Nothing is ever black and white – there’s always shades of grey. But some things are certain, like a healthy dog’s nose should be wet… right? Well it may not be the case. Today we are asking why a dog’s nose is wet, what it might mean and why dry doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy.
Dog noses are amazing – they have many more olfactory neurones (nerves that detect smell) than us, and a wider variety of them, and their part of the brain that registers smells is larger than ours, so they can smell many thousands of times better than us. Using their sensitive noses we have taught dogs to sniff for drugs, money, missing people, explosives, animals and even Covid and cancer! As well as their amazing ability to sniff, dogs use their noses to warm and humidify the air they breathe, to filter out harmful bugs and particles, and to cool them when they’re too hot. Such important organs have to stay healthy!
And as the saying goes, a healthy dog has a wet nose. But is this really true?
Myth vs Reality:
The answer is: sometimes! A healthy dog’s nose can be wet for various reasons that help with its functions. All noses secrete some mucus to trap anything that might damage the lungs – if this drips down, the clear fluid can moisten their nose. Dogs also lick their noses regularly which makes them wet – by doing this they carry some scent particles into their mouths which can then be sensed through a special organ called the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ, in the roof of their mouth (this is one reason why smell and taste are so intricately linked).
But dogs can’t sweat?
A dog at exercise can get a little sweaty (it is a myth that dogs do not sweat – they do, but mainly from their nose and their feet pads) to get rid of excess heat which causes a moist nose. All of these causes of moistness can actually help them smell even better, as smell particles get trapped in the moisture and are more easily inhaled to be sensed. Finally, dogs can have a wet nose simply because they got it wet! If a dog is out in damp weather, exploring puddles or ponds, or sticking their nose in wet things, it can make the nose wet!
A dry nose must mean my dog’s unwell, right?
There are also times when a perfectly healthy dog may have a drier nose. The moistness of the nose fluctuates throughout the day and may simply be not as wet sometimes. At home especially, where dogs will not be smelling or exercising excessively, it may be dry. After sleep their nose is often dry, as they have not been licking it during their sleep. And if they are in a colder house, they may not be losing moisture through their nose to cool down, so it may remain dry.
So to summarise and answer the question: a healthy dog can have a dry or a wet nose! It depends on their activity level, their environment, their behaviour and many other factors. If your dog is otherwise healthy and happy, and their nose is not excessively dry or wet, you can safely assume they are well.
There are times, however, when we can say a dog’s nose is too dry or too wet. What may cause this?
Probably the biggest cause of a “too wet” nose is excessive discharge. This is usually linked to a respiratory disease-causing excessive mucus production. The mucus is usually thicker and coloured compared to normal clear and watery discharge. Look out for other signs of respiratory disease such as lethargy, wheezing and panting, rapid breathing or collapse. Most respiratory diseases can be treated easily.
Dealing with allergies
Allergies can cause a similar issue, particularly if your dog is allergic to something inhaled like pollen – most allergies can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs. Your dog’s nose could also be too wet because they are licking it excessively. Often this is linked to underlying pain or irritation, such as the above allergies. However, it could also be a psychological issue that may require further investigation.
Dehydration and exposure to the sun
On the flipside, a dog with a nose that is too dry could be dehydrated. Dehydration can be dangerous so please rehydrate them if you can and get the dog checked by your vet quickly. Other signs include lethargy, a skin tent, sunken eyes and pale gums. Sunburn can also cause a dry nose, as the skin blisters like sunburn on human skin. It should be treated with topical creams from the vet immediately, otherwise your dog can lick the burn and cause a secondary infection. It is always good to prevent sunburn by keeping your dog in the shade or putting doggy suntan lotion on their nose, ears and other exposed areas. Skin diseases can also dry out the skin and cause irritation.
Out of reach
Finally, brachycephalic dogs, like pugs and French bulldogs can get overly dry noses – because of their facial deformities, their tongue may not reach their nose to moisten it, letting it dry out. On the flipside, nearby skin folds can trap moisture and become infected, so your flat-faced dog could have a nose that is both too dry and too wet! Pay special attention to the noses of dogs like this – moisturise the dry nose and clean and dry wet skin folds.
So although a wet nose is an indicator of good health, while a dry nose can mean the opposite – it’s not always this clear. A healthy dog can have a dry or moist nose, but if they get ill can become too dry or too wet. Be on the lookout for changes like this as they can be great early warning signs your dog isn’t quite tip-top. But just be sure to spot other changes too, as a dry or wet nose on its own doesn’t indicate health on its own.
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