Why do cats have wet or dry noses?

August 18, 2023 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Cat face close up. Portrait of a young tabby cat, macro shot. Selective focus. Close up.

Doggy snouts get all the glory. When they’re not detecting distant food or predators, they’re leading search parties or taking down drug kingpins. But feline noses are pretty darn impressive too.

Cats have around 200 million scent receptors in their noses. That doesn’t match Rover (dogs have around 300 million!), but it puts the human schnoz to shame (a paltry 5 million!).

Just as canine noses are superhighways of information, a cat’s nose plays a paramount role in helping them navigate their environment. And like dogs, cats often get more utility out of a moist sniffer than a dry one. Read on to learn why your cat’s nose is wet, how often it should stay that way, and when to seek veterinary care for an arid feline honker. 

The Science Behind Your Cat's Wet Nose

Man petting a fluffy cat on a pink couch

Your cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times more powerful than yours, and its slick sheen is a big reason why.

Magnificent Mucus

Your cat’s nasal passages host a thin layer of (not-at-all-gross) mucus, and that mucus has an important job to do: The moisture helps your cat’s nose trap scent particles. This is not only a crucial mechanism for helping your cat navigate their environment but also for boosting their appetite and helping them identify food. If your cat’s nose is dry due to illness or allergies, they may not be as hungry as they should be.

A Salivary Assist

You’ve probably seen your cat lick their nose. They do it quite a lot, and not just to show off. This avid snout-licking is another factor in keeping your kitty’s snout nicely moistened and well-equipped to trap smells. It also helps them clean off dust and debris. (If you hadn’t noticed, cats are very big on using their tongues to clean themselves.)

On top of all this, nose-licking helps cats transfer scent particles from their noses to the “vomeronasal organ,” a specialized organ that opens into your cat’s mouth and helps them detect chemical signals coming from other animals, like pheromones.

FYI, Dogs have this olfactory organ too; it’s commonly dubbed Jacobson’s Organ, named after the 19th-century Danish surgeon Ludwig Jacobson, who helped discover it. (He’s not even the most famous Ludwig of the 19th century, but it’s still nice to have something named after you.) 

Keeping Cool as a Catcumber

While cats trump humans in terms of scent receptors, they’ve got nothing on our sweat gland count. As a result, they need to find other ways to regulate their body temperature. A wet nose helps them do just that, as evaporating moisture from their snout helps them cool down, especially in warm weather.

Of course, cats have many tricks up their fur when it comes to staying cool. (And that’s very fortunate — an overheated cat can suffer serious health consequences, like heatstroke.) For one thing, cats are staggeringly adept at coating their entire bodies with their own saliva, which leads to another one of those cooling-down-from-evaporating-moisture situations. (Isn’t it nice to just have sweat glands?) 

A wet nose is but one small piece of the feline puzzle when it comes to keeping cool—but it is a piece!

A white and yellow cat rests with its eyes closed in a living room next to a glass cabinet.

Understanding Dry Noses In Cats

Factors like environment and breed can play a big role in drying your cat’s nose. A cat is less likely to boast a perpetually slick snout if it lives in a hot, dry location. Plus, certain types of cats tend to have drier noses. This is especially true of breeds with shorter noses, like Persians and Himalayans. Their short, compressed muzzles limit their noses’ exposure to anything that could make them wet.

Your cat’s dry nose might be related to something harmless, like their environment or their breed traits. But in some cases, other issues might be at play, like:

  • Age: For a number of reasons, including metabolic changes and a decline in snout-licking, senior cats (even healthy ones) often have drier noses than younger, friskier felines.

  • Dehydration: Not surprisingly, cats who aren't drinking enough water can develop drier noses. If your cat's nose seems drier than the desert sands, they may not be hydrating enough.

  • Sleep Habits: When your cat sleeps well, they tend to be less active during their sleep cycles. This means they expend less energy and don’t lose as many fluids through behaviors like grooming or panting. Less fluid loss = a wetter nose!

  • Certain Materials and Allergies: Like dogs, cats can often develop allergies, or sensitivities to certain materials. Some cats might poorly react to plastic bowls or other products, leading to skin dryness, including on their noses. The same can be true of environmental allergies.

Cat scratching its ears

When to Seek Veterinary Care for a Dry Snout

As a general rule of paw, a frequently dry snout is often more worrisome in dogs than in cats. However, there’s a difference between dry and super-duper dry. If your cat’s nose is cracked or peeling, and hasn’t been wet in recent memory, it’s wise to visit the vet—especially if you’re also noticing other signs of illness, like lethargy, loss of appetite, constant meowing, or changes in behavior.

Your cat’s dry nose may be causing them pain or discomfort. They may be having trouble regulating their body temperature. Your cat could be living with a weakened sense of smell, which could hurt their appetite and overall quality of life. And your cat could be suffering from allergies, or an even more serious cat health condition.

Your vet can conduct a thorough examination and identify the causes of your feline friend’s insufficiently moist nose. They might recommend adjustments to your cat’s diet, a new hydration routine, or changes in their environment. Depending on the diagnosis, your vet might also prescribe medications for allergies or for any other medical conditions they uncover.

Your veterinarian can help you tailor a treatment plan to your cat’s unique needs while giving you the tools and know-how to implement their advice at home on an ongoing basis. Speaking of which...

How to Take Care of a Cat’s Dry Nose at Home

After consulting with your vet, there’s plenty you can do at home to help your cat’s nose achieve its full moisture potential:

  • Help Them Hydrate: Dehydration can contribute to a dry nose and impact your cat’s overall health. Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times. If they simply won’t drink as much as they should, feeding them wet food may help (though you should always consult your vet before changing your cat’s diet).

  • Balance Your Cat’s Diet: A well-balanced diet that’s rich in essential nutrients can support skin and nose health in cats. You’ll have to consider factors like your cat’s age, size, and underlying health conditions. Again, you should always consult your vet before changing up your cat’s diet.

  • Create a Comfortable Environment: If your cat spends a great deal of time indoors, especially in dry or air-conditioned spaces, consider using a humidifier. Hopefully, a wetter atmosphere will give rise to a wetter snout.

  • Get Rid of Irritants: If you’re worried that certain toys, bowls, or other household products are producing allergic reactions or skin irritations, you should explore hypoallergenic alternatives. For example, stainless steel or ceramic bowls might be gentler on your cat's skin than plastic ones.

  • Gentle Grooming: You can use a soft, damp cloth to dab at your pet’s nose. You’ll help them maintain healthier skin, and moisten their snout in the process.

One last note: Don’t skip the vet visit and move straight to home remedies! Your veterinarian can pinpoint the specific factors contributing to your cat’s dry nose and recommend the appropriate course of action. And, if necessary, they can develop a treatment plan that involves prescription meds or other medical interventions.

It’s essential that any home treatments be tailored to your cat’s specific underlying health conditions.

How ManyPets Can Help Your Cat’s Nose

Dry feline noses are often the result of chronic medical conditions, like allergies. ManyPets cat insurance may help ease the financial burden of treatment. But make sure to insure your cat when they’re young! This way, costly medical conditions can be covered instead of being excluded as pre-existing conditions.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.