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Does a Dry Nose Mean My Dog Is Sick?

Is a healthy dog's nose always wet?

It's commonly thought that you can tell a dog is healthy if his nose is cold and wet, but this isn't necessarily true. Not only does a cold, wet nose not always indicate good health, but a warm, dry nose doesn't automatically mean a dog is sick.

Why Is A Dog's Nose Often Wet?

In order to discuss a canine's warm nose, it's important to understand why a dog's nose is often wet and cold. Dr. Stanley Coren, author of "What Dogs Know," 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 a dog's cold, wet nose is up for debate. Here are a few proposed explanations:

  • Housekeeping: 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.
  • Cooling off: 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.
  • Scent detection: 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.

Why May a Dog's Nose Sometimes Be Dry?

  • A healthy dog's nose is often warm and dry after sleep.
  • For some dogs, a dry, chapped nose is normal, especially with age.
  • Dehydration or exertion may cause a warm, dry nose.
  • Lying in the sun or spending time near a heat source may result in a dry nose.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog's Nose?

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 good health. However, there are some times when a dog's dry, warm nose could be of concern. If it is associated with any of the following signs, see your veterinarian right away:

  • Listlessness.
  • Acting painful.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Redness and/or the flaking skin on or around the nose.
  • Presence of nasal discharge.
  • Cracked nose or sores and scabs on the nose.

Even if your dog's nose is wet and cool, any of the above signs require a visit to the veterinarian.

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