After we figure out there has been no trauma to the nose, we have to determine whether the bleeding is being caused by something that’s keeping the patient’s blood from clotting properly or if there is something in the nasal passage that is the origin of the bleeding.
Like many of the diseases with which I deal, I have to first consider the age and lifestyle of the dog when I’m trying to figure out which one is more likely.
Clotting problems can stem from several very different origins. Rat poison kills rats by inhibiting their ability to clot and ultimately leading to internal bleeding. When a dog accidentally ingests rat poison, the same thing happens to it, and sometimes the first sign that something is awry is a nosebleed.
In Colorado and elsewhere, there are ticks that carry infectious diseases that attack and destroy platelets. Dogs that are bitten by ticks that carry these diseases can suffer from nosebleeds due to not having enough platelets. There also are autoimmune diseases and blood cancers that can deplete a dog’s platelet supply and cause the same problem as ticks or rat poison.
Usually, patients with clotting problems have bleeding in other places as well, such as under the skin, in the form of sudden bruising, into the abdomen or chest cavity or into the lungs or bladder.
Foreign objects stuck in the nasal passage cause bleeding by providing a source of chronic inflammation and irritation and often infection. Nasal tumors often bleed periodically but can be a source of chronic infection as well.
Many times, we can differentiate tumors and foreign bodies from the previously mentioned causes of epistaxis because the ability to move air through the affected nostril will be fully or partially diminished. This can be detected by holding a glass microscope slide just in front of the nose and looking for a spot of condensation coming from each nostril.
Diagnosing the underlying disease process is critical to providing the right treatment to the patient. Knowing that rat poison is present in the area or finding ticks on the patient leads us to suspect those causes.
Hunting dogs that run through tall grasses are more susceptible to snorting up plant material that can get lodged in the nostrils. Blood work usually is the starting point for diagnostics, but often the final diagnosis is obtained by visualizing what is in the nasal passage with an endoscope.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted advisor to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.