A closeup of a dog's nose.

At Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital we hear it all the time: “I can tell he doesn’t feel well; his nose is dry.” There was no dedicated Dog Nose 101 class in veterinary school so it is easy to wonder if the status of your dog’s nose has anything to do with how your pet is really doing from a health perspective. 

So what can you tell from a dog’s nose? Read on and we will share our knowledge.

The Dog Nose and Overall Health

Typically, a dog nose is shiny and slightly moist. This is due to a thin layer of mucus on the surface of the nose that helps to trap smells and enhances scent. Dogs also lack sweat glands over their body, and the nose and paw pads are the few places where perspiration happens. The dog nose is actually a pretty interesting body part!

It is normal for the appearance and level of moisture on a dog’s nose to fluctuate from day to day. Things like weather exposure, age, and hydration levels can affect the nose itself. Certain breeds of dogs, especially brachycephalics like pugs and bulldogs tend to have drier noses simply because their anatomy doesn’t allow them to moisturize with their tongues. 

A wet, shiny nose doesn’t always guarantee a clean bill of health either. Certain health conditions like allergies, neurological issues, and anxiety may increase moisture and/or licking, creating a moist nose. 

The status of a dog nose hardly ranks in comparison to things like heart rate, respiratory rate, and mucous membrane color as one of the long list of vital signs taken in a physical examination. So many things can affect it, and not all of them are significant. 

Slight changes are not really any cause for alarm. It is helpful, though, to know what is normal for your individual pet and alert us to deviations from your pet’s baseline. 

What We Can Tell

So, if a dog’s nose can normally fluctuate between wet and dry, and moist isn’t always good and dry isn’t always bad, is there really any point to paying attention at all?

In short, yes, to a certain extent. 

There are definitely some dog nose changes that should alert you to an issue. These include:

  • A dry, red nose +/- flaking which can indicate sunburn (common in pets with little pigmentation)
  • A dry, cracked surface, sometimes resulting from bacterial or fungal infection
  • Sores, especially where the nose meets haired skin that can be a sign of an autoimmune disorder
  • Sudden changes in the coloration or texture of the nose that could indicate some type of infectious or cancerous process
  • A very dry nose that is not normal for the pet, which can happen with dehydration (although other more reliable parameters are often looked at instead)
  • Colored drainage from the nose that may indicate some type of respiratory infection

A sudden change in your dog’s nose probably warrants investigation. Most systemic issues that affect the nose are going to be accompanied by other, and likely more obvious symptoms, but there are certainly some problems that can affect the nose itself. 

We appreciate when our clients pay close attention to small changes in their pets and share that information with us. Many times these observations hold valuable clues about what is going on with our four-legged patients. Insight about your pet’s nose is just one of the pieces of information that may be helpful when we are helping your pet.