What a dog's nose can tell us
My dog has a dry, warm nose, does this mean that my dog is sick? Owners often ask our vets this question. The simple answer is that it is not a sign of ill health and can be normal. The main reason a dog’s nose is usually wet is because they secrete mucus that helps to enhance their sense of smell.
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Wet or dry: what could it mean?
Dogs use olfactory receptors in their nose to collect important information about food and their environment. Humans have approximately six million olfactory receptors, whereas dogs have up to 300 million. The part of their brain that analyses smells is 40 times bigger than ours! Another reason why dogs have a wet nose is that they sweat through their paws and noses, which helps to cool them down.
A normal, healthy dog’s nose can vary between wet and dry several times over the course of a day. The common reasons for a wet or dry nose are too much time spent near a heat source, such as a radiator, a fan or lying in the sun. However, sometimes a dog's nose can cause problems. For example, dogs that spend a lot of time outside can be exposed to the elements and their nose might become damaged by the sun, wind, frost or snow; very similar to humans with chapped lips. Dogs are also more likely to lick their dry nose which can exacerbate any issues.
Symptoms of ill-health associated with the nose
- Unusual nasal discharge
- Persistent sneezing
- Breathing difficulties
- Flaking, crusting, swollen or blistered skin
- Discharge from the eyes
If your dog has a constantly runny nose, or the mucus changes colour, it can be an early sign of an upper respiratory tract infection. Dogs with these signs, those that are persistently sneezing, or have discharge from their eyes, should visit their vet.
Causes of health problems associated with a dry nose
- Respiratory infections
- Sun exposure or sunburn (solar dermatitis)
- Chapped skin from the wind or cold
- Nasodigital hyperkeratosis: a build-up of keratin, the fibrous protein in hair and nails, on the nose and footpads of older dogs
- Hereditary nasal parakeratosis of Labrador Retrievers: a thick hard crust builds up on the dog’s nose, and usually occurs in young dogs at around 6-12 months of age
- Drug reaction
- Nasal folliculitis: a deep infection, often associated with trauma or insect bites
- Autoimmune disease: for example, Pemphigus
What can you do to help your dog?
- Ensure that your dog is not spending too much time in the sun and that they have a warm, draft-free place to sleep.
- Check that your house is not too warm for your dog. Ensure that there are cooler places for them to escape to. Ideally, keep your house at a constant temperature and keep your dog’s bed away from drafts.
- Check your dog’s nose after a walk: remove any mud, and check for wounds or insect bites.
- Please be aware of the risk of sunburn to your dog, especially light-coloured dogs, and those with thin fur, or pink skin on the ears and nose. We suggest avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun. However, if you are in any doubt, use a special pet-formulated sun-screen on all exposed areas, as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions.
Treatment of a dry nose
Treatment may not be needed. Diagnosis and treatment options will depend on the results of a clinical examination by your vet, and any tests that are done. If the skin is chapped, your vet might discuss moisturisers to protect the area. Autoimmune diseases are very rare, so other diseases are typically ruled out first.
When to see your physical veterinarian
- A persistent nasal discharge or sneezing
- If your dog is lethargic or sleeping more than normal
- If your dog is not responding to you or does not seem well
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