Dry Nose in Dogs: Does Your Dog Nose Reflect Their Health?

A healthy dog’s nose ought to be wet and cold, right? But, just because it usually is, it doesn’t automatically mean your dog is sick when their nose is dry or warm.

A dog’s nose usually feels cold. Because it’s wet; evaporation cools. The wetness and coldness go hand in hand.

If the nose is cold because it’s wet, why is it wet? It is wet from being licked. Licking moistens it with saliva and helps distribute mucus that helps to keep it moist. You can experimentally check how wet or cold your dog’s nose is when they are sleeping and, therefore, not licking it. See what you find.

Dogs lick their nose because a wet nose improves their abilities to smell by being able to better capture scent particles. A wet nose also serves as part of their internal climate control.

Dry Nose in Dogs: Does Your Dog Nose Reflect Their Health?

When and why is a dog’s nose not wet and cold?

As mentioned above, their nose will get dry and warm when they’re sleeping for a while. Did you test that? I recommend you do. Lounging in the sun or around a radiator, dry air, or dehydration [such as after exercise] can all contribute to your dog’s nose being dry.

As your dog ages, they might sleep more, their body might produce less mucus … all of which can lead to a dryer, warmer nose as well.

Should you ever worry about your dog’s dry nose?

Everything is about the bigger picture. So while the notion that a warm, dry nose automatically means your dog is sick is a myth, there are times when you need to pay attention.

If your dog were ill, they might present with a dry, warm nose or a nose wet from a discharge. They are, however, likely to exhibit other signs of illness, such as lethargy, lack of appetite, pale or dry gums, vomiting, and so on. Those signs are more important indicators that your dog is ill than whether their nose is wet or dry.

Where does the myth come from?

Since this is a deep-rooted belief, what are the origins? The best guess seems to be that it started at the time when canine distemper was a common disease plaguing the dog population. One of the symptoms of advanced distemper is a dry, crusty nose.

Dry Nose in Dogs: Distemper
Distemper nose. Photo: Kind Hearts in Action

Canine distemper symptoms break down into two stages. The signs of the initial stage include:

  • nasal discharge
  • eye discharge
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • coughing
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

A dry, scaly nose follows the initial acute stage of the disease. In the next stage, your dog develops neurological symptoms.

Source: American Kennel Club

When is a dry nose a concern?

Your dog’s nose can change color for benign reasons. But suppose it is consistently dry and/or changes color and texture. In that case, I recommend you have it checked because your dog might have aspergillosis or an autoimmune disorder such as discoid lupus or pemphigus.

Autoimmune diseases don’t get better on their own, particularly if triggers persist, such as sun exposure in case of discoid lupus. Knowing your dog and using good judgment are key.

Dry Nose in Dogs: Discoid Lupus DLE
Discoid lupus (DLE). Photo McKeever Dermatology Clinics

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Nasal Discharge

Further reading:
Is Dry Nose a Sign of Illness in Dogs?

Categories: Dry noseSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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