Why Do Cats Have Wet Noses?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM September 12, 2019
That early morning wakeup from your feline friend wouldn’t be complete without the touch of a wet, cold nose. It’s probably the last thing that you’re wondering about that early in the day, but why do cats have wet noses? After all, any wetness to your nose has you reaching for a tissue, but cats don’t seem to have that concern. The truth is the wetness (or dryness) of a cat’s nose is dependent on many factors. Let’s get into those factors and learn more about when you should be concerned.
Why Do Cats Have Wet Noses?
A wet nose is dependent on many different environmental, health, and physical factors. It can be as simple as moisture left over after a grooming session or as complex as an upper respiratory infection. Your cat’s nose may also be dry sometimes without reason for concern. However, if your cat’s nose changes are accompanied by any other physical or behavioral changes, you should see your veterinarian.
Having a wet nose can be very beneficial to cats in many ways. It can promote the cooling of a warm body and help attract certain scents and smells. Let’s get into the causes of your cat’s wet nose in more detail.
The wetness of your cat’s nose is highly influenced by the air temperature and humidity around it. Warmer, humid weather leads to condensation of the water particles in the air that your kitty exhales, making the outside of the nose damp. Cold, dry air, on the other hand, can actually suck the moisture from the nose, causing a dry and even cracked nasal planum. Lying in the hot sun or near a heater may also wick away nose moisture and lead to a drier nose.
Most kitties are fastidious drinkers and are very well practiced at keeping their face clean and dry during the process. However, if the water level in their bowl is low, your cat may accidentally dunk their nose in a little too deep when trying to drink. This type of wet nose is typically short lived but may lead to some excessive licking that will keep it moist a little while longer.
Since a cat’s nose is within reach of their tongue, any licking could possibly spread moisture up to the nose. When grooming (as cats do frequently) their nose gets pushed through damp fur, gathering moisture as they lick themselves. Since cats don’t have the ability to sweat anywhere except through the pads of their feet, keeping their nose wet can serve as a way to cool them off in hot weather. Licking their nose puts moisture out there that will evaporate and help dissipate some of their body heat so that they don’t get too hot.
When a cat’s eyes tear up, the overflow fluid is drained from the eyelids and goes to the nose via the nasolacrimal duct. Anytime your kitty is excessively producing tears, such as with eye irritation from allergies or an illness, the moisture travels down and causes a wet nose.
- Upper respiratory infections
Kitties are susceptible to many types of upper respiratory infections. These illnesses are most commonly present with runny eyes, a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. Any and all of these symptoms can lead to a wet nose.
A Cat’s Sense of Smell and the Importance of Their Nose
There’s much more to a cat’s nose than just whether it’s wet or dry. The nose is the gateway to your cat’s most important sense: smell. While you may have seen a dog track a person or another animal with their nose to the ground, the truth is that cats have a better sense of smell than their canine friends. With over 200 million scent receptors in their nasal cavity, cats have the ability to smell their prey, find their way home, and identify other animals and humans in their lives. They can also tell where you’ve been throughout the day with one quick whiff.
Smell is also an important component of eating. With fewer taste buds than other animals, the smell of a cat’s food means much more to cats than the taste of it. That’s why cats with upper respiratory congestion may stop eating until they get their sense of smell unblocked. If you want to learn more about your cat’s senses, then take a look at our cat senses article.
Do All Cats Have Wet Noses?
We’ve just discussed the possibility that your cat’s nose can change from wet to dry multiple times throughout the day, so it’s fair to say that wild cats are no different. They may experience a wetter nose during warmer weather and a drier nose when the temperatures drop. Having a wet nose can aid in body temperature regulation and some even hypothesize that it can enhance a cat’s ability to smell, so it would make sense that cats in the wild would take advantage of a sniffer that’s more moist.
What Is The Wet Substance On A Cat’s Nose?
The fluid that makes your cat’s nose wet is most commonly saliva from licking or tears that have drained from the eyes. It can also be snot when your kitty is feeling under the weather. A cat’s nose can also be moist due to secretions from the nasal cavity. One way that a cat’s nose helps to prevent illness and rid their body of possible allergens is by gently flushing them out of the nasal cavity before they have time to get deep inside the body.
Is A Dry Nose On A Cat Cause For Concern?
Generally speaking, a dry nose on your feline friend means nothing other than the weather may be turning cold or they were standing under the ceiling fan. When a dry nose is a cause for concern is when it’s coupled with other troubling behavior or symptoms such as a fever, decreased appetite, or lethargy. You can often judge your cat’s relative body temperature by touching their nose or ears, so a nose that is dry and overly warm or hot would indicate an illness or even heat stroke. Be sure to visit your veterinarian if your cat has a dry nose and any other strange symptoms or behaviors. If you notice that your cat’s nose is suddenly dry, just be more attentive to their regular behaviors so that you can catch anything that may seem a little bit off.
What If My Cat’s Nose is Dripping Wet?
The degree of wetness of your cat’s nose can change several times throughout the day. Don’t be alarmed unless there seem to be other issues involved as well. A nose that runs or drips can be indicative of an upper respiratory infection or allergies. Take note of the color of the drainage. Thick, colored drainage usually means a bacterial infection while clear drainage can mean a viral infection or allergies. Most often, these illnesses also present with coughing, sneezing, and runny eyes. A fever, decreased appetite, and lethargy often follow as well. If your cat’s dripping wet nose is accompanied by any other symptoms or behavior changes, it would be a good time to see your veterinarian.
Some Fun Facts About Cat Noses
If the fact that cats have a better sense of smell than their canine counterparts wasn’t enough, these other little nose nuggets might intrigue you:
- Cats have individual nose prints, similar to fingerprints on humans, which are specific to each cat. While nose print identification isn’t yet a thing, it may be in the future!
- The color of your cat’s nose is related to the color of their skin. Lighter colored cats have lighter colored noses and vise versa.
- Air comes in through the front, round parts of your cat’s nostril and exits through the slits on the underside. This process helps them better determine which direction a scent is coming from.
The next time you give your kitty’s little nose a 'boop,' you won’t have to wonder why it is wet and cold. Not only does adding a little moisture to a nose help increase a cat’s sense of smell, it also helps to regulate their body temperature on hotter days. However, don’t be alarmed if your finger is met with a dry nose rather than a wet one since the moisture level of a cat’s nose can change throughout the day. As with anything, getting to know your cat’s normal behaviors will help you determine if a really wet or really dry nose is anything to worry about.