You may have heard people talk about their dog’s nose as an indicator of their overall health. Well this can actually be true! Changes in your pup’s nose can be indicative of changes in their health.
These changes can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, bacterial infections, thyroid or hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disease, or even cancer.
Here we provide some insight on what your dog's nose might be telling you.
A Healthy Dog’s Nose
Should your dog’s nose be wet? A moist nose is usually an indicator of a healthy pup. When the nose is moist, it indicates adequate hydration. We also want to see air flow in and out of both nostrils.
A healthy nose has sufficient blood flow. Some mucus is normal, and is actually a sign that the nose is doing its job of keeping the air clean as it enters the lungs.
Photo by Evi Kalemi
Dry Nose in Dogs
If your dog’s nose is dry, it is usually a good indication that your dog is dehydrated. Fresh, clean water should always be available for your pup. Dehydration can occur via reduced water intake, vomiting, diarrhea, or increased urine output.
These symptoms can be caused by a variety of issues. The first is limited access or no access to clean water, or competition for resources such as water by other household pets.
Causes of diarrhea can include dietary changes, consuming spoiled food, bacterial or parasitic infections, and many more. You can read more about causes and treatment for diarrhea in our Guide to Diarrhea in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment.
Kidney and liver diseases can also affect hydration and urine output. If you notice that your dog is dehydrated, then this would signal a check-in with your veterinarian.
Hypothyroidism, or issues surrounding the thyroid, is another potential cause of a dry nose in dogs. Hypothyroidism occurs when the activity of the thyroid is reduced and therefore is unable to produce thyroid hormones.
Photo by JC Gellidon
Common symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, dry skin, hair loss, and a dry nose. Hypothyroidism can be caused by an immune-mediated disease known as lymphocytic thyroiditis, thyroid gland atrophy, or an iodine deficiency.
You can read more about Thyroid Issues in Dogs and the Role of Iodine here.
If your dog’s nose is dry and cracked, this can be a sign that they have been dehydrated over a long period of time, or it can be due to hyperkeratosis.
Hyperkeratosis is a common condition seen in senior dogs. This condition occurs when dogs produce too much keratin. In addition to cracking of the nose, paw pads may also be cracked.
Topical creams can be used to alleviate symptoms of hyperkeratosis. Signs of discharge or swelling could indicate an infection and your veterinarian should be consulted for additional treatment options.
A moist nose is a sign of good health, however, there can be too much of a good thing! One of the most common causes for excessive mucus production is allergies. Environmental or dietary allergies can both cause an increase in mucus production. Additional symptoms of allergies may include wheezing, runny eyes or discharge, itching, dry skin, dermatitis, upset stomach, bloating, and diarrhea.
Exposure to perfumes, dust, human dander, pollen, etc can all cause allergic reactions including a runny nose. Dietary allergies or food intolerances can also trigger the immune response resulting in a runny nose. Check out our blog on Understanding Allergies in Dogs and How to Help for more information on allergies.
Other causes for a runny nose or excess mucus production can include; nasal polyps, an infection (bacterial, parasites, or viral), cleft palates, nostril blockages, or a nasal fistula.
Nasal polyps often require surgery for removal whereas infections will be resolved with medications (ie. antibiotics). Blockages of the nostrils may require veterinarian assistance to remove as the nasal cavity can be fragile, and minor tears can cause significant nosebleeds. After removal, antibiotics may also be necessary to prevent infection.
A cleft palate or oral-nasal fistula are corrected with surgery.
Sores or Lesions On or Around Nose
Signs of sores or lesions around the nose can be an indication that your pup needs a veterinary check.
Autoimmune diseases are a potential cause of sores or lesions around the nose. Pemphigus is an autoimmune skin disease that presents with lesions and sores around the nose and eyes, and is usually concurrent with hairloss.
Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is another autoimmune disease that can cause sores around the nose. Lesions may be seen around the nose and paw pads, and may extend up the muzzle. German shepherds, huskies, and collies are more prone to cutaneous lupus erythematosus.
Photo by Megan Byers
Treatments for autoimmune diseases often involve steroids (ie. glucocorticoids) and immunosuppressive drugs. Lesions and sores also open up the possibility of infection and antibiotics may be needed. Topical steroid treatments may be offered as well.
Other potential causes for sores or lesions on your pup’s nose could be due to skin infections, mites, ringworm, severe allergic reactions, or injury.
Nosebleeds can be a common symptom for a variety of issues. A common cause for nosebleeds is minor trauma to the nose (ie. tears on the inside of the nostril).
Other potential causes for nosebleeds in dogs can include:
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Tick-borne diseases (ie. ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted-fever)
- Liver diseases or failure
- Fungal infections
- Bone marrow disease
- Negative reactions to drugs or medications
- Cancer (ie. hemangiosarcoma, nasal adenocarcinoma)
If your dog’s nose starts to bleed, don’t panic. The first step is to keep your pup calm - excitement can cause an increase in blood pressure leading to more blood.
Place an ice pack on the top of your dog’s muzzle (or the bridge of their nose) without restricting air flow. This will help to slow the bleeding. If your pup is having issues with breathing or the nosebleed does not slow or stop, take your dog to their veterinarian. Do not provide medications without veterinary advice.
Another symptom to address is an overly hot or overly cold nose. A healthy dog should have a moderately cold to a room temperature nose.
Photo by Patrick Hendry
If the nose is hot to touch, this can be a sign of hyperthermia or overheating. Too cold is a sign of hypothermia.
Hyperthermia and hypothermia can be as simple as temperature regulation, for example, if your pup has just gone for a big run at the dog park, their nose might be warm until their body naturally cools down.
However, when there aren’t simple explanations for increases or decreases in body temperature, it could be a sign of other underlying conditions. High body temperatures could be indicative of a fever or infection and may need to be checked by a veterinarian.
A Dog’s Nose Knows
Your dog's nose is more than just a cute button to boop. It can actually be a helpful health indicator if you know what signs to look for.
A healthy nose should be moist and have adequate air flow. A dry nose can indicate dehydration, thyroid issues, or hyperkeratosis. A runny nose can be caused by allergies, infections, or nasal polyps, among other things.
Sores or lesions on or around the nose can be caused by autoimmune diseases, skin infections, or allergies. A bloody nose can be a sign of more serious health issues, such as cancer.
It's important to pay attention to changes in your dog's nose and ask your vet if you see anything unusual as these changes can be indicators of underlying health issues.
Written by: Hannah Godfrey
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition