By Carol McCarthy
Sneezing, a runny nose, and congestion are miserable for humans, and our dogs can suffer right alongside us. But can they also get relief from a few squirts of nasal spray?
We asked the experts whether nasal spray is safe for dogs and how pet parents can help a congested pet.
Is Nasal Spray Safe for Dogs?
Dr. Susan O’Bell, a member of the primary care team at MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, says her practice does not routinely recommend nasal sprays for dogs. “In the rare instances we do, I would say a saline nasal spray is safe and may be used to help break up secretions. It may be offered as a symptomatic treatment that can be tried at home.”
Nasal sprays are not used that often to treat dogs, in no small part due to the fact that most pets dislike having anything squirted up their noses, adds Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinarian and author of “Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.”
O’Bell agrees that difficulty in administering medicated sprays diminishes their value as a treatment. “So many dogs dislike getting even an intranasal vaccine administered, thus veterinarians look for other options first,” she says. In addition, there is a lack of FDA-approved nasal sprays for use with dogs.
When to Use Nasal Spray for Dogs
In some cases, saline nasal sprays could be part of the treatment plan for dogs suffering from infections or other problems of the nose and the sinuses, Coates says. “A veterinarian might recommend their use to help loosen up the secretions that can clog a pet's nasal passages, although letting your dog spend some time in a steamy bathroom can have much the same effect,” she notes.
Medicated nasal sprays, decongestants, corticosteroids, and similar products should never be used on dogs unless they are prescribed by a veterinarian, Coates stresses. “I can't think of a time it would be appropriate for an owner to use any kind of medicated nasal spray on their dog without having it first been prescribed by their veterinarian.”
How to Administer Nasal Spray
As previously noted, administering nasal spray is one of the major hurdles that prevents veterinarians from prescribing such medications. “Most dogs do not appreciate having their noses handled in this way,” O’Bell says.
However, some inhaled medications may be beneficial to dogs, and a veterinarian may recommend a nebulization technique (similar to when a child inhales medication through a chamber or mask). Examples include glucocorticoid treatments for inflammatory or allergic disorders or antibiotics for pneumonia or other upper respiratory illnesses, she says.
Nasal Spray Side Effects
Nasal spray side effects depend on the specific medication but could range from systemic repercussions to topical irritation. Some preservatives also could be irritating to dogs, depending on the individual patient, O’Bell says. Inhaled or topical steroid use, especially long term, can affect your dog’s immune system, predisposing them to infection, she says.
Generally, saline spray is non-irritating but, again, may annoy the dog when you are trying to administer it, she adds.
Treating Nasal Congestion in Dogs
Ideally, veterinarians will try to determine the cause of a dog’s respiratory symptoms first: Does the problem originate in the nose or is something going on further along the respiratory tract with nasal congestion or discharge as a symptom? Could it be an infection, an allergy, or a foreign body?
“This will dictate whether we try an inhaled medication, a systemic medication, or imaging/surgery/rhinoscopy procedures,” O’Bell explains. “We want our patients to be comfortable and our clients not to struggle, so ease of administration of medication definitely plays a big role in our recommendations.”