kolderal / Getty
We've all been greeted by a cold, wet nose first thing in the morning. While this isn't the nicest way to wake up, it does represent the usual state of our beloved canines' noses: cool and a little bit damp.
Why are dog noses typically wet? The primary benefit to a wet nose is that scent particles stick really well to a moist surface, allowing your dog to pick up lots of smells. Your dog has specialized cells in his nasal cavity that produce a thin mucus to help with scenting. When your dog licks his nose, he is both cleaning it and adding moisture. Dogs also process scents partially through taste using their specialized Jacobsen's organ.
Your dog's moist nose also helps to keep him cool via evaporation, just like how we humans sweat.
So Why Is Your Dog’s Nose Dry?
It is a common myth that a dog with a dry nose is sick. Thankfully, this is not true. The vast majority of the time when your dog has a dry nose, it is completely normal and harmless and you do not need to worry.
Your dog's nose being dry to the touch simply means that there is less moisture than usual. His nose may also feel warmer than usual when it is dry. This is an illusion due to the lack of moisture (think about a heated swimming pool versus the air). Water that is 85 degrees feels cooler to the touch than air that is 85 degrees. When your dog's nose is dry, you are feeling something closer to his normal body temperature.
The only time you need to be concerned about your dog's nose being dry is if he has other symptoms, including a change in the texture of his nose, cracks on the nose, lethargy, lesions elsewhere on his skin, or other signs of illness or abnormal behavior.
Normal Reasons Why Your Dog Has a Dry Nose
When your dog sleeps, he isn't licking his nose at all. This can cause the surface to dry out. It is just like when your mouth gets dry if you sleep with your mouth open.
Exposure to the Elements
The sun and wind can both dry out your dog's nose, much like our lips can dry out in the same conditions. Extreme heat and cold can have a similar effect, and lying near a heat vent in the winter can dry your dog's nose out too. This is usually temporary, but prolonged exposure to sun, wind, or extreme temperatures can have detrimental effects.
If your dog has been exercising hard or is over-excited about something, his nose may become dry due to a combination of not licking his nose, not drinking, and drying from the breeze as he runs around. Extensive exercise can also cause mild dehydration, which will dry out the nose.
Older dogs are more likely to have dry noses.
Abnormal Reasons Why Your Dog Has a Dry Nose
While your dog's dry nose is most likely completely normal, there are some more serious health issues that can cause a dry nose. You can identify most of these problems through the presence of other symptoms and the help of your veterinarian.
Dehydration happens when your dog doesn't have enough water in his body and can occur on its own or as a complication of another health problem. A dog with mild dehydration may also have skin that is less elastic than usual. Normally when you grab some of your dog's loose skin, it will snap right back into place when released. Dehydrated skin will return to normal position more slowly, or stay tented in severe cases. Other signs of severe dehydration include tacky gums, sunken eyes, and weakness.
Yes, your dog can get sunburned! Light-colored dogs are especially vulnerable. If your dog has a sunburn, his nose and the skin around it will turn red and peel.
A fever is a dangerous elevation of your dog's body temperature (normal dog temperature is 101-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit). A fever can be caused by a variety of infections and illnesses. A dog with a fever will be lethargic and show other signs of illness.
Dry Eye or Blocked Tear Ducts
Your dog has tear ducts in his eyes that drain excess tears into his nasal passages. If your dog has blocked tear ducts or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS or dry eye), his nose will not be receiving that moisture. If your dog has blocked tear ducts, his eyes will be watery and drain down the side of his face. If he has KCS, he may have thick discharge from his eyes and/or squint and rub at his eyes frequently.
This is a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease. Exact symptoms may vary, but affected dogs get extremely sick. Thankfully, canine distemper can be prevented by keeping your dog or puppy up to date on his distemper vaccination.
Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis
This genetic condition causes crusting and cracks on the nose. It most commonly affects Labrador retrievers and shows up between 6 months and 2 years of age. Thankfully these dogs are otherwise totally healthy. There is a genetic test for hereditary nasal parakeratosis, so responsible breeders can easily avoid producing this condition in their puppies.
Idiopathic Nasodigital Hyperkeratosis
This is the overgrowth of keratin on the nose. It usually occurs in older dogs, and brachycephalic breeds, but cocker spaniels may also be predisposed. The nose will look rough and may appear pointy in places. Hyperkeratosis does not usually cause other issues, but can be uncomfortable. Affected dogs may also have a buildup of keratin on their paw pads. The cause is unknown.
Autoimmune diseases that can cause a dry nose include discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and pemphigus. Dogs with DLE will have sores around the nose and changes in pigmentation (color), and the nose itself will often become totally smooth and lose its cobblestone appearance. The surface of the nose may also bleed. Dogs with pemphigus frequently have lesions all over their bodies.
This disease is caused by a parasite transmitted by biting sand flies. The cutaneous form of leishmaniasis causes hyperkeratosis (overgrowth of keratin, or thickening and hardening of the tissues) on the nose and paw pads as well as pigment changes and a brittle hair coat. Dogs usually get the visceral form of this disease and will show general signs of illness including but not limited to: lethargy, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, nose bleeds, and soreness.
Dog Dry Nose Treatment and Prevention
Most of the time when your dog's nose is dry it will resolve quickly on its own. But if your dog has a chronically dry nose, there are some things you can do to keep his sniffer moist and healthy.
Make sure that he always has access to clean, fresh water to stay hydrated.
For light-colored dogs, you can apply a dog-safe sunscreen to his nose and muzzle to protect him from sunburn.
Apply a dog-safe nose balm to his nose to provide extra hydration. These products are available through your veterinarian, pet supply stores, or online.
For dogs with idiopathic nasal hyperkeratosis, your veterinarian can trim off the excess keratin. He or she may also dispense a steroid or antibiotic cream if your dog's nose has fissures and cracks to help them heal. Soaking the nose with a warm, moist towel and then applying petroleum jelly will help to keep the nose nice and soft.
If your dog has other symptoms in addition to a dry nose, he should be seen by a veterinarian promptly. Treatment will depend on which underlying disease is present.