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From Wet Snouts to Super Sniffers: The Science Behind Your Dog’s Nose

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A close-up of a dog's nose.

Diving Deeper into Dog Noses: Sniffing Out the Facts About Canine Snouts

If you're wondering why your dog has a wet nose, you're certainly not alone. That's probably one of the most common questions dog parents ask about their pooches' snouts. Let's get right down to it and dig into some other fun facts about dog noses. 

Are All Dog's Noses Black?

Simply put, not all dog noses are black. While many breeds do indeed have black noses, there's a variety of nose colors in the canine world, including brown and pink. Some dogs experience temporary seasonal changes in the color of their noses, including mottled patterns, often called "snow nose" or "winter nose.”

Why Is My Dog's Nose Always Wet?

The wetness of your dog's nose can vary throughout the day due to their hydration and activity level, as well as the humidity in your home or outside. Other reasons why your dog's nose feels cool and wet when they nuzzle against your hand. 

  • Mucous: Your dog's nose secretes a thin layer of mucous that captures scents and increases their already remarkable ability to smell things. 
  • Saliva: You've probably often seen your dog rolling their tongue around their lips and noses, so part of that wetness is saliva. Why do they do this? They may be doing a little cleaning or tasting the scent particles stuck to their noses. 
  • Perspiration: Another reason for the dampness is because dogs perspire through their noses. They don't sweat all over their bodies like we do, so this (along with perspiration from their paws) helps keep them cool. 
  • Other wet stuff: Our pooches like to put their noses in all sorts of wet places. They stick it in their water bowls when they take a drink, in the wet grass when they want to sniff around, or even in the toilet bowl to check it out. Be sure to keep your toilet lids closed to avoid this last one. Toilet water may look clean, but it can harbor bacteria that can be harmful to your dog.

What Does it Mean When a Dog's Nose is Dry?

A wet nose can be considered a sign of good health, but a dry nose doesn't necessarily mean they're sick — it could be that their nose is temporarily dry due to environmental factors.  

While wet noses are typical, some healthy dogs have naturally drier noses than other pups. Your dog's nose may also range from wet to dry, depending on what they're doing during the day. For instance, your dog may have a drier nose after taking a nap near the fireplace or exerting themselves in an energetic game, which can make them a bit dehydrated.  

It's always a good idea to make sure they're staying hydrated with plenty of water in their bowl. It may even be worth paying close attention to humidity levels, depending on the season and where you live. If you notice abnormal dryness or have other concerns about dry nose in dogs, consult your veterinarian.   

Learn more about how pet insurance could help you cover your pet’s eligible veterinary care expenses.

Dry Noses and Fevers

Some dog parents automatically assume that their dog has a fever if they have a warm and dry nose. While this may be a sign of an elevated temperature, it's not always an accurate way to tell if your dog has a fever or not. If a dry nose is accompanied by other symptoms, such as mucous discharge, stomach upset, or lethargy, your dog may have a cold, case of canine flu, or another concern requiring work-up/treatment, and you should take your dog to the veterinarian to find out what is going on. Your dog may have a cold or a case of canine flu. 

Sunburned Noses

A dry nose can also be caused by sunburn. In addition to the dryness, you may notice that the skin is flaking and red. To help avoid sunburn, apply a small dab of dog-safe sunscreen on your pup's nose when you're out in the sun. Sunburn will usually clear up on its own, but you should talk to your veterinarian if it looks particularly inflamed or seems painful for your dog. Sun exposure and sunburn can lead to skin cancer in dogs, which can be treated more easily if it's caught in the early stages. It’s important to note that dogs with fairer skin or lighter coats are more susceptible to sunburn, as are hairless breeds and breeds with thinner coats. 

Why Is My Dog's Nose Runny?

A runny nose in dogs can be a sign of allergies, a respiratory infection, or even be caused by a foreign object that's stuck in their nose. Some brachycephalic breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs, can have nasal discharge due to their short noses, but it's a good idea to be aware of changes in your dog's runny nose, no matter the breed. If your dog’s nose is running more than usual or has other additional symptoms, check in with your veterinarian to make sure it's not something to worry about.

Your dog can’t tell you when they’re feeling itchy or sneezy. That’s why it’s up to you to recognize when your dog may be struggling with allergies.

What Is Reverse Sneezing?

Here’s another quirk to consider when it comes to dogs’ noses. You may have noticed your dog reverse sneezing at some point. During a reverse sneeze, dogs inhale rapidly and forcefully through the nose, making sounds you might describe as snorting or honking. It might seem concerning at first, but it's a common and usually harmless experience and can happen when a dog is excited or anxious, because of allergies, or after vigorous exercise. Reverse sneezing is usually short and resolves itself. However, if episodes become frequent or last for a long time, it's always a good move to check with a veterinarian to rule out any health issues.

How Do I Keep My Dog's Nose Healthy?

Dog noses are pretty low maintenance. You should wipe it off gently if it gets dirty and look for signs of problems, such as flaky skin, redness, excessive or colorful discharge, or sneezing. While a sneeze now and then is absolutely normal, a lot of sneezing could mean your dog has an allergy or is coming down with something.

How Can I Challenge My Dog’s Sense of Smell?

You may be wondering how to put that dog nose strength to the test and see just how skilled they are. One way to challenge their sense of smell is through scent games and enrichment activities.

Get tips on choosing the best toys and treats to keep your dog’s super sniffer busy!

Try hiding treats around the house or backyard and letting them go on a treasure hunt. You can also try interactive puzzle toys designed to stimulate your dog's sense of smell, providing mental and physical exercise while they play.

For especially adventurous dogs, consider finding a scent detection class with professional trainers where they can refine their natural abilities. Who knows? You might have a future working dog at home.

a woman kissing a dog

How Do Dog Noses Benefit Humans?

Our dog's amazing sense of smell has lots of benefits for people. For instance, search and rescue dogs can take a whiff of an article of clothing or other personal item and use that scent to help track and locate a missing person. Bomb and drug-sniffing dogs help keep us safe in public places like airports, train stations, and malls. 

Medical dogs can detect disease like cancer or low blood sugar in humans. Some dogs can even predict when someone is going to have an epileptic seizure. It's believed that these dogs can detect a change in scent that occurs before a seizure occurs. Once they detect that smell, the dog will alert their person so they can take precautions, such as leaving a crowded area or lying down to prevent a fall.  

What other positions can our canines hold and how do they help us? Learn more about different types of working dogs and the tasks they’re trained for.

Five Facts About Dog Noses

Dogs have an uncanny sense of smell, which has to do with the way their noses are designed. The anatomy of a dog’s nose is a complex, unique tool. Their noses are large relative to the size of their faces so they can be more powerful. This gives them more area for scent receptors. Other advantages of the anatomy of a dog nose include: 

  1. Dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared to about 6 million in human noses.
  2. It's estimated that dogs can differentiate between 30,000 to 100,000 smells. That's an awful lot when you compare it to our scent repertoire, which is only around 4,000 to 10,000 scents.
  3. Your dog's nostrils can wiggle independently of one another. This helps them figure out which direction a smell is coming from.
  4. When a dog inhales, air exhales from those slits while fresh air and new smells enter from the front. This allows them to smell continuously. We can only smell as we breathe in new air, not as we breathe out.
  5. Dogs breathe faster when they're trying to smell something. They also widen their nostrils to take in more air. 

Your pup’s nose is a powerful device that guides him through his days in some pretty impressive ways, so it’s important to make sure that snout is looking healthy and ready to sniff all the good smells. If you have any concerns about your dog's nose, you should visit your veterinarian who can diagnose the problem and recommend treatment.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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