- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
It’s been said that a wet nose is a sign of good canine health, whereas a dry nose suggests trouble. But the truth is, your dog’s nose will change from damp to dry throughout the day—and both are perfectly normal. A wet dog nose is not a confirmation of good health, just as a dry nose isn’t proof of a problem.
While your pup’s sniffer isn’t the best way to gauge her health, a moist nose does come with its advantages. Your dog’s nose contains a complex system for detecting and interpreting the world through smell. The rhinarium (or “nose leather”) is the furless skin around a dog’s nostrils. This surface is often damp with mucus and saliva, which helps your dog smell by trapping scent particles in the air.
What’s more, your dog’s nose is one of the few places she can sweat. So even if you’re not the biggest fan of wet dog noses, you can feel good knowing they help keep your pooch cool and informed.
Let’s consider the reasons why your dog’s nose is usually wet, some unalarming scenarios where a dry nose is likely to occur (after a nap, for instance), and warning signs that a nose is too dry or too wet.
Why Is a Dog’s Nose Wet and Cold? 5 Normal Causes
Why do our canine pals have a damp and cool sniffer? Here are 5 common causes behind a wet dog nose:
Sweating through the nose
In addition to being extraordinary smell detectors, our dogs’ noses also help them with temperature regulation, says Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon working in London. “Dogs don’t sweat like you or I, but they can sweat through their paw pads and their nose.” By letting the moisture evaporate from their nose, dogs are able to get a little bit cooler, Dr. Simon tells us.
Mucus secretion aids a dog’s strong sense of smell
The thin layer of mucus on your dog’s nose boosts her ability to smell. When sniffing, this mucus picks up a sampling of scent particles. After being transferred to the mouth, these particles can be further investigated by an olfactory organ called the vomeronasal organ (VNO).
This enhanced sniffing power is an asset to working dogs and therapy dogs. “It can be advantageous for hunting dogs to have wet noses, as the scent particles can adhere with greater ease to their nose,” Dr Simon remarks.
Dogs lick their noses…a lot
One reason dogs do this is to lick up the mucus secreted on their snout. An unappetizing habit, yes. But one that actually enhances their sense of smell even more. “When dogs lick their nose the scent particles can reach their vomeronasal organ,” Dr. Simon explains. This organ helps them get a more in-depth scent analysis.
There are also times when your dog uses her nose for investigation, from finding abandoned balls under the couch to checking out that questionable clump of weeds on your walk. This can be a messy business, and usually calls for a snout-licking cleanup afterwards.
Contact with wet surfaces
Most dogs love putting their noses to work, using it to examine everything around them: wet grass, piles of leaves, irresistible puddles. Unsurprisingly, this can leave them with a soggy sniffer.
Breed and nose shape
A dog’s nasal anatomy comes into play as well. Dr. Simon informs us that brachycephalic dogs, like pugs and bulldogs, tend to have drier noses because their short snouts make it harder to reach their noses with their tongue.
What Does It Mean When a Dog’s Nose is Dry and Warm?
A dry nose isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, some dogs just tend to have a drier nose than their canine counterparts because of genetics. Here are some other common causes for a dry dog nose.
- Sleeping: When your dog is snoozing, she goes through long stretches of time where she doesn’t lick her nose or drink water. If your dog wakes up with a parched nose, Dr. Simon assures us things should return to normal once she rehydrates.
- External conditions: Exposure to warm, dry conditions may cause some temporary dryness of your dog’s nose. If you find your dog’s nose becomes uncomfortably chapped in extreme weather, consider applying a soothing balm.
- Exercise: A vigorous game of fetch or a good run around can dry out your dog’s nose. Be sure to follow-up your dog’s more rigorous playtimes with plenty of water to counteract the dryness.
- Plastic toys or bowls: Some dogs are sensitive to plastic food dishes. Two safe alternatives are ceramic and stainless steel bowls. You may also want to replace plastic toys with rubber toys, like a classic Kong toy.
- Age: As our dogs get older, their nostrils produce less mucus. Plus, senior dogs tend to sleep more, which can further dry out their nasal passages.
- Allergies: Just like us, dogs can have allergies—and a dry nose is a common symptom. Your vet can help you determine if your dog might find relief with allergy medication.
- Dehydration: In some cases, a dry nose is a sign of dehydration. According to Dr. Simon, pet owners should notice a change in moisture once you offer your dog some water.
- Sunburn: Did you know your dog can get sunburned? To avoid a dried-out and sore nose, use doggie sunblock before heading outdoors.
When to contact a vet about a dry nose
Depending on their environment and what they’re doing, a dog’s nose will fluctuate in moisture levels throughout the day. In most cases, a dry nose is no cause for alarm, Dr. Simon assures us. “This can be entirely normal, particularly if your dog has been asleep, or if the air around them is warm,” she says. “If they are otherwise well, just keep an eye on things.”
That said, you should consult your vet if your dog’s dry nose is accompanied by other symptoms, such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite. if you notice any of these behaviors, contact your vet to confirm there are no underlying issues.
It’s also smart to contact your vet if your dog’s dry nose has severe cracking or bleeding, or has bumps or other changes to its appearance.
What Does It Mean If My Dog’s Nose is Runny?
The occasional runny nose isn’t something to fret over. However, if you notice nasal discharge that’s colored (white, yellow, green, or reddish) and arrives with other worrying symptoms, your dog could be sick.
Dr. Simon fills us in on what to watch for: “You might notice that the discharge is colored, rather than clear. This discharge can be accompanied by other signs such as sneezing, coughing or a reduced appetite,” she adds.
If your dog’s nasal discharge won’t let up, or it has a suspicious color, Dr. Simon agrees that a vet check is sensible. Your dog could be suffering from a respiratory infection, dental disease, or allergies.
Here’s a breakdown of what your dog’s mucus might be signaling:
|Type of Nasal Discharge
|Color & Characteristics
|Possible Health Conditions
|Clear and colorless
|White or yellow
|Yellow to green, thick consistency
|Red flecks of blood in discharge
Trapped foreign body in nose
Trauma of the nose
Nasal mites (rare)
Takeaway: It’s Normal for a Dog’s Nose to Be Wet and Cold
Not only is it normal, but it’s hugely beneficial for a dog’s nose to be wet and cold. A damp snout helps our dogs to understand their world through smell—and it even helps them regulate their body temperature. That said, a dry nose is also a healthy nose.
Since wet and dry noses are both normal in the dog world, your pup’s sniffer isn’t a great metric of her overall wellness. Instead of looking to your dog’s nose for clues about her health, watch for changes in energy levels, nose discharge color, and appetite changes. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to check in with your vet.