Have you ever been lying around at home, minding your own business, when suddenly a wet snout sent shockwaves through the back of your neck? It probably didn’t take too long to realise that the offending schnoz belonged to your pooch.
So why, exactly, is a canine nose so much cooler and damper than a human one? The reasons actually provide some nifty insights into their health and behaviour.
Let’s explore the science behind your dog's slick snout, and some tips for keeping your dog's nose moist and healthy.
The science behind your dog's wet nose
Your dog's sense of smell is about 100,000 times more sensitive than yours. Their powerful nose plays a major role in how they sense — and interact with — the world around them.
We’re sorry to have to tell you this, but the stuff that’s making your dog’s snout so wet is a thin layer of mucus. That mucus is one of the primary factors that makes your pup’s sniffer so formidable: It helps capture scents.
This is hardly the only reason why your pupper’s sense of smell is so powerful. Dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about 5 million in humans. But the moisture around their nasal passages helps to trap scent molecules in the air as your dog breathes. When these molecules dissolve in the mucus, it becomes easier for your pup’s olfactory receptors to detect them.
Lots of licking
You’ve probably seen your dog’s big floppy tongue dart out and give their nose a quick tongue bath. These impressive nose-licking skills help slicken their snouts.
So why do dogs lick their noses?
Apart from cleaning off any debris, these licks help them transfer scent particles from their noses to a specialised olfactory organ called the vomeronasal organ. It’s also commonly called Jacobson's organ, named after the 19th-century surgeon who helped discover it. Go Jacobson!)
Jacobson’s organ is located inside your dog’s nasal cavity and opens into the roof of their mouth. It helps your dog detect pheromones and other chemical signals coming from animals. So if your dog sniffs another dog’s rear end and then licks their nose, now you know why. Feel free to blame Jacobson.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs do sweat — a little. But it’s not enough to help them cool off. The moisture on their nose helps get the job done. As the moisture on their nose evaporates, it helps them to regulate their body temperature and cool down, especially in warm and hot weather.
This is one reason why doggos are often keen to soak their sniffers, whether by licking their nose, plunging their snout into their water bowl, or plowing face-first through a dewy meadow.
Understanding dry noses in dogs
Should a dog’s nose always be wet?
It depends on the specific dog, and on the specific situation. Some breeds have wetter noses than others! Breeds with shorter noses — like Bulldogs and Pugs — may have drier noses, simply because they can’t lick their noses the way some other dogs can. It’s no surprise that Bloodhounds have long, pointed, easily-lickable snouts.
Other factors can also contribute to drier noses:
Dehydration: Unsurprisingly, dogs who don’t drink enough water have drier noses. If your dog is drinking too much water that could be another problem altogether. If your pup’s nose always seems dry, it may be a sign that they’re not drinking enough.
Sleep habits: Dogs that get good, uninterrupted sleep tend to pant less during their sleep cycles, which allows their respiratory systems to rest and recover. As a result, some of the moisture that was lost through panting during their waking hours can then be replenished while they’re sleeping.
Age: While good sleep is a plus, older dogs often sleep so much that they go too long without a satisfying snout-licking. For this and a number of other reasons, senior dogs often have drier noses.
Climate and temperature: Your dog’s surroundings can impact the moisture on their nose. Dry, arid, or windy environments can lead to drier noses.
Exercise habits: Physical activity causes dogs to lose bodily moisture through panting and sweating. Dogs who are highly active may have drier noses, especially if they’re not drinking enough water.
Certain types of toys and bowls: Certain materials used in toys or bowls might cause allergies, itching, irritation, or other skin conditions in some dogs. For instance, plastic bowls may cause contact allergies in some dogs. Allergic reactions can lead to skin dryness, including on your pup’s nose.
A constantly dry nose can severely impact your dog’s quality of life. So even though an occasionally dry nose isn’t always cause for concern, it’s essential to seek veterinary care if your dog is always sporting a Sahara-esque sniffer.
When to seek veterinary care for a dry snout
If your dog’s nose seems to be dry most of the time, you should take them to the vet right away.
A perpetually dry dog nose leads to a diminished sense of smell and an all-around worse life. Your dog’s olfactory experience plays a major role in how they engage with the world. For a pup, a declining sense of smell is every bit as challenging as a declining sense of eyesight would be for a human. A dry nose also makes it harder for your dog to cool down when they’re hot, and may even lead to skin flaking and discomfort.
Just as important, a chronically dry nose may be a sign of a serious canine health problem. We’ve already discussed problems like dehydration and allergies — but dangerous conditions like hypothyroidism and autoimmune disease can also lead to a dry nose.
So if your dog’s dry nose is accompanied by symptoms like loss of appetite, lethargy, unusual mucus discharge, or behavioural changes, you’ll have added incentive to get them to the vet immediately.
Your veterinarian can examine your pup and run diagnostic tests to learn the cause of their dry snout. They may recommend dietary changes, hydration management, or environmental modifications. They may also recommend medications to treat allergies or any other health conditions they diagnose.
And they’re likely to recommend an ongoing treatment plan to meet your dog’s specific needs, which you can oversee in your own time.
How to treat a dry dog nose at home
If you or your vet notice that your dog's nose is frequently dry, there’s plenty you can do to address the problem:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Dehydration is one of the most common causes of a dry snout, and it leads to major problems for your dog’s overall health. Make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water all the time.
Humidify your home: If your dog spends a lot of time indoors in dry or centrally-heated environments, a humidifier could help. It will add moisture to the air, and your dog’s nose is bound to catch some of it.
Balanced diet: A well-balanced diet with proper nutrients can contribute to skin and nose health. You should work with your vet to make sure your dog’s diet is right for their age and size, and appropriate for any health conditions they have.
Steer clear of irritants: If you’re worried that certain toys, bowls, or cleaning products are causing allergies or irritations, try switching to hypoallergenic options. Stainless steel or ceramic bowls are often less likely than plastic ones to cause irritations or allergic reactions.
Regular grooming: Gently cleaning your dog’s nose with a damp cloth can help create healthier skin by removing any dust and debris. You’d be surprised how many health issues can be addressed through proper grooming.
Remember, the right treatment for a dry nose will always depend on the specific underlying causes. Again, a vet visit is crucial. It’ll help you pin down the right course of action for your pup’s specific situation. It’ll also steer you toward prescription treatments and other medical interventions if those turn out to be necessary.
How ManyPets can help your dog's honker
Dry canine noses are often the result of underlying medical conditions. From allergies to auto-immune disorders, ManyPets dog insurance may help ease the financial burden of treatment. But make sure to insure your dog when they’re young! This way, serious and chronic conditions can be covered instead of being excluded as pre-existing conditions.