Is My Dog or Cat Sick If His Nose Is Dry?

Nose-Related Health Concerns

Dog's nose
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There is a common belief that a warm or dry nose is often seen as a sign of illness in dogs and cats. While there is a grain of truth in this belief, it's not completely accurate. It's important to know what's normal for your cat or dog and to check for additional symptoms before calling the vet. Sometimes a warm, dry nose is just a warm, dry nose. 

A Warm Dry Nose Can Be Normal

Many pet owners believe that their pet has a fever (or is otherwise sick) if the nose is warm and dry.

In fact, however, a healthy dog's (or cat's) nose may be very wet and cool one moment then be warmer and not-so-moist the next. These types of changes may occur multiple times in the course of a day and are perfectly normal. 

Dogs and cats have wet noses because they lick them and because their noses have mucus-producing glands that keep the nose relatively moist. Damp noses are better able to pick up scents, and a moist nose can help your pet stay cooler in warm weather. Their noses may become dry, however, when they:

  • take a nap and haven't licked their nose in a while;
  • are slightly dehydrated after exercise;
  • have been outdoors in the sun and wind;
  • are older and are not producing as much mucus.

It's also important to know that a dog or cat can have a cool moist nose even when they are sick. That's because, for example, nasal discharge can lead to a damp nose.

When to Be Concerned

Changes in texture (crusty, flaky) and color (loss of pigmentation) of a pet's nose should be looked at by your veterinarian.

A prolonged dry, cracked nose, particularly with the loss of pigmentation, scabs or open sores should be examined by your veterinarian sooner rather than later.

An ill animal will often have a warm, dry nose in addition to other symptoms, such as lethargy, decreased or absent appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and so on.

In the absence of other physical signs, there is a host of dermatological (skin) problems that can be seen in this area, such as Pemphigus Foliaceus.

It's also a good idea to check in with the vet if your pet's warm dry nose is accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • lethargy or unusual fatigue
  • lack of appetite
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • pale or dry gums

These symptoms, combined with a warm nose and ears, could indicate illness. In fact, any change in behavior (hiding, lack of appetite, sensitivity to touch, etc.) that lasts more than a few hours suggests that a trip to the vet is in order.

Other Nose Conditions 

While a warm dry nose in itself is not a sign of illness or allergies, other nose-related issues can be. While some of these are cause for concern, others are ordinary signs of aging or minor sensitivities.

  • Contact sensitivity
    Allergies and sensitivities to plastics and dyes may manifest as changes in the nose and muzzle area on pets fed from plastic dishes. Try using stainless steel bowls to eliminate this potential problem. Glass or ceramic bowls are also acceptable, provided that they are sturdy and on a solid surface to prevent breakage.
  • Nasal discharge
    Anytime your pet shows signs of a "runny nose" with discharge coming from the nostrils, he or she should be examined by your veterinarian. Coughing, sneezing, and difficulty breathing can be signs of anything from a respiratory infection to a nasal foreign body to a tumor in the nasal passages. Animals that show these signs (more than an occasional cough or sneeze) should be seen by your veterinarian.
  • Black spots
    Owners of orange or calico cats often note black spots on their cat's nose and lips as the cat ages. This is called lentigo simplex and is a normal change seen commonly in orange tabby and calico cats.
  • Sunburn
    Dogs, cats, horses and other species are prone to sunburn (also known as "solar dermatitis") and subsequent skin cancer on noses, ear tips, and around eyes. Lightly coated, pink-nosed animals are at greatest risk. Check with your veterinarian about providing sun protection for your pet if they are in this category of risk.