Whether it’s big, round, and the palest pink or small, pointy and glossy black – you can’t miss it, it’s right there in the middle of your dog’s face: its nose. You’ve probably heard all sorts of stories about the nose, from the amazing feats of scent detection it can perform, to its use as an indicator of general dog health. Here are a few common questions and myths.
Does a dry nose mean a dog is sick?
This is a common misconception. An active, sniffing dog will often have a cool, wet nose, but a dry nose does not necessarily mean the dog is unwell. A feverish, lethargic dog might have a hot, dry, nose, but so might a perfectly healthy dog. A sick dog will usually have other symptoms. For example, a dog with a respiratory illness might have a very wet nose, but it might be runnier than usual, with thick or crusty discharge.
Why do dogs have wet noses?
The moisture on dogs’ noses has two good uses: to help keep the dog cool, and to help the dog smell. Although dogs only sweat through the pads of their feet, they can also shed heat through evaporation from their mouth (panting) and from their nose. The thin, clear moisture produced by a dog’s nose is actually mucus, rather than sweat. The mucus also provides a good surface for dissolving chemicals from the air and absorbing them into the skin, where the cells that detect smell are located. Often, a dog that is actively sniffing and alert will have a wetter nose than one who is relaxed or asleep. Additionally, dogs will lick their nose to sample the chemicals that are stuck there and present them to another olfactory sense organ on the roof of their mouth. Together with the extensive, sensitive folds of tissue within the dog’s long nose (called with nasal turbinae) and an enlarged olfaction area in the brain, these adaptations give dogs the excellent sense of smell for which they are renowned.
Does sneezing mean a dog is sick?
Many breeds sneeze when happy or excited, and this is perfectly normal. Whining can also trigger a sneezing fit, as it seems to tickle the nose. In general, sneezing is a good way to get just about any irritant out of the nose. Dogs will sneeze when they smell something dusty or unpleasant. Excess mucus from a respiratory or sinus infection will causes sneezing, usually with obvious thick or crusty discharge. A dog that sneezes constantly without apparent cause should be taken to the vet in case he has something stuck in his nose – those big nostrils can hide any number of small items, including warts and tumours. Never try to remove something from your dog’s nose without a vet’s help – the skin in the nose is very sensitive and tends to bleed heavily if nicked.
Do dogs get colds?
Dogs do get upper respiratory infections, coughs, sinus infections, runny noses, and all the things we associate with “colds” in people. However, while the common cold in a human doesn’t usually warrant treatment (other than rest and chicken noodle soup), most respiratory infections in dogs are more severe. Distemper is a serious illness in dogs that can cause a runny nose and neurological symptoms, but vaccination prevents infection in most dogs. Kennel cough is a milder and more common disease in dogs in group situations – social or travelling dogs are often vaccinated for this as well. Other respiratory illnesses, such as fungal infections picked up by hunting dogs in the woods, are hard to prevent and can become very serious if left untreated. Any dog with unusual discharge from the nose (anything that is not thin and clear), or with a persistent cough or sneeze, should take a trip to the vet.
Do dogs get sunburn?
Just like people, dogs tend overdo it on the first good day in the spring or summer, and spend a bit more time under the sun than is wise. Any time a dog spends more time in the sun than he’s used to, especially dogs with pink or light-coloured noses, he’s liable to get a sunburn. Some dogs with short or pale hair can get it everywhere! Repeated exposure over the years can also result in skin cancer. Make sure your dog has access to shade if he’s outside all day, and consider keeping him inside in the middle of the day at the beginning of the sunburn season. Sunscreen works just as well for dogs as it does for people, but most dogs will lick it off their noses. The same goes for post-exposure ointments or lotions. If your dog has a very bad burn that blisters or bleeds, you should call your vet for advice.
What makes a dog’s nose change colour?
A variety of things can cause colour change in your dog’s nose. Obviously, the sunburn mentioned above can cause redness in a normally light-coloured nose. Dogs with pale or sensitive noses will often have some minor colour change with the change in the seasons – just as with people who tan. Another common cause of colour change occurs in dogs that eat out of plastic dishes. This is called contact sensitivity, and can be avoided by using glass, ceramic, or stainless steel food and water bowls. These materials are also less likely to harbour bacteria.