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What Does it Mean When a Dog’s Nose is Dry?

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My Dog's Nose is Dry What Should I do?

It’s myth-busting time! How often have you heard the Old Wives’ Tale that a cold, wet nose signals health for a dog? That meant a warm, dry nose indicated illness, right? Wrong! It turns out dogs with dry noses can be perfectly healthy. It just depends on the circumstance. So if you’ve noticed your dog’s nose is dry, consider the possible reasons before you panic.

The Science Behind the Wet Dog Nose

Where did that Old Wives’ Tale come from? Well, from basic logic: a wet dog nose works better. Dogs have an insane sense of smell. It’s how they “view” and interpret the world. And scent particles stick to damp surfaces better than dry surfaces.

Your dog’s nose is coated with a thin layer of mucus. (Yeah, that’s what gets stuck to your window) The mucus gets produced in glands in the nasal passages. It traps smells. Your dog then licks that mucus off their nose. The tongue then passes over the roof of the mouth to a specialized scent organ called the Jacobson’s organ. Reptile enthusiasts will recognize that name – it’s the same organ snakes and lizards utilize. Your dog TASTES scent particles!

Wet dog noses help them scent the world around them

Keeping Things Cool

Dogs don’t have a lot of options when it comes to regulating body temperature. Their noses are one of the few organs they rely on when it gets hot outside. The nasal passages produce a clear, watery fluid that bathes the nose. Natural evaporation takes over, keeping your dog nice and cool. That’s right – your dog sweats through their nose. (Okay, so those window prints are mucus AND sweat)

The Dry Dog Nose

So what about the times your dog’s nose is dry? Occasional episodes of dry nose aren’t a big deal. They’re usually a result of environmental change. If you fix the problem, your dog’s nose will reset. Other causes of dry nose are rooted in medical concerns, and you may or may not be able to enact changes. Instead, you’ll need to speak with your veterinarian about a course of treatment.

Your dog's nose will get dry sitting in front of heaters

Environmental Causes of Dog Dry Nose

When natural causes lead to a warm, dry dog nose, you can rest easy. There’s nothing wrong with your dog, health-wise. You may or may not need to make adjustments to the household, but a trip to the vet isn’t required.

  • Air Circulation: Just like us, dogs need fresh air. Kennels or traveling long distances in cars or planes can dry out your dog’s nose. Try to take frequent breaks to stretch your dog’s legs outside. Your dog shouldn’t spend extended periods in a kennel without proper ventilation.
  • Heaters/Sunshine: Was your dog lounging in the sun or next to the heating vent? The warm air dried out their nose. Move them away from the heat source and wait 10 minutes. Their nose will return to normal.
  • Nap Time: Dogs lick their noses to refresh the mucus layer and collect those scent particles. It’s something they repeatedly do throughout the day, but NOT when they’re sleeping. Naturally, their noses dry out. Again, give them 10 minutes after waking, and their nose will “refresh.”
  • Winter: Notice your hands and lips cracking in the winter months? Cold, dry air plagues both our dogs and us. Consider getting a humidifier for your home (you and your dog will appreciate it).

Winter will give your dog a dry nose

External Medical Causes of Dog Dry Nose

The outside world CAN play a part in drying out your dog’s nose. Some of these causes have the potential to lead to trips to the vet. If you suspect your dog has any of these conditions, make an appointment right away. The sooner you start treatment, the faster your dog will begin to feel better. (Remember, Dr. Google is NOT a substitute for a veterinarian)

Allergies

Do you hate allergy season? Your dog might, too. That’s right, dogs (and cats) suffer from allergies. Allergies manifest in a variety of symptoms, including itchy, dry noses. (Sound familiar?) You won’t only see dry nose, though, so if that’s the only thing you’re seeing, odds are something else is going on. The most common sources of allergies in dogs are:

  • Environmental (this is the HIGHEST incidence)
  • Fleas
  • Plastics
    • Avoid plastic bowls – use stainless steel instead
    • Opt for plush or rubber toys
  • Food (LEAST common, which surprises people)

If you suspect your dog has allergies, talk to your vet. They can perform allergy testing to determine the exact allergens responsible. This IS expensive, so a lot of owners opt for allergy prescriptions. You can try to avoid suspected sources, but if you aren’t sure which plant outside is the culprit, you might not win. (My sister’s dog is allergic to every plant on the planet – literally)

If you DO go for allergy testing, specific allergy injections get compounded for your dog.

