Why Are Dog Noses Wet?
By Dr. Carly I. O'Malley July 12, 2020
If you are a dog owner, chances are you have heard that a wet nose on a dog is a sign of a healthy dog. You may have been startled awake in the morning from your dog’s wet nose or felt it against your hand while your dog is trying to get you to play with them or bring them on a walk. Dog noses serve very important purposes not only for the dog, but for humans as well. A dog’s sense of smell is much stronger than humans, so dogs are often used for scent detection in a variety of industries. Dogs are even entrusted for important work such as law enforcement, search and rescue, wildlife conservation, and health care. Understanding how their nose works helps us keep dogs happy and healthy and keep their primary sense intact. In this article, we will discuss why dog noses are wet, when to be concerned about your dog’s nose, and how to promote a healthy sense of smell.
Why Are Dog Noses Wet?
Dog noses are wet to help collect scent particles from the environment. A wet nose also helps dogs dissipate heat to regulate their body temperature. While a cool, wet nose can be a sign of good health, this is not the best indicator of overall health (Buzhardt).
A dog nose stays wet as a result of mucus membranes in the nose, saliva from the dog’s mouth administered by the tongue, and through interactions with the environment. Similar to human nostrils, there are mucous membranes that keep the inner part of the nostrils wet. The mucus helps collect scent particles, dust, and pathogens. Dogs also frequently lick their noses. This is one of the reasons dogs have such long tongues. They lick their nose in order to keep it clean and wet. Licking the nose also helps dogs further process scent by bringing the scent particles into the mouth. A dog’s sense of smell and sense of taste are closely linked. Dogs can bring scent particles into their mouth to process them with the vomeronasal organ, which helps combine the two scents for greater overall scent processing. If a dog’s nose is dry, they may miss important environmental cues. A dog’s nose also picks up moisture while dogs are sniffing their environment. Dogs sniff all over the place and may get many things on their nose including water from puddles, plants, or other environmental features (Buzhardt). Besides their amazing ability to detect scent, a dog’s nose plays an important role in regulating body temperature. Dogs cannot regulate their body temperature as well as humans can because they do not have sweat glands. Dogs typically release heat through the pads of their feet, their mouth, and their nose.
The Function Of A Dog’s Nose And Their Sense Of Smell
A dog’s nose is an important part of their olfactory system, or sense of smell. Puppies are born with a sense of smell and use it to stay connected with their mother and littermates. Most of the other senses develop later on (Meyers, 2019). The main parts of the olfactory system include the nose, nasal cavity, olfactory epithelium and receptors, vomeronasal organ, and olfactory bulb. The primary role of the nose is to breathe in odor molecules. The other parts of the olfactory system help detect the odor molecules and send the information to the brain for processing (Jenkins et al., 2018). Dogs can smell 10,000-100,000 times better than humans. This is largely due to 300 million olfactory receptors in dogs compared to 6 million in humans (Meyers, 2019). Dogs can also smell better than humans due to the vomeronasal organ. The vomeronasal organ sits between the oral cavity and nasal cavity, around the roof of the mouth. There are special receptors in the vomeronasal organ that allow for greater odor processing, specifically for social and reproductive behaviors with conspecifics (Jenkins et al., 2018).
Do All Dogs Have Wet Noses?
All dogs have the ability to wet their nose. The wetness of a dog’s nose may vary between individuals based on their breed, genetics, overall activity levels, climate they live in, and a number of other factors.
Should You Be Concerned If Your Dog’s Nose Is Dry Or Warm?
Contrary to popular myth, a cool, wet nose is not a good measure of dog health. The wetness of a dog’s nose may vary throughout the day based on their activity level. At any point in a healthy dog’s day, the nose may be cool, dry, or warm (Becker). The most important aspect to pay attention to is your dog’s normal physiological state. If your dog’s nose is abnormally dry and warm, that may indicate a health issue such as dehydration. If your dog’s nose is unusually wet, this may indicate a respiratory infection. The presence of excess mucus coming out of the nose or blood is a sign that you need to contact a veterinarian right away.
What Are Ways To Care For Your Dogs Nose?
A dog’s sense of smell is their most important sense. Puppies are born with a sense of smell and it is the primary way dogs get cues from their environment. Taking proper care of your dog’s nose will help them live a healthy, happy life. The primary way to take care of your dog’s nose is to take them for regular checkups at the veterinarian and to generally monitor their overall health and welfare. Illnesses, such as respiratory infections, can disrupt their sense of smell. The other way to take care of your dog’s nose is to let them use it! Too often, people get caught up in trying to physically exercise their dogs to keep them calm but forget about mental exercise. Letting your dog sniff the environment is vital for mental exercise. When you bring your dog for a walk, let the walk be for them. Let them sniff as much as they want to and find other ways to physically tire them out besides daily walks. Giving them the opportunity to sniff their environment on a regular basis will help keep their nose in great shape and make your dog healthy, happier, and calmer.
Other Facts About Dog Noses
- Did you know that dog noses can get sunburned?
A red nose with dry skin may be the result of sunburn. A sunburned nose is more likely to occur in dogs with light colored noses. If your dog is prone to this, there is dog-specific sunscreen lotion! Lather up your dog’s nose to help them enjoy the sun while staying protected (Becker).
- Did you know dog noses can come in a variety of different colors?
When we think about dog noses, black is probably the color that comes to mind. But dog noses can be black, liver, blue, butterfly (patches of pink within the nose), Dudley (pink nose), and snow (pink stripe in the middle that might change with the season). The color of a dog’s nose can change as they age. For some dogs this means their nose will change to a lighter color as they age. This is thought to be due to loss of pigment (Becker).
- Did you know that dog noses are very sensitive?
A dog’s nose may change in color or texture based on environmental irritants or injuries. Some dogs may get a chapped or cracked nose in certain weather conditions. A dog’s nose may also develop contact dermatitis as a result of sensitivities to their food or water bowl. Stainless steel bowls can help reduce skin irritation compared to plastic bowls (Becker).
- Why is my dog’s nose textured?
You may have noticed that dogs have textured skin around their nose rather than smooth skin. The skin around a dog’s nose is known as rhinarium or more casually as nose leather. Each dog’s nose texture is unique, similar to our fingerprints. The textured skin helps the nose sense subtle changes in the environment.
- What is the slit in the middle of my dog’s nose?
That slit is called the philtrum. It is an important feature for keeping the nose wet as it helps transfer moisture from the mouth to the nose.
It is a common myth that healthy dogs have cool, wet noses. However, this is not always the case. A dog’s nose may vary in moisture and temperature throughout the day based on their overall activity level, hydration level, and climate. A dog’s nose is very important to them. As a dog parent, it is important to get your dog regular health checkups, protect them and their nose from injury or irritation, and encourage them to use their nose to sniff! A wet nose helps collect scent particles from the environment and send them into the olfactory system for detection and processing. Dogs have a sophisticated olfactory system that allows them to smell much better than humans can. The next time your dog startles you with their wet nose, remember all the amazing things dogs can do with their noses.
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Becker, K. What to expect at your pet’s nose? Retrieved on July 8, 2020.
Buzhardt, L. Why do dogs have wet noses? VCA Hospitals.
Jenkins, E.K., DeChant, M.T., and E.B. Perry. 2018. When the nose doesn’t know: Canine olfactory function associated with health, management, and potential links to microbiota. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 5:56.
Meyers, H. 2019. Puppy senses: How your puppy sees, hears, and smells the world. American Kennel Club.