As a dog parent, how often have you ever wondered, “Why is my dog’s nose dry?” Do I need to call the vet?” It can be hard to know what to make of your dry-nosed pup, but integrative veterinarian, Dr. Julie Buzby, is here to help. She describes how a dog’s nose stays wet, lists 11 reasons for a dry nose, and explains when a vet visit may be in order.
Did you know that part of your dog’s amazing ability to detect smell depends on your dog’s nose staying wet? That wet nose has a very important purpose. The moisture traps odors and helps give your dog his or her amazing sense of smell.
Dogs’ noses also help regulate their body temperature. Evaporation of moisture from the nose and paw pads can aid in cooling, similar to sweating.
So, is a dry-nose dog cause for concern? During my years as a veterinarian, I have talked to countless pet parents who were worried because they noticed their pup’s normally cold, wet nose was warm and dry. It is understandable that they would be concerned because most people have heard the old wives’ tale that says a warm, dry nose means a dog is sick.
Thankfully, although there are many reasons for a dry nose, the majority of them aren’t a problem. To understand why your dog’s nose may be dry, first let’s discover how your pup’s nose gets wet.
What keeps your dog’s nose cool and wet?
There are two ways your dog’s nose gets wet. First, special glands beneath the surface of your dog’s nose produce mucus. This mucus coats the surface of your dog’s nose, keeping it moist.
Second, you’ve probably noticed your dog licking his or her nose regularly, right? Dogs lick their nose to keep it wet and primed for amazing odor detection.
This is important for your dog’s sense of smell, and it’s why your furry family member is 10,000 to 100,000 times better at detecting odors than you are. Amazing, right? An intriguing article from the PBS science series NOVA describes more about dogs’ dazzling sense of smell.
Why is my dog’s nose dry?
Now that you understand how your dog’s nose normally stays wet, let’s talk about what it means when your dog’s nose is dry. Some of these 11 reasons for a dry nose are completely harmless while others are more worrisome.
This one is pretty simple. When your dog is fast asleep, he or she is too busy dreaming to be licking his or her nose. Dogs will often have a dry nose when they first wake up after sleeping, but it will soon become wet again once they resume their usual licking.
Hard exercise, not having a drink of water for a while, or illness can all cause your dog to become dehydrated. This can dry out the surface of the nose. It’s really important to make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water during vigorous exercise so that he or she doesn’t experience dehydration. Dehydration after exercise typically resolves quickly on its own after a drink of water.
If your dog’s dry nose persists beyond a few days or if your dog is showing other signs of illness, it’s best to have your vet check him or her out.
3. Dry eye or blocked tear ducts
Believe it or not, a dry nose may be a sign of dry eye in dogs. The nasolacrimal ducts connect the tear ducts to the nasal canal, so blocked tear ducts or decreased tear production can affect the nose as well.
Unilateral, or one-sided dryness, may be a sign of neurogenic KCS (keratoconjunctivitis sicca, another name for dry eye). The same nerves that control the tear duct help keep the nose moist, so if there is nerve damage due to trauma, infection, or another reason, the eye and nose may be dry on one side.
Generally speaking, dry nose due to dry eye does not resolve with hydration or licking the nose. If you’re concerned your dog may have dry eye, make an appointment with your vet to talk about diagnostic and treatment options.
Dogs with short snouts are referred to as brachycephalic (which literally means “short-headed”). This includes dog breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers. Because of their smushed face conformation, these dogs usually have trouble getting their tongue to reach their noses. Since they may not be able to lick their noses effectively, this means they will have a drier nose than their longer-nosed counterparts do.
On a related note, many brachycephalic breeds are prone to dry eye, so a dry nose may be multifactorial in these dogs.
5. High body temperature or fever
Increased body heat can dry out your dog’s nose. This may happen if it’s really warm outside. (By the way, hot weather also can put your dog at risk for heatstroke in dogs).
Alternatively, sometimes a dog who has a fever will have a dry nose. This may be where the old wives’ tale about a dry nose being a sign of illness in dogs originated.
Typically, if fever is the culprit, your dog will show other symptoms as well. These may include signs of a lethargic dog or having a decreased appetite. These signs of illness warrant a trip to see your vet.
If you’re worried your dog may have a fever and want to check his or her temperature at home, I recommend an ear thermometer. Obviously we can’t convince our puppy dog pals to hold a thermometer under their tongues. The most accurate result is obtained by taking a rectal temperature, but I generally suggest dog owners leave that to the professionals.
Most dogs don’t appreciate having their temperature taken in this way, and it is possible to inadvertently cause pain or injury to the dog’s rectum when taking a temperature. An ear thermometer gives us a good general idea of whether a dog’s temperature is normal or increased.
Speaking of normal temperatures, don’t forget that dogs’ resting body temperature is higher than humans’. Normal dog body temperature is around 99-102.5oF. So don’t worry if your dog’s temperature is not the same as yours!
A dog’s nose is one of the most susceptible places to sunburn, particularly if your canine companion happens to have a pink or pale nose. A sunburn can cause your dog’s snout to become red, sore, cracked, or dry. Luckily, there are many dog-friendly sunscreens you can use on your dog’s nose to keep him or her safe on a sunny day.
