Can a pet’s nose be an indicator of their overall health? Many pet owners learn that that cool wet noses indicate a dog is feeling well. On the other hand, warm dry noses mean trouble is brewing. Since pets can’t talk to us and often don’t make it clear when they have health issues, it would be great if their nose alone reassured us that things were okay. Unfortunately, that's just not the case. Here’s the truth about what the nose tells us about pet health.
First, let's debunk a myth.
The temperature and moisture of a dog’s nose can vary throughout the day. It is completely normal to be warm and dry one moment and wet and cool later. There is no need to panic if you happen to feel that the nose is dry. If your dog is acting normally, don’t rush to the vet. On the other hand, if your pet is displaying signs of illness you should see the vet even if the nose is cold and wet. But this doesn't mean the nose isn't important—pay attention for these other concerning changes in your dog's snout.
Nose of a Different Color
Some dogs born with black noses will slowly lose pigmentation over time. The nose becomes light brown, pink, or white in appearance. If the hair coat is becoming lighter as well, your dog most likely has vitiligo, which is a hereditary pigmentation disorder. Other conditions cause the nose alone to lose color while the hair doesn't change. Thankfully, these disorders are only cosmetic. They are not painful and require no treatment. The diminishing color should be the only change you notice. If there is redness, crusting, or discharge from the nose, the problem is more serious. It is always worthwhile to bring your pet to the vet to confirm the diagnosis. Remembers, vets are not trying to steal your money, so don't be afraid to take a trip if you're nervous!
Your dog's nose once had a smooth appearance, but now it's rough, crusty, and cracked. This is called nasal hyperkeratosis and is most common in labradors, boxers, and bulldogs. Hyperkeratosis is an age-related condition caused by an accumulation of keratin, a protein found on the surface of the skin. In some breeds, hyperkeratosis can cause crusting in the paw pads as well. The cause is not well-known. In most cases, this is simply a cosmetic issue, but severe hyperkeratosis can result in painful cracks in the nose. It is treated with keratin dissolving balms that remove excess keratin and soften the nasal tissue.
Red, Raw, and Painful Noses
Now we’re getting more serious. Many painful infectious and autoimmune diseases can affect the nose. Pay attention for deep cracks, swelling, or a raw bloody appearance of the surface of the nose. You may also notice that your dog licks his nose frequently to soothe the pain. Bacterial or fungal infections can target the nasal planum (outer surface of the nose). These are typically treated with oral antibiotics and antifungal medications and may require several weeks of therapy. Even more seriously, there are several autoimmune diseases that affect nose. Pemphigus foliaceus is the most common. In these conditions, an aberrant immune system produces antibodies to the body’s own nasal tissue and attacks. The result is an extremely pain and inflamed nose. Therapy requires an aggressive regimen of immune-suppressant medication. It is important to get your dog to a vet if you notice these symptoms. Also consider if pet insurance is worth it if you find yourself taking your furry friend to the doctor often.
When it comes to what a pet’s nose says about their health, it’s not just about the outside appearance. Certain diseases affect the entire nasal cavity and manifest as nasal discharge or sneezing. It is important to pay attention to the type of discharge—is it clear and thin or thick and colored? It is from one nostril or both? Sneezing and a thin clear discharge from both nostrils may simply be a mild infection or allergies. That can probably be treated with some home treatments for sick dogs. Thick discharge and frequent sneezing may be a sign of more serious infection. If the discharge is only on one side, there could be a tumor or even a foreign object present in the nose. Tooth root infections can also result in a one-sided nasal discharge. Persistent sneezing and nasal discharge are always good reasons to make an appointment with the vet.
Most people get a bloody nose here and there and don’t rush to the doctor. However, nose bleeds in dogs are not normal or common. Nasal cancers, bacterial or fungal infections, and inflammatory diseases can all cause nose bleeds. Additionally, a bloody nose is often the first sign of a blood clotting disorder. This can be caused by rat poison, liver failure, or autoimmune diseases. These are all severe health issues and any bleeding from the nose warrants a trip to the vet immediately.
What about my cat's nose?
It’s important to keep an eye on those feline noses as well. Similar to dogs, a warm and dry nose is not a sign of illness, but there are other important changes to watch for. Orange cats may develop benign black spots called lentigo on their nose. This is considered normal and doesn't require treatment, but it is always best to have your vet take a look to confirm the diagnosis. Just like their canine counterparts, cats can get inflammatory or autoimmune diseases that result in painful crusting or ulcerated lesions on the surface of the nose. Viral or fungal diseases can cause a runny nose and sneezing. Aggressive cancers of the nose are more common in cats than dogs. The nose may appear red, swollen, crusted, or severely ulcerated. Bring your cat to the vet right away if you notice these symptoms.
It turns out that what a pet's nose says about their health is not what most pet owners think. While a wet or dry nose doesn’t tell us anything about potential health issues, there are numerous symptoms that do. Let's put the old wives tale about cold noses in the past where it belongs and pay attention for other signs that your pet’s nose isn’t feeling up to snuff.