Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses?

by Irene Hislop

14 October 2019



Dogs are curious creatures, and they have a lot of qualities that intrigue and baffle their owners. Their amazing sense of smell and their urge to sniff everything around them can be both impressive and annoying to humans. Those super-sensitive noses have saved many lives by tracking down people who are lost in situations from a day hike gone wrong to an earthquake. At the same time, people do not always appreciate getting sniffed by dogs, especially if they aren’t dog owners themselves. Our pets pay little heed. They need to nose around. It’s their nature. People often say that a cool, wet nose is a sign of a healthy dog, but why is that? Why are dogs’ noses wet and cool? How wet and how cool is healthy?

Dogs have wet noses for a few reasons. Before we delve into that, it is reassuring to know that a dry, room-temperature nose is not a definitive sign your dog is unwell. If your dog is mostly indoors and you notice her nose is not particularly wet or cold, there is no cause for alarm. Lifestyle and genetics influence the temperature and moisture of a dog’s nose.

Why Are Dogs’ Noses Wet?

A few different things cause a dog’s nose to be wet. Dogs produce a couple of bodily fluids that keep their noses moist, and being dogs, they also stick their noses into all kinds of things that make them wet. Here are the top reasons why dogs’ noses are wet.

  1. Dogs’ superior sniffing abilities are partially due to their noses producing a type of mucus that traps scent and allows them to analyse it. Smell is their most important sense. They have vastly more sensory receptor sites in their noses than we do, and vastly more brain space dedicated to deciphering those smells. The thin mucus their noses produce allows them to keep a scent in their nose long enough to really ponder it. It’s the opposite of our human noses – too much mucus and we are all blocked up and can’t smell anything.
  2. When we exercise vigorously, we get sweaty everywhere, but dogs only sweat through their paws and their noses. If your dog’s nose seems wetter after a brisk walk, it’s because she was working hard and building up a sweat.
  3. Another reason dogs’ noses are wet is so obvious it is easily overlooked. How often do you see your dog lick her nose? Dogs tend to get food and other stuff stuck to their noses, so they lick them often. This is why your dog’s nose is a bit drier than usual when she first wakes up from a sleep. She hasn’t been licking it for a while.
  4. Not all of the moisture on a dog’s nose is mucus, sweat or saliva. Because they are always sticking their noses places outside, they also get wet from the damp on the grass or shrubbery they explore.

What If My Dog’s Nose Is Dry?

Sometimes a dog owner’s question is not why are dogs’ noses wet but why is my dog’s nose dry? A dry nose is not a problem in and of itself. Some breeds, particularly those with short noses, tend to have drier noses than others. Notice is what is normal for your dog. If your dog’s nose is unusually dry, consider if they have been asleep in the warm, dry house or outside playing and sniffing in the grass. If your pet seems ill or listless, do contact your vet.

Your dog’s nose can indicate some health problems. Normally, the nose secrets a thin, clear mucus that we don’t even notice, unless we see it on our windows. If you notice dry, crusted mucus on your dog’s notice, that is a sign something is not right. While your dog’s nose is not going to be wet all the time, if it is dry enough that it is cracked or red or bleeding, that merits a call to the vet. Any new lumps or bumps are also reason for a visit to the vet. Dogs do not normally get bloody noses, so if you see your dog’s nose bleeding, that also requires professional attention.

How Your Dog’s Superior Sense of Smell Works

wet dog's nose

Besides wondering why are dogs’ noses wet and cold, we pet parents often wonder about their amazing sense of smell. They can find toys – and food – we’ve hidden. Trained dogs can track down illegal drugs, fugitives and lost people. And when we walk our dogs, it can feel more like we are taking them for a sniff than a stroll as they linger at every tree and lamppost earnestly sniffing to catch up on the other dogs in the neighbourhood.

Our dogs’ noses are not just better than ours; they are different. Dogs have an additional scent-sensing organ called the vomeronasal organ that detects odour particles in moisture, including pheromones. It’s also known as Jacobson’s organ. Each nostril works separately so dogs can take in two ‘views’ of the same scent from slightly different angles, allowing them to pinpoint where the item is. They can also inhale and exhale simultaneously.

Asking why are dogs’ noses wet is only the beginning of many intriguing questions about our best friend’s most amazing organ. Their sense of smell is about 100,000 times more powerful than ours, which might make you wonder why they enjoy such stinky things.

A dog’s sense of smell is her most important sense. While dogs do use their hearing and sight to play and hunt, their sense of smell is even more primal and critical for them. Many dogs lose their sight without their owner noticing because they compensate so well with their sense of smell. Older dogs are not necessarily bothered by their fading sight and hearing as long as their nose is doing its job well.

Irene Hislop

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