Although it’s not the most common symptom of allergies in dogs (allergic dogs more commonly have itchy skin, hair loss, or other symptoms), a dry nose can be a sign of allergies. Talk to your vet about trying Benadryl for dogs to see if it helps your dog’s dry nose, or whether a different treatment option is more appropriate.
8. Nasal hyperkeratosis
This is the term for when the surface of the nose is dry and cracked or crusty. It can happen for several different reasons. For example, nasal hyperkeratosis in dogs is common in many breeds (like Cocker Spaniels) as well as senior dogs of all breeds. However, it is always best to check with your vet to rule out illness before assuming your dog’s dry nose is just breed or age-related hyperkeratosis.
9. Autoimmune diseases
Several autoimmune diseases can cause changes to your dog’s nose. In these diseases, the immune system goes a little haywire and attacks the cells in specific areas like the surface of your dog’s nose.
Two of the more common autoimmune skin conditions that affect the nose are discoid lupus erythematosus and pemphigus. In these conditions, the surface of your dog’s nose may start to bleed or ulcerate. Sometimes the nose will be dry and cracked or dry and peeling, and your dog’s nose may change color or lose its normal bumpy appearance.
These are sure indications that you should contact your veterinarian. Your vet may recommend a biopsy of the nose to get a sure diagnosis.
10. Low humidity and dry weather
It’s not only on hot summer days that your dog may have a dry nose. Low humidity can quickly dry out his or her nose, just like we get chapped lips or dry hands during cold dry weather. Sometimes dogs may seek out sources of warmth, such as heaters, which can further dry out their noses. Fortunately, this type of dry nose in dogs generally resolves on its own.
As dogs get older, they tend to produce less of the mucus that helps keep their nose moist. For this reason, drier noses in dogs are common as they age. Although we know a dry nose is not in itself a sign of illness, older dogs are more prone to health problems, so it’s a good idea to have your senior dog checked by your veterinarian if you notice any changes to their body or behavior.
What does it mean if my dog’s nose is dry?
It’s best to look at what is going on with your dog as a whole when you are trying to interpret the significance of a dry nose. As you can see from the list above, there are a number of reasons that a dog might have a dry snout. Some of them are harmless and go away on their own. However, others do require a trip to the vet.
Signs you should take your dog to the vet
Generally, any time something has changed for your four-legged friend, you should consider getting him or her checked out by your vet. Here are some signs that definitely warrant a vet visit:
- Severe dehydration or sunken eyes
- Crusting, bleeding, or peeling of your dog’s nose
- Nasal discharge
- Excessive sneezing or reverse sneezing in dogs
- Change in the color of your dog’s nose that is not typical for him or her (i.e. not the normal seasonal variation in nose color seen in some dog breeds)
- Loss of normal “cobblestone” appearance of the nose (i.e. loss of the tiny bumps)
- Dryness of one side of a dog’s nose
What can be done about a dog’s dry nose?
In most cases, no treatment is needed when you notice your dog’s nose is a little dry but don’t see any of the other signs (listed above) that warrant a vet visit. Perhaps your dog may have just woken up or gotten a little dehydrated after heavy exercise. Offer him or her some water and see if that helps.
However, if your dog’s nose is sore and crusty or you notice the signs listed above, it’s best to visit your vet to rule out anything more serious. He or she will carefully examine your dog’s nose and the rest of your dog as well.
In some cases your vet may want to biopsy your dog’s nose. He or she will do this by collecting a small tissue sample (typically requiring general anesthesia) from your dog’s nose and sending it to a veterinary pathologist for evaluation under the microscope.
Biopsies are especially helpful for diagnosing autoimmune diseases because the cells will have a distinctive appearance. Although anesthesia and a biopsy procedure may seem extreme, having a definitive diagnosis is important because treating autoimmune diseases often involves immunosuppressive medications.
If your vet suspects your dog has hyperkeratosis or a breed-related dry nose, you’ll be happy to hear that this is often just a cosmetic issue. However, because it can lead to fissures and bleeding, keep a good eye on it and seek veterinary advice if it leads to discomfort.
What can you put on a dog’s dry nose?
Applying a balm to increase hydration can be helpful. Commercially available pet products such as Snout Soother® and Dermoscent BIO BALM® help alleviate dry nose in dogs.
Some human OTC balms such as Aquaphor can be helpful, but be sure to apply only a small amount and rub it into the nose well to prevent your dog from licking it off. Ensure you do not accidentally obstruct your dog’s nostrils when you apply any of these nose balms.
Good news for the dry nose dilemma
The next time you are wondering why your dog’s nose is dry, think through the causes we talked about. Was your dog sleeping or hot? Is it dry in your house? Or are you seeing other concerning signs like a cracking, bleeding, or sore nose? Is your dog acting normal or is he or she showing other possible signs of disease? These questions will help you decide if you should call your vet or offer your dog some water, give it some time, and see what happens.
When in doubt though, it is always best to check in with your vet. Although most causes of a dry nose in dogs are easily remedied, some are more serious.
A dog’s nose gives him or her an amazing sense of smell. With the help of your veterinarian, you can keep your beloved dog’s nose looking good and working well for years to come.
Has your dog ever had problems with a dry nose?
Please share any helpful hints you have for other dog parents who are in a similar position.