Why is my dog's nose wet?

Most vets and dog owners agree: a cool, moist nose is a sign of good health for your pup. But what exactly is the reason for a wet nose?

Wet noses work better.

A dog's sense of smell is an important tool for assessing surroundings and communicating, and dogs' noses are wet to help them absorb scent chemicals. Their noses secrete a special mucus that helps to absorb these chemicals, and then they lick their noses to sample them, helping them understand what the smell is. 

The sense of sight is of utmost importance in humans, so human brains spend more time interpreting visual data than olfactory information. Dog brains are just the opposite, focusing on what the dog smells more than what he sees. The bottom line is a working nose is essential to canine survival - and wet noses work better than dry noses.

Wet noses keep dogs cooler.

Much like how sweating keeps humans cool, the liquid their noses secrete wicks out to the nose surface, evaporates, and then helps to cool the dog. The nose pad and the footpads are the only places dogs are able to sweat, so this cooling mechanism (along with panting) can be important to them, especially in hot weather. Additionally, our furry friends tend to lick their noses frequently, which—much like humans licking their lips—tends to keep their noses moist.

What if my dog's nose is dry?

The most common “normal” condition for a dog's nose is damp (wet, not dripping or running) and cool to the touch. However, there are exceptions. The most important thing as a dog owner is knowing what’s normal for YOUR dog.

Some pups naturally have warmer or dryer noses. This is more common in old age, or in dog breeds with shorter snouts. A dog’s nose may be dry after waking up from a nap. Since dogs’ noses stay wet due to licking, the absence of licking during sleep results in a dry snoot. Environmental factors such as very warm or windy weather, or even sitting next to a heat source in winter, can cause the nose to dry out.

If your pup’s nose is normally cold, but suddenly it’s warm and dry and your pup isn’t acting like their normal self, that could mean that something’s wrong. And if their nose is normally dry but suddenly it’s runny, that could also indicate a problem.

As a general rule of thumb, these symptoms should always prompt a vet visit:

  • Significant drainage or discharge, especially if it is thick, mucoid, or yellow/green. 

  • Bleeding from the nose.

  • Changes to the character of the nasal area, including thickening, discoloration, cracking, flaking, redness, swelling, bleeding, etc. of the nose or surrounding skin.

  • Sneezing, coughing, itchy/watery eyes, or any other upper respiratory symptoms. Difficulty breathing requires an immediate vet visit.

  • Any signs of illness, such as lethargy, loss of interest in normal activities, loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, etc.