Dehydration

Dehydration results in a dry dog nose. You’ll also see sunken eyes, dry gums, and lethargy. Why? Because there’s not enough fluid in your dog’s body. Whether your dog just finished vigorous exercise or temperatures are climbing, ALWAYS provide plenty of fresh water. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY. Prolonged dehydration leads to a condition known as hypovolemic shock. Trust me – you DON’T want that!

Dehydration can lead to a dry nose - always provide plenty of fresh water

Sunburn

Wait, sunburn? Yes, especially if your dog has a pale or pink nose. NO dog should spend excessive time outside in the sun, or they can end up sunburned. This will not only lead to a dry dog nose, it can result in blisters and severe pain. Repeated sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer. Talk to your vet about a pet-safe sunblock.

Sunburn can result in a dry dog nose - monitor pale or pink noses in the sun

Internal Medical Causes of Dog Dry Nose

Heartbreaking as it sounds, there are some causes of dry dog nose that you have no control over. Some conditions require long conversations with your vet regarding treatment plans. You’ll have a lot of follow-up appointments, and you’ll need to monitor your dog carefully. And, in truth, that dry nose is the least of your concerns.

Auto-Immune Diseases

Auto-immune diseases occur when your dog’s immune system fails to recognize their cells as their own. Instead, they target them as “foreign.” Your dog’s nose dries out, crusts over, and cracks. However, you’ll also see peeling skin, lesions that erupt when disturbed (DON’T poke at them!), and infection. Two common culprits are:

These particular auto-immune diseases get diagnosed through lab work and biopsies of the nose. If left alone, they continue to worsen. Treatment includes an immune-suppressive drug such as prednisone.

Brachycephalic Breeds

Brachycephalic dogs, like Pugs and Bulldogs, are notorious for dry noses. Those short snouts make it difficult for them to lick their noses. Since they can’t refresh their noses, they dry out. So it isn’t uncommon to see these dogs with lumpy, crusted, cracked noses.

Some of these breeds are also prone to blocked tear ducts. This same condition leads the nose to dry out, since the nasal passage is part of that anatomy.

Nasal Hyperkeratosis

Nasal hyperkeratosis is a genetic condition resulting from excessive keratin in your dog’s body. Keratin is the protein that makes up the outer layer of the skin (like your fingernails). With hyperkeratosis, your dog produces an overgrowth on their nose (there’s also a version involving the paw pads). The keratin forms a hard, crusty shell on the nose. If that crust cracks, infection can infiltrate. The most common breeds affected include:

  • Affenpinschers
  • Bedlington Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dogues de Bourdeaux
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Irish Terriers
  • Labrador Retrievers

Cocker Spaniels are prone to hyperkeratosis which can lead to dog dry nose

Hyperkeratosis usually pops up by age one. Treatment? You guessed it – your vet. They soften and remove the hardened skin. (DON’T try to do this yourself! You can cause serious injury!) If there’s an infection, they prescribe antibiotics.

What to Do About Your Dog’s Dry Nose

Is your dog’s dry nose cause for alarm? The majority of the time, no. If you feel your dog is uncomfortable, you can create a “sauna” by running a hot shower in the bathroom and let your dog stand in the steam. It’ll soften the nose tissue and moisten their nasal passage.

There are over-the-counter lotions sold for dry dog nose, but there’s a little problem. What’s the first thing your dog does when you put something on their nose?

Lick it off.

Most nose lotions AREN’T safe for ingestion. Unless your vet specifically prescribes a cream, you shouldn’t apply anything to your dog’s nose. If you’re honestly concerned, speak with your vet.

Sleeping dogs get dry noses, but it isn't a need for concern

Wet or Dry?

Your dog’s nose isn’t a barometer for health. A lot of the time, dog noses grow dry as they age – it’s a natural process. What that means is you need to look at your dog as a whole for their picture of health.

If you’re ever uncertain about your dog’s nose, make an appointment with your vet. They’ll let you know if that dry dog nose is worthy of concern.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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