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Why are dogs noses wet?!?

Date updated: 13 12 2017

It’s your friendly wake-up call in the morning, the first thing that greets you at the door when you get home, and the ever-lurking presence when you’re eating dinner. But have you ever wondered why your dog’s nose is always so wet?

No offence, but your buddy smells a lot better than you…

Recent research suggests that humans can actually pick up a scent and follow it - if we put our mind to it. And we’re apparently up there with the best when it comes to sniffing out certain smells (bananas, urine and human blood... lucky us!)

But when was the last time your nose picked up on a trillionth of a gram of TNT?  Dogs can smell a whole lot better than their two-legged friends, but they also smell differently.  Their noses function in a different way to ours, which partly explains why their noses always seem so wet.

It used to be thought that all of the hard work of “sniffing out particular stuff” is done inside the nose - at the dog’s olfactory receptors. Scientists from Pennsylvania State University showed that there’s more to it than that. They found that odour molecules undergo a kind of “pre-sorting stage” before they even hit those receptors.  

Before getting to the receptors, the odours go through a layer of mucus. Some molecules get absorbed quicker than others, helping the dog identify and pre-sort them; focusing on the ones that are important and getting rid of the ones that aren’t.

So partly at least, this layer of mucus around the nose contributes to the overall wetness.


Keeping it cool…

At the same time, bear in mind that dogs don’t sweat much.

The main way they keep cool is through panting; something that lets them push the warm air out and bring cooler air into the body. A lot of that moisture evaporates from that big lolling tongue. But some also comes up as vapour from the nose, because of the presence of lots of blood vessels close to the surface.

So when it’s hot outside or when your buddy’s been doing a lot of running, this is when their nose is likely to be especially wet. If he’s completely chilled with you on the sofa, then there’s still going to be a layer of moisture there, but nowhere near as moist.

Try giving your buddy’s nose a little rub in different conditions to see if you can tell the difference!


Does a wet nose equal a healthy dog?

No. “Wetness” or “dryness” aren’t usually thought of as useful clinical indicators in themselves.

That said, if your doggy’s feeling paw-ly, his nose can sometimes give you a heads up.

Discharge - either clear or cloudy - can be signs of nasal or sinus infection, especially when it’s accompanied by lots of sneezing. If there’s coughing or difficulty breathing, it could also be the sign of a chest infection. In fact, if anything seems amiss around your buddy’s nose - redness, a bad smell or bleeding around the nostrils for instance - it’s best to get it checked over by the vet!