- Wet noses work better than dry ones — Dogs’ noses work best when they’re wet since scent particles stick to damp surfaces.
- A dog’s sense of smell is essential to their survival — Much like humans use their sense of sight, a dog’s nose helps them make sense of the world around them and communicate with other dogs.
- The wetness of a dog’s nose isn’t a good indicator of their health — Sick dogs can have wet noses, and healthy dogs can have dry ones.
If you’re like most pet owners, you’ve probably felt your dog’s cool, wet nose rub up against you and wondered: why are dogs’ noses wet? Or perhaps the opposite has also happened to you, where you noticed your dog’s nose was warm and dry and wondered if everything was okay. While neither a wet or dry nose is inherently a cause for concern, both can signal an underlying problem. That’s why it’s important to understand how a dog’s nose works so you can take the appropriate steps if you notice something off about their sniffer.
How a dog’s nose works
It’s common knowledge that a dog’s sense of smell is their strongest sense, but the science behind our best friends’ razor-sharp noses is truly remarkable. While humans have around 6 million sensory receptors in their noses, dogs have a whopping 100 to 300 million. On top of this, the area of a dog’s brain dedicated to analyzing scents is 40 times larger than the same area in the human brain. Dogs even have an extra tool in their nasal passages known as Jacobsen’s organ, which acts as a secondary olfactory system that allows them to process subtler chemical scents with no discernible odor, like pheromones.
The structure of a dog’s nose plays another key role in helping them detect and make sense of different smells. A dog’s nasal cavity is divided into two chambers and nostrils, or nares, both of which can wiggle independently of the other and process smells separately. Mucus inside the nasal cavities traps particles whenever a dog sniffs so their scent receptors can adequately process them. Similarly, moist particles are also trapped by the moisture on the outside of their nose.
Why are dogs’ noses wet?
There are several reasons why a dog’s nose may be cold and moist. A wet nose works like a sensory Swiss army knife for dogs, helping them analyze odors, regulate their body temperature, and keep themselves clean all at once.
Special glands located in the inner lining of a dog’s nose continually produce mucus to keep their nasal glands moist. Some of this mucus coats the nostrils and exterior of the nose to increase the absorption of scent chemicals and improve the dog’s ability to smell. This helps dogs detect subtle changes in the environment that humans can’t pick up, including reductions in the concentrations of odor molecules that occur over time, which allows them to easily track the direction of a particular person or animal.
It’s commonly said that dogs don’t have sweat glands, but that isn’t exactly true. Dogs actually have two different kinds of sweat glands located on their bodies: apocrine glands, which are located all over the body and produce a scent similar to body odor, and merocrine glands, which are located on the nose and paw pads.
Apocrine glands don’t actually aid with cooling, but merocrine glands produce a small amount of sweat that leads to moist paw pads and wet noses. This is why you can sometimes see wet paw prints when walking your dog on a hot summer day. If you notice your dog’s nose is wet and cold, it could just be that their body is trying to cool them down.
Health and hygiene
Wet noses are also commonly caused by licking. If you notice your dog frequently licking their nose, there’s no cause for concern. They’re most likely just cleaning the dirt off their snouts that accumulated when they went sniffing around the yard or neighborhood! Dogs also lick their noses to transfer trapped scent chemicals from their nose to the olfactory glands on the roof of their mouth and enhance their sense of smell even more.
Communication and interaction
Dogs use their noses to make sense of the world around them much like humans use their eyes. Long before they were domesticated, dogs relied on their sense of smell to find a suitable mate, recognize their offspring, and steer clear of predators. To this day, our canine companions can communicate with one another purely by scent. Each dog emits a unique combination of compounds known as amines and acids, the aromas of which let them know exactly what another dog likes to eat, what gender they are, and even what their current mood might be.
Can my dog’s nose be too wet?
While it’s perfectly normal for a dog’s nose to be moist to the touch, an overly wet nose may indicate that something’s wrong. An overly wet nose can be a sign of allergies, respiratory infections, or foreign bodies trapped inside the nasal passages. A dog’s nose can also be too wet from excessive licking caused by underlying pain or irritation. In rare cases, excessive nose licking may stem from a psychological issue that requires professional analysis.
While many dog owners associate wet noses with good health, an overly wet nose can be just as much of a warning sign as an overly dry one. Consult a veterinarian if you notice excessive mucus around your dog’s nose, especially if the mucus is thick and discolored (usually yellow or greenish). Similarly, bloody mucus can be a sign of inflammation, infectious disease caused by ticks, or cancer.
What if my dog’s nose is dry?
