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.
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