Anyone with a dog has no doubt received a ‘doggy kiss’ at least once from their loving pooch. Ignoring the smell, you may have noticed your dog has a wet nose. In fact, you may have noticed many dogs with wet noses. This is normal, surely? A dog with a wet nose is healthy, and a dog with a dry nose is sick?
Well, in fact, a dog’s nose is quite a bit more complex than that, and how wet it is doesn’t immediately tell you if it’s healthy or not. We will explain why your dog has a wet nose in the first place, and then list some common causes of an abnormally dry or wet nose. Knowing what’s normal will hopefully tell you if your dog’s nose is healthy or not.
A dog’s nose is covered in thousands of tiny pores that secrete sweat. This sweat has two functions. The first is to trap scent chemicals, found in the air, on the surface of the nose – when the dog licks its nose, these chemicals will be brought to the roof of their mouth, where a specialised organ, the vomeronasal organ, will assist in smelling. It is basically tasting the air, much like a snake does. The second reason is for temperature regulation – dogs have mostly localised sweat glands, on their nose and the pads of their feet (unlike people who have them all over the body). Like with people, dogs will sweat more when they are hot, to help increase heat loss and reduce their body temperature. This is especially relevant in the hot weather we have had lately! When they are colder, the sweating will stop to prevent excess heat loss. Of course, they don’t lose much heat through their nose… but as they say, every little helps!
Looking at these two reasons, it is easy to see why your dog’s nose can sometimes be wetter or drier. When your dog is doing lots of exercise, it will be hotter, and sweating more, so its nose will be wetter. If it is outside, it may be licking its nose more to smell the air, which will also make it wetter. Conversely, when it is at home relaxing, it will not be sweating or licking its nose as much, so it will be drier. A dog will also sometimes have discharge from the nostrils (like our runny noses) which is usually not a problem – this healthy mucous should be clear and watery. It is important to observe your own dog’s nose regularly, looking at the colour, temperature, moistness, and type of discharge, so you have a good image of what is normal. This will make it even easier to identify if there is a problem. Just don’t automatically assume a dry or wet nose is good or bad in and of itself.
We have established that a relatively wet nose is normal, especially in hot weather or when outside exercising. So what about when this gets too excessive and your dog’s nose is clearly too wet? There are a number of problems that can cause this.
One of the most common causes of a too-wet nose is an upper respiratory tract infection. This is very common in dogs, and caused by many different kinds of bacteria and viruses. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, such as pugs or bulldogs, are more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, due to their narrow nasal passage trapping more microbes. Usually, a dog with an upper respiratory tract infection will be producing a lot more mucus, which will also be thicker and discoloured red, green, or even black in extreme cases. The mucous may dry and leave crustiness around the nose too. Often these infections can be cleared up with a course of antibiotics from our vets, but some infections may require more treatment.
Another cause may be itching or allergic reactions. If your dog’s nose is irritated, it will produce excess mucus. It will also likely be scratching and licking it a lot more, making it even wetter. The scratching can cause redness and damage to the skin. A dog can be allergic to or irritated by many things, and it can be difficult to determine what it is. If the cause cannot be identified and removed, your dog can be given specific anti-allergy medications to prevent the reaction.
Finally, some dogs will lick their nose excessively due to an underlying nervous problem – this could be present at birth, or caused by some trauma or injury. Commonly, anxiety, seizures, and perceived itching lead to excess licking of the nose. As mentioned above, this can lead to crusting or damaged skin. Some of these issues can be treated with training, others with some medication.
Much like an excessively wet nose, there are various causes of dry noses in dogs. In hot weather, like the kind we’ve seen this summer, sunburn on the nose is a risk for some dogs – most at risk are those with pale pink or white noses. The hot sun can cause redness, cracking and drying of the nose skin, which can be very painful. Licking to sooth the sunburn may also lead to infection, so should be treated quickly. A dog with sunburn anywhere on their body should be seen by a vet immediately.
Also relevant in the heat is dehydration, which will dry the skin in general. The nose, and other sensitive areas, will be dry and flaky. It’s important to recognise a dehydrated dog before it gets too bad – look for sunken eyes, pale-coloured gums, the skin returning to normal slowly when pulled away from the body, and general weakness. If you notice any of these signs, ensure your dog drinks plenty of water. Seriously dehydrated dogs will have to see a vet, where they can receive fluids directly into their bloodstream.
Skin disorders will often cause dry skin on the nose too. There are many different kinds of skin disorders, caused by problems such as parasites, allergies, autoimmune diseases like lupus or pemphigus, or neurological disorders causing excess scratching. The treatment will depend on the cause. These all need specific medical management, but this list is not exhaustive, and there are many other causes, so if you are unsure, you should see your vet.
Finally, brachycephalic dogs often have dry noses, as they are unable to lick their nose – this is because it is sunken into their face, and their short stubby tongues cannot reach. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to fix this problem. But for dogs like these, or any with a dry nose from another cause, lotions can be applied to help moisturise and sooth the dry skin. Do not use human lotions as many can be harmful if ingested. As always, speak to one of our vets.
So, as you can now see, the idea that a dog with a wet nose is healthy may not always be true. Most dogs will have damp noses most of the time, but if they do not, it may not be a problem. Take some time to understand your dog and how its nose usually is. This means you will be better prepared to identify when it is too wet or too dry, which can be a sign of disease. Combine this with looking for other common signs of disease, like lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhoea. You will soon know whether your dog’s nose should be wet, dry, or both, and what to do if there is a problem.