Wet Nose, Warm Heart
It's commonly thought that you can tell a dog is healthy if the nose is cold and wet, but this isn't necessarily true. A cold, wet nose doesn't necessarily indicate good health. Conversely, a warm, dry nose doesn't automatically mean a dog is sick. A healthy dog's nose is often warm and dry after sleep. For some dogs, a dry, chapped nose is normal, especially with age. The temperature of your dog's nose is a poor gauge of overall body temperature. If your dog has a warm nose but is alert and acting normally, he's probably in perfectly fine health. But if your dog is listless, acting painful, or has a poor appetite, then it's time to call the vet—regardless of how the nose feels!
That said, why are dogs' noses typically cold and wet? Dr. Stanley Coren, author of What Dogs Know,1 offers a biblical explanation. As the tale goes, Noah used dogs to patrol his Ark and keep the animals safe. One day, while sniffing around, the dogs discovered a coin-sized hole in the ark. One dog quickly plugged the leak with his nose while the other ran for help. Noah patched the hole in time and all hands were saved. God bestowed the dog with a cold, wet nose as a reward for his quick thinking.
All legend aside, the exact reason for the cold wet nose is up for debate. Here are a few proposed explanations:
A dog's nose gets into everyone's business, not to mention his food dish. He constantly licks his nose to keep it clean, leaving it cool and wet.
A dog is covered with hair, and is unable to sweat through the skin like a person does. Instead, dogs dissipate body heat through their mouths, by panting, and through their wet noses, by evaporation. Special mucous glands inside the dog's nostrils produce the clear watery fluid that helps speed the cooling process.
A dog's sense of smell is approximately one million times greater than ours. It's thought that a wet nose helps absorb the tiny water droplets that carry a scent, making the most minuscule odors easier to detect.
So remember that either a wet or dry nose can be normal. However, if your dog seems sick, or if you notice swelling, ulceration, or unusual discharge from your dog's nose, be sure to consult your vet.
- Coren, Stanley. What Do Dogs Know? New York: Free Press. 1997.
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