Why Are Dog Noses Wet?

Dogs love to give licks, but is a wet dog nose a good thing? Here's what it means for their health.

No matter how cute your pup is, or the particulars of your dog’s behavior (like whether he needs professional training), you have lots of love for your canine. Man’s best friend has all sorts of unique features—from tail wagging to paws that smell like corn chips to a wet nose. But have you ever wondered, Why are dog noses wet? If so, you’re in the right place.

Looking for more pup behavior content? Check out these dog facts, like why do dogs like squeaky toys? And why do dogs lick you?

Why do dogs have wet noses?

Anyone who has just gotten nuzzled by an affectionate dog knows you’ll probably need to wipe your face afterward. Turns out there are several important reasons dogs’ noses are wet, says Peter Lands, DVM, Director of Emergency and Critical Care at Saint Francis Veterinary Center in Swedesboro, New Jersey.

First, dogs’ noses secrete mucus, which helps them track smells in the air. “One of the reasons that the noses are going to be wet is because the secretion will come out of the inner part of the nose and sit on the top of the nose,” Dr. Lands says.

Another reason: Dogs don’t sweat the same way humans do. Their noses act as a cooling mechanism by evaporating fluid from their nose to help cool their bodies.

Third, you’ve probably seen dogs licking their noses. Dogs are lower to the ground and naturally pick up all kinds of dirt and pollen down there. They lick their noses to fully experience the scent, but also to clean them, Dr. Lands says. So that moisture you see also likely includes some saliva—which is perfectly normal. Speaking of perfectly normal, here’s why dogs eat their own poop.

Finally, the wetness could come directly from what dogs are smelling. “When they’re outside sticking their nose in things, their nose can get wet because of what they’re sticking it into, whether that’s leaves, plants, puddles, the morning grass,” Dr. Lands says. “It’ll get a little bit wet that way.”

What does it mean if your dog’s nose is dry?

While a wet nose is a healthy sign in your dog, a dry nose isn’t necessarily cause for worry. Young dogs that love to lick are going to have wet noses, but as dogs age, their noses typically become a bit dryer. The dryness could also be a sign that your canine is dehydrated, Dr. Lands says, so be sure your dog gets plenty of water.

If the dryness is chronic, however, it could be a sign that your dog may have a skin disease. A dry nose could also indicate a systemic health issue, according to Dr. Lands. Keep an eye out for these signs your pet is sick and schedule a visit to the vet to make sure.

What does it mean if your dog’s nose is too wet?

A very, very wet nose can also be a sign that your dog is sick. Dogs are like humans in that “if we start to get some sort of infection in our nose or upper respiratory infection, our noses can become more moist and we can start getting some mucus buildup in our nose or coming out of our nostrils,” Dr. Lands says.

It’s important to keep an eye on your dog’s nose, since it’s such a major part of how they function. Dogs have about 100 million sensory receptors in their nose, compared with about 5 or 6 million in humans. And they can use them to do all kinds of great things, from detecting cancer to finding criminals. “It really is a powerful organ,” Dr. Lands says.

Now that you’ve learned why dog noses are wet, learn why dogs get the zoomies.

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Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.