What Your Dog's Nose Can Tell You About Their Overall Health
A dog's nose is his primary tool for exploring his surroundings. In fact, it's jam-packed with millions of sensory receptors that help process odors and pass olfactory information to the brain, giving canines the ability to decipher who or what lurks in the shadows at lightning speed. Scent particles are generally attracted to damp surfaces, which is why you'll see Fido lick his nose (often hundreds of times a day), giving it that moist appearance and cool temperature. But even so, dryness and warmth aren't necessarily indicators of a medical problem. Here, we break down the truth behind the oft-mentioned warm-nose syndrome.
Why a Dog's Nose Is Typically Moist and Cool
Glands in a dog's nasal canals secrete mucus and other fluids that leave the outside of the nose wet—and for the same reason that he's always licking it: A wet nose enhances his ability to discern the source of smells in his environment. Also, your pup's tear ducts are constantly at work, producing tears to keep both eyes lubricated. When there's excess, they can drip down over Fido's face or drain through the base of his nose (similar to what happens when we, as humans, cry). The evaporation of all of these liquids helps to regulate his core body temperature by cooling down his nose.
Why It Gets Hot or Dry
In the morning or after a nap, Fido's nose could feel dry simply because he wasn't licking it while asleep. And just like with people, the skin around the nose can also take a beating from prolonged exposure to the sun or wind with age. A snout that feels hotter than normal "actually means very little," says Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and author of the San Diego Humane Society and author of Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness (National Geographic Partners, 2019). "Occasionally fever is the cause, but most often, Fido is just overheated."
When to Seek Veterinary Care
In reality, the temperature and texture of a canine's nose is not a perfect indicator of his health, in and of itself. It's possible that a dog with a drier, hotter muzzle than most is totally well, while one with a super-wet one is sick (excessive nasal discharge can signal a respiratory infection, after all).
Even so, if you feel pronounced roughness or dryness when placing a hand on your dog's nose or see that the skin is chapped, cracked, or bleeding, it's possible that dehydration, allergies, or an autoimmune disease is at play. "As a result, the nose's normal self-moisturizing function is on the fritz," says Weitzman, "or your dog just doesn't feel well enough to lick it."
Any serious illness, however, will typically manifest in other symptoms like a loss of energy, or shift in appetite or weight. "Such changes are signs of a health concern," says Weitzman, "and the same goes if your pet seems to be drinking significantly more or less water than usual." Also, consider the quality of his skin, coat, and nails, all of which can deteriorate in visibly evident ways when your dog is ill, adds Weitzman. If you notice that your dog's nose continues to feel hotter and drier than normal over several hours, or the condition is accompanied by any of the above symptoms, it's a smart idea to take your pet to the vet.