While a dog’s nose is optimal when it has a bit of moisture, a dry nose isn’t inherently a cause for concern. In fact, the temperature and moistness of a dog’s nose aren’t typically reliable indicators of their overall health. Common causes of dry noses include:
A dog’s nose may become dry after strenuous physical activity due to a combination of dehydration, a prolonged period of not licking their noses, and the wind blowing on them as they run. In these cases, their noses should regain some moisture after they get a chance to rest and rehydrate.
Hot, windy weather conditions can naturally dry out a dog’s nose over time, especially if they’re napping, exercising, or engaged in any other activity that keeps them from regularly licking their nose. In the winter, their nose might dry out from spending too much time near a heat source like an air duct or fireplace.
A dog’s nose can also be easily impacted by sunburn, since the skin around their snout is pretty sensitive. This often results in dry, crusty, or flaky skin that’s painful to touch, and commonly affects breeds with pink or pale noses and light-colored dogs.
👉Apply a quality dog sunscreen to your pup’s nose to protect them from the sun’s rays.
Age and breed
All dogs are different, and some dogs just have noses that are naturally drier than others. In particular, brachycephalic breeds, or breeds with short snouts, have a hard time properly licking their noses, which causes them to dry out fairly often. Common brachycephalic breeds include Boston terriers, boxers, bull mastiffs, French and English bulldogs, pugs, and shih tzus.
Similarly, some spaniel breeds suffer from blocked tear ducts that can cause their noses to dry out faster than others.
Drier noses also affect older dogs the same way wrinkles affect older humans. This is rarely a cause for concern, though you may want to invest in a good nose balm to keep it moist and help maintain their sharp sense of smell.
If your dog has a dry nose but is acting normally, there’s probably no cause for concern. However, a dry nose can also be one of many symptoms triggered by an underlying problem or illness. These include:
- Dehydration. When a dog becomes dehydrated, their nose follows suit. Minor cases can typically be alleviated just by giving your pup a constant supply of fresh water, but more severe cases may be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and heat stroke.
- Overexertion. While it’s normal for a dog’s nose to dry out after strenuous exercise, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of overactivity like exhaustion, heat sickness, stiff or sore muscles, and wear and tear on the paw pads, any of which may require more serious attention.
- Heatstroke. This condition is characterized by a dangerous increase in a dog’s body temperature to 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. When it appears suddenly, heat stroke is often the result of exposure to intense environmental heat. Associated symptoms include elevated breathing rate, dry or sticky gums, abnormal gum color or gum bruising, confusion, lethargy, and seizures.
- Allergies. Dry noses can also be caused by environmental allergies, food allergies, or dermatitis caused by flea allergies . It can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of canine allergies, but you can usually narrow down the culprits by conducting an in-depth allergy test with a vet.
- Autoimmune disease. Rare autoimmune conditions like lupus, pemphigus, and hyperkeratosis have been known to change the surface of a dog’s nose, triggering dryness, cracked skin, and bleeding. Lupus in particular causes the nose to lose its pigment, turning black areas pink and making the normally-textured surface of the nose appear totally smooth.
🚨 Seek immediate veterinary care if you spot symptoms of any one of these conditions in your dog.
It’s perfectly normal for a dog’s nose to fluctuate between wet and dry depending on their surroundings and activities. If they’re acting normal with a dry nose, there’s probably no reason to go running to the vet. If their nose seems adequately wet, even better! Just keep an eye out for other symptoms of underlying health issues and make sure to give them all the water they need to thrive. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with a solid nose balm for dogs.
Frequently asked questions
What does it mean when a dog’s nose is dry?
Nothing, usually. It’s common for a dog’s nose to dry out when they’re doing something that keeps them from regularly licking it, like napping or exercising. However, a dry nose can also be a sign of more serious conditions like dehydration, overexertion, heatstroke, environmental or food-based allergies, or autoimmune conditions like lupus.
Should a dog’s nose be wet or dry?
A dog’s nose shouldn’t be any one way or the other. While wet noses work better than dry ones when it comes to tracking and analyzing scents, it’s totally normal for a dog’s nose to dry out after exercise, exposure to the elements, or even a nap.
What does it mean when your dog’s nose is wet?
A dog’s nose is wet when they’re sufficiently hydrated or regularly licking the area. A wet nose helps them trap scent particles in their nasal passages and get a better sense of different smells. On the other hand, a nose that is overly wet may be a sign of an underlying respiratory infection or allergy.
Are dogs happy if their nose is wet?
Not necessarily. While a wet nose is generally considered to be a sign of good health in dogs, it’s not an accurate indicator of their overall health or mood. A happy dog could very well have a dry nose from time to time, and an anxious dog could have a wet one.
Do dogs like it when you touch their nose?
While dogs will often touch people with their noses on their own terms, they don’t generally like being touched on the nose. The nose is a highly sensitive area for dogs, and touching it with your hands may cause them fear or discomfort.