Is My Dog Sick If His Nose Is Dry?

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Question: My dog's nose is dry. Is he sick?

Learning to observe what is normal and what is not in patients that can't talk is the first step to observant pet care. A warm or dry nose is often seen as a sign of illness in dogs and cats, but is it? The purpose of this FAQ is to serve as a basic guideline to know when to consult your vet to see if an examination is in order.

Answer: The "warm nose myth" has many pet owners feeling that their pet has a fever (or otherwise sick) if the nose is warm and dry.

A dog's (or cat's) nose may be very wet and cool one moment then be warmer and not-so-moist the next. All in the course of a day. All perfectly normal.

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.

Other Nose Conditions to Be Aware of

  • Contact sensitivity
    Allergies and sensitivities to plastics and dyes may also manifest as changes on the nose and muzzle area on pets fed from plastic dishes. I recommend 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" -- one that has discharge coming from the nostrils -- 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.

Photo Credit: "Dog Nose" © kalimistuk on Flickr