Why Is My Dog's Nose Wet?

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If you are a dog owner, chances are you have been awakened by a cold, wet nose snuffling in your face. But what makes your pooch's sniffer so soggy? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding what you can tell about your dog from his nose, what signs his nose is giving you that something might be wrong, and why in the heck it's so wet sometimes.

First, some basic anatomy

A dog's nose is a wondrous thing. They have a much more developed sense of smell than people do, boasting nearly 4 times the number of olfactory (that means "used for smelling") cells than people. This allows them to smell things that we would never detect with our ordinary, underdeveloped human noses, and it's what makes dogs so great at jobs like search and rescue.

When dogs lick their noses, they transfer the chemical "footprints" of smells to the olfactory glands in the roof of the mouth, allowing the dog to separate and identify them. This also keeps the surface of the nose somewhat wet.

The nasolacrimal duct delivers tears – that's right, the same solution that keeps the surface of the eye moist – to the interior of the nose. These play a role in keeping the interior and exterior of the nose moist.

Finally, have a look at your dog's nose, then at the pads (the underside) of your dog's feet. The skin in both areas is kind of similar, correct? This type of skin – essentially the only skin on your dog's body that lacks hair – is unique in that it's the only skin that allows evaporative cooling. In other words, these areas are the only place your dog can sweat, and thus both play a huge role in keeping your dog cool.

A wet nose means he's healthy, right?

Not necessarily. The idea that a wet nose means a healthy dog is incorrect. There are several reasons why your dog's nose may be wet or dry, cold or warm.

Why was his nose dry yesterday?

Just like humans, a dog's temperature fluctuates throughout the day. A dog's nose may be dry after sleeping, partly due to the drop in body temperature, and partly because he has not been licking it while he was asleep. After running around outside, sniffing and licking, your dog's nose will likely be wet.

Dogs change as they get older. Older dogs exhibit dryer eyes and noses than younger dogs. This is partly due to age, and could also be linked to decreased activity.

When a wet nose isn't normal

Typically a dog's nose is universally moist, not dripping wet. A small amount of clear (also known as "serous") nasal discharge – maybe a drop or two – is normal from time to time. If your dog has thick discharge, or the discharge is not clear, it may be a sign of infection, blockage, or another medical issue. Have a veterinarian check your dog out if he has thick, crusty, or discolored mucus or if he is repeatedly pawing at his nose.

Bleeding from the nose also isn't normal, and can indicate a lot of different medical problems. Ingesting poison meant to kill rats will impair the dog's ability to clot normally, for example, and sometimes the first sign you notice might be a few drops of blood from the nose. Having one of several diseases caused by tick bites can impair clotting as well. The bottom line – bloody noses need to be checked out right away!

Why is my dog sneezing?

Your dog may also be sneezing due to a respiratory infection. Most dog owners have heard of "a kennel cough," and it does typically cause coughing, but it can also cause some sneezing. Canine influenza is a very serious infectious disease that can start with a little sneezing and quickly progress to life-threatening pneumonia. If his sneezing becomes frequent or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should have him checked out by a vet.

Another reason for the sneezing could be a blockage inside his nose. Your dog could have snuffled something up into his nose that he is trying to dislodge, like grass, a seed, or a fragment of food, or he could have developed a wart or tumor inside the nasal cavity.

If you suspect that there is something inside your dog's nostril – if he is repeatedly sneezing, pawing at his nose, or rubbing it along the ground, do not try to remove the object yourself. It may look like leather, but a dog's nose is actually made up of three layers of skin. Compared to the rest of his body, which is composed of five layers, the skin of your dog's nose is thinner and more sensitive. The skin of a dog's nose can be easily cut or damaged, and can bleed profusely. Take your dog to a veterinarian for an exam if you suspect he may have a foreign object in his nose.

Written by PetCoach Editorial September 12, 2018
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