What Your Dog’s Nose Can Tell You About His Health

by Cate Burnette, RVT

Did you know that your dog’s nose is completely individualized? Just like the human fingerprint, the ridges on the canine nose are distinctly individual for each dog – no other dog in the world has the same nasal imprint. There are other things your pup’s snout can tell you about his health and what is going on in his environment.

Whether your pooch’s nose is the palest pink, a soft brown, or the deepest black, a variety of things can cause it to change color.

  • Dogs with pale or sensitive noses will show some minor color change with the change in the seasons – similar to people who easily tan.
  • Dogs that eat or drink out of plastic dishes may suffer from contact dermatitis caused by the chemicals used to make the plastic, and their noses can redden and start flaking. Changing to a glass or ceramic dish will take care of this problem.
  • Normally light-colored noses easily sunburn and can redden and become painful with overexposure to bright sunlight. Repeated exposure over the years can result in skin cancers, called melanomas, on your pup’s snout and other pink-skinned, pale-haired areas of his body. Make sure your dog has plenty of shade if he’s outside all day and consider keeping him in during the hottest part of the day. There are canine sunscreens out on the market that you can purchase to protect sensitive areas. Please note: if your pup has a bad burn that blisters or bleeds, you need to contact your veterinarian.

A dog’s wet nose serves two purposes –

1) to help the dog smell

2) to help the dog shed heat. The thin mucus on your dog’s nose allows heat to evaporate from his body and works the same way as panting does to bring down internal body temperature. This same liquid also provides a sticky surface for chemicals in the air to become trapped and dissolve down into the skin, where the olfactory cells (the ones that detect and differentiate smells) are located.

Typically, a dog that is alert and actively sniffing the air or ground will have a wetter nose than one who is relaxed or sleeping. It is not uncommon for your dog to lick his nose so that the chemicals that are there go from his tongue directly onto another smelling organ located in the roof of his mouth. This type of sensory adaptation, coupled with the long folds of olfactory tissue located in a dog’s snout, is the reason canines have such an excellent sense of smell.

It is a common myth that a dry nose means your dog is sick. Relaxed and sleeping dogs commonly have dry noses. Watch for symptoms of illness to determine if your dog is unwell. A dog with a dry, hot nose that is lethargic and also running a fever needs to see a veterinarian. So does a dog with a nose that is wetter than usual and runny with a thick or crusty discharge. Many vets think this myth came about when the canine distemper virus was common. One symptom of distemper is skin-cell thickening of the nose and footpads. A cool, wet nose was considered a good sign the dog was healthy back before distemper vaccines made this horrible disease less common.

If you feel like your pup’s nose is a bit too dry or you just want to clean his nose and muzzle, you can try all-natural, pre-moistened pads or wipes to keep him moisturized and dirt free. Find the kind that are alcohol-free and made with colloidal silver (a broad-spectrum natural antibiotic) and herbs such as Golden Seal and Eyebright that work to reduce inflammation and contain skin enriching nutrients.

If you’re looking for a moisturizing effect, try Paw & Nose Rub by Cain & Able Collection. Unlike some balms that are petroleum based Paw Rub is made with shea butter. It’s an excellent carrier of other healing ingredients but shea butter itself helps improve the healing process, improves moisture retention, soothes and protects the skin from environmental damage.

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1 Comment

  1. I am concerned about my male German Shepherd Dog’s nose. He is 9 yrs old & I noticed about a week ago that his nose has become very dry & seems to have “bugers” in it. His nose has always “dripped” on one side but it was just a clear watery looking discharge & the vet said nothing to worry about. It not only doesn’t drip anymore it seems like he is “stopped up”. I try to clean it out & put vitamin E oil on it but he resists, hates me doing it & acts like it hurts (my shepherd will usually let me do anything to him when I am firm with him). What has me more concerned is that now I have noticed his breathing is different, seems slower & almost labored. My husband said maybe its becuz he is congested. Can dogs get colds?


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