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Why Is My Cat's Nose Dry?

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pretty British shorthair cat close up

When your cat nuzzles against your hand, their nose probably typically feels cool and wet. But what if it is warm and dry? Does that mean they have a fever? Not necessarily. Sniff out the reasons for your cat’s dry nose and get the scoop on some fun facts about our feline’s super sniffers.

Why Is My Cat’s Nose Dry?

If your cat's nose feels warm and dry, don’t jump to the conclusion that they are feverish or sick. There are a few different reasons it might be dry:

  • Your cat was some place warm. Maybe your cat took a nice nap in a sunny windowsill, near a heating vent, or by your fireplace, and their nose is just temporarily dry. 
  • It's normal for your cat. Some perfectly healthy cats tend to have dryer noses than others.
  • Cats tend to lick their noses (amongst other things).This can remove the natural moisture and cause their nose to feel dry. 
  • Your cat may be a bit dehydrated. Cats don't always take in as much water as their body needs during the day. 

To help avoid dehydration, make sure your cat has access to plenty of fresh water. If your cat isn't interested in drinking from a bowl of still water, you can try a pet fountain. Canned cat food is another way to increase your cat's fluid intake. It contains a high percentage of moisture—much higher than the small amount of moisture in dry kibble. 

Sunburned Noses

Cats are at risk of getting sunburn on their hairless noses, which can cause dryness, swelling, redness, and flaky skin. Sunburn is more prevalent in white-haired cats who have pink noses. If your cat has a light coat or is obsessed with soaking up the sun, you may need to take steps to protect them against harmful rays. For instance: 

  • Close the blinds or curtains of windows that let in a lot of sun so your cat can't bask in those rays. 
  • Keep your cat out of rooms that are particularly sun-drenched, especially during the hottest hours of the day. 
  • Dab a little cat-safe sunscreen on their nose. You can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation and guidance on how much and how often you should apply it. 

Never use human sunscreen products on your cat since they can irritate their skin. They can also make your cat sick if they lick their nose and ingest harmful ingredients. Contact your veterinarian with any questions about caring for your cat’s nose. 

Curious about your dog’s nose? Sniff out the facts about your canine’s snout and discover why they’re important how they benefit us!

nose of a red cat in focus

When Should I Worry About a Cat’s Dry Nose?

A dry cat nose on its own may not be anything to worry about. However, you should contact your veterinarian if you're concerned or notice other symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lethargy 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Sneezing 
  • Watery eyes 
  • Nasal discharge, especially if it's colorful. 

These may be signs of an illness like an upper respiratory infection (URI), which is a common health condition in cats caused by a virus or bacteria. A simple URI will typically run its course on its own in a week or so. However, you should still reach out to your veterinarian who may prescribe medications to alleviate the symptoms and make your cat more comfortable. If your cat has a bacterial infection, they may also need antibiotics. 

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

bottom view of the muzzle of a gray cat

Why Are Cats' Noses Wet?

That wetness on your cat's nose is mostly made up of sweat, which helps them stay cool. Cats don't sweat all over their bodies like we do, so their noses perform an important function when it comes to regulating their body temperature. They also sweat through their paw pads, which is why your cat might leave wet footprints on a rather hot day. Additionally, some of that outer nasal dampness is due to drainage from your cat's lower tear duct. 

The benefit of having a wet nose is that it enhances a cat's sense of smell, which is already quite remarkable. The dampness traps and holds onto scent particles so cats can really get a good whiff of something. 

Fun Facts About Cat Noses

Cats have around 200 million scent receptors--more than some dogs and much more than humans! They use their keen sense of smell to help them find and track their prey, figure out if something is safe to eat, and detect other cats in the area who have marked their territory or may be in heat. Here are some other fun cat nose facts: 

  1. Every cat nose has a unique pattern of bumps and ridges that make up their “nose prints.” Like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two cat nose prints are the same.
  2. Cats don't have many taste receptors, so their sense of smell plays a big part in stimulating their appetite. This is why many cats lose their appetite when they have a stuffy nose.
  3. With such a keen sense of smell, some cats can be overwhelmed by scents, such as scented litter, air fresheners, or laundry products. If this is an issue for your cat, stick to brands without fragrances.
  4. When cats lick their noses, they may be resetting their sense of smell by cleaning off those trapped scent particles. Licking their nose can also be a sign that your cat is feeling anxious.
  5. Cats like to greet each other with a mutual sniffing that can go from nose to tail. This is why cats will come over and sniff at your finger when you hold it out for them. It's like a substitute nose.
  6. The furless, naked skin around a cat’s nostrils, the rhinarium, is often referred to as “nose leather.”
  7. Cats with orange coloring, like calicos or tortoiseshell cats, are prone to getting freckles on their noses. These freckles are caused by a condition known as lentigo. But don't worry—these freckles won't multiply with sun exposure or become cancerous.
  8. Speaking of color, the color of a cat’s nose is directly related to the color of their fur. Typically, black cats have black noses, white cats have pink noses, orange cats have orange noses, and gray cats have gray noses. If you have a multicolored cat, they might even have a multicolored nose, too! 

Take time to familiarize yourself with your cat’s unique nose. Knowing something about his nose and sense of smell will help you better understand and care for your feline friend. 

Cats are strange little creatures, and their behavior can be mystifying at times. Read up on 14 weird cat behaviors and find out what they mean and when to seek help from a veterinarian.

The Flehmen Response

Another interesting fact about your cat's ability to smell is the Flehmen Response. Have you ever seen your cat make a strange-looking open-mouthed grimace? That's the flehmen response. It happens when your cat detects a highly stimulating scent, such as catnip or pheromones, which are the hormones that attract cats to one another. 

This response draws air into their mouths and past fluid-filled sacks in the roof of their mouth. These sacks are connected directly to the nasal cavity and enable your cat to smell more deeply. Some people call it “smell tasting.” 

nose of a white cat

How to Care for Your Cat's Nose

Like the rest of your cat's body, their nose is pretty much self-maintained. Cats will generally clean their noses when they groom themselves with their tongue. However, you can use a soft cloth to gently wipe away debris or discharge when needed. 

Although cats typically groom themselves, they can occasionally get themselves into a mess that requires a bath. Learn how to give your cat a bath and survive.

Common Cat Nose Ailments

If you observe any changes in your cat's nose, such as sudden and severe dryness or a flaky, cracked appearance, consult your veterinarian. Various infections and illnesses could be the underlying causes of their dry, cracked nose, including specific cancers and autoimmune diseases, so it’s important your veterinarian takes a look. 

Your cat can get a stuffy or runny nose for multiple reasons, though, and most of those reasons aren’t nearly as severe or scary as cancer. Some common nose issues include URIs, allergies, scratches from an accident or altercation with another animal, and growths, which can be difficult to detect if they are inside the nasal cavity. Even if the growth is benign, it may need to be removed, especially if it is causing your cat discomfort or making it difficult for them to breathe. 

You may be wondering how much something like that would cost. Surgery and treatment for cancer can be expensive, but, of course, we all want the best for our cats. It's impossible to predict how much an accident or illness might cost, but there are a few ways you can give yourself some financial cushion, including different methods of financing veterinary care or by enrolling your cat in a pet insurance plan.   

By understanding the importance of a cat's nose, providing proper care, and being aware of potential issues, you can help ensure your feline friend stays healthy and happy for years to come! 

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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