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Why Does My Horse Have A Runny Nose?

Last updated: December 2, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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If you have ever had the joy and experience of dealing with a horse’s snotty nose, you know it can get messy. Never mind the free showers they offer with every sneeze. Mucus can be a healthy sign or something to take seriously.

Horses can get snotty noses from playing energetically or having a strenuous workout. In addition, some snot comes from dust particles when they eat hay or during a dusty ride in the arena. However, there are signs to watch for, as a snotty nose can signify illness and something more serious.

Knowing what to look for when your horse has a runny nose will help you establish the level of seriousness of the situation. When should you call a vet and what precautions you can take to try and prevent a runny nose are some of the subjects we will discuss.

Picture of a horse with a runny nose.

What Are The Common Causes Of A Runny Nose In Horses

Sometimes, a runny nose in a horse can be from playing energetically or having finished a strenuous workout, or it can be a more severe problem such as a virus or bacterial infection.

More common runny nose issues in a horse can be due to the following:

  • Strangles
  • Sinus infection
  • Tooth problems
  • Guttural pouch infection
  • A bout of energetic playfulness
  • After a hard workout
  • Dust particles in the hay net when the horse eats teff or other hay
  • Environmental irritants
  • Even in cold temperatures

How Can You Tell If Your Horse’s Runny Nose Is Serious Or Not

It’s not uncommon to see your horse with a runny nose. But knowing when it’s severe or not is essential. A cold recently traveled through our barn and affected almost all our horses. Two had thick yellow snotty noses.

One of our horses was scheduled to race later in the month, so I kept an eye on him, hoping we wouldn’t have to scratch him. Luckily he never caught the sickness and finished third.

The vet checked the others out, diagnosed them with a common cold, and advised that it would have to run its course.

Clear watery runny noses are often just caused by energetic exertion during a ride or when the horse, well, horses around in the paddock. This is created due to heavy and fast breathing rhythms. Horses can also develop runny noses due to irritants like dust particles or pollen in the air or in the hay the horse eats.

If you see your horse has a bilateral discharge, meaning from both nostrils. This indicates that there are irritants in the airways. This type of runny nose is harmless and sometimes healthy for horses as it cleans out the sinuses and eliminates nuances in the horses’ noses.

When you have a horse that shows signs of nasal discharges that are thick and heavy with a white, green, or creamy coloration, you know it’s time to take this seriously. This discharge may or may not be accompanied by an unpleasant odor. This could be a sign of viral or bacterial infection caused by sinus, injury, or tooth problems.

Lateral nasal discharges, or discharges from one nostril, indicate that the issue is coming from inside the horse’s head, for example, a sinus issue or guttural pouch infections.

Picture of a horse with a runny nose.

What The Snot Means

Here are a few examples of what the color and consistency of your horse’s runny nose may mean.

  • Water discharges from both nostrils with no other signs of fever or illness; it can be a reaction to cold weather, exertion, or airborne irritants.
  • If your horse has thin, grey, or frothy snot from one nostril, it could have an infection in the guttural pouch.
  • Suppose you see some colored discharge accompanied by a foul order. In that case, it’s a sign the horse may be suffering from sinus or an infected tooth.
  • If your horse’s snotty nose looks pussy, it means there is some form of bacterial or viral infection from strangles or bronchitis.
  • Blood coming from the horse’s nose could be a sign of injury from a kick to the face or a foreign object lodged in the nasal passages. On the other hand, the nosebleed could be from burst capillaries in the lungs after heavy exertion.

Taking note of these signs and reporting this to your vet can help them determine the course of action before they have a chance to thoroughly examine the horse.

Below is a YouTube video that shows the diagnosis and treatment for one horse with a runny nose.

What Are Some Treatment Options For A Runny Nose In Horses

Treatment is dependent on the cause of the runny nose. If your horse shows signs of nasal discharge other than a watery nose, it’s best to call your vet and have the horse examined for the root cause of the discharge.

The sinuses in horses are a complex system of passages and cavities. To determine the cause of the discharge, your vet may require a more in-depth examination where the following will need to be done.

  • blood works
  • cultures
  • endoscopic exams
  • radiographs (x-ray)

Once a diagnosis has been made, your vet will prescribe a remedy course for the ailment, which can include one or a combination of these treatments.

  • Short to long-term antibiotic treatments
  • Expectorants may be used
  • Flushing of the sinuses
  • Properly treating infected or problematic teeth by either an antibiotic treatment or removing the tooth.

Ensure the horse is given time off its workload with a sufficient rest period to recover from its diagnosis.

For horses with a watery runny nose that is caused due to irritants, make sure they have plenty of fresh air. Also, consider changing the bedding by using products that help reduce dust, such as pelletized bedding. Adding water to their food and hay helps prevent dust-related runny noses.

Picture of a horse with a little bit of a runny nose.

How Can You Prevent Your Horse From Getting A Runny Nose In The First Place

Depending on what is causing your horse to have a runny nose, there are a few options you can do to try and prevent a runny nose in the first place.

Change The Bedding

Horses that are in barns may react to the dust from the bedding. Using pelletized bedding may reduce the dust factor and help with dust allergens causing the horse to have a runny nose.

Dampen Food

Add water to food and soak hay to prevent dust particles or mold spores from irritating the horse’s sinuses. Moistening feed is a recommended process for horses susceptible to respiratory problems.

Water Down Arenas

Indoor and outdoor arenas can become dusty, affecting the horse’s nose and respiratory tract while working. Therefore, before having a riding session, ensure that the arena has been watered down to reduce the dust effect.

Remove Nose Bags

Reduce or refrain from using nose bags, as this reduces ventilation and air quality.

Practice Good Hygiene

Handle sick horses last to prevent the spread of contamination to other horses. Use gloves and wash your hands after treating a sick horse before working with other horses.

Make sure sick horses in the barn are quarantined, and continuously disinfect the equipment used to clean the stall before using it in other horse stalls.


Ensure that your horse is updated with its vaccines to help prevent the possibility of catching a cold or other viral infection.


Ensure that the horse gets plenty of fresh air and sun. Ventilation in the barn is essential to ensure good-quality airflow. Are barn has exceptional ventilation; however, germs still transferred from one horse to the next until almost all got sick at one time or another.


Runny noses can be as insignificant as a reaction to cold weather or dust that can be easily remedied or wiped away. But in some cases, a runny nose can be a serious matter that needs a vet’s attention and needs to be treated accordingly.


What can I give my horse for a runny nose and cough?

I give my horses electrolytes to ensure they’re well-hydrated, and I give them time off to rest. However, a horse with a runny nose and cough should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible because it could have a serious problem.

Is it normal for horses to have a runny nose?

It’s not normal, but it is common. Horses can get a runny nose for a variety of reasons, such as allergies, viruses, or bacterial infections. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.