Most pet parents have been told that if their pet’s nose is warm or dry, it means they’re sick. Actually, that’s a myth. A warm dry nose by itself doesn’t mean that your pet has a fever or is sick. Dog and cat noses go from moist and cool to warm and dry and back again quite easily, and it’s perfectly normal and healthy.
However, if your pet has symptoms of an illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite or lethargy, then the warm, dry nose is probably an additional symptom of an underlying condition. What you definitely want to watch out for and what may warrant a trip to your veterinarian are changes in the texture of your pet’s nose, for example:
The color of a dog or cat’s nose is determined by genetics and can be black, pink (which some breeders call a “Dudley nose”), liver-colored or the same color as the coat. Some pets have a very normal and natural condition called either “snow nose” or “winter nose,” which means their nose color fades during the colder months and returns to its normal darker color when the weather warms up.
Certain dog breeds have noses that go from black to brown or pink as they get older. This is thought to be a result of the breakdown of tyrosinase, which is an enzyme that produces pigment. Since tyrosinase is a temperature-sensitive enzyme that works more efficiently in warmer weather, this could also explain the winter nose color some dogs get when the weather gets cold.
Some pets, including many calico cats, develop black spots on the nose and lips as they age. This is a totally normal and harmless change called lentigo simplex. It’s simply a pigmentation change that occurs as part of the normal aging process. Sometimes an animal’s nose will lighten up when he’s sick and return to its normal darker color once he’s back in good health. If there’s a scrape or abrasion on your pet’s nose, it can turn pink as it heals then darken up as the scab falls away
Contact dermatitis can also cause your dog or cat to lose pigment on the nose. Some pets are sensitive to plastic food and water bowls, and continued exposure can cause the nose to lighten in color.
Sometimes the lips will also become red and irritated. That’s one of the reasons I recommend stainless steel food and water bowls because aside from the potential for plastic hypersensitivities, plastics wear down over time, and toxins can leach into your pet’s food and water.
Finally, there’s an immune-mediated skin disease called vitiligo that can turn your pet’s nose pink, but there are usually other signs of the disorder occurring at the same time, such as random white hairs or entire patches of white hair on your pet’s body. With vitiligo, the immune system attacks the pigment-containing cells of the body that are responsible for color. There are certain breeds that are more prone to the condition, including Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Dachshunds.
If your pet’s nose is pink or has turned pink, you’ll need to protect it from sunburn, which is a very real concern during the summer months as well as on sunny winter days. You’ll want to apply a non-toxic, safe sunscreen before your pet goes outside.
If you notice nasal discharge, swelling, or an unpleasant odor from your dog’s nose or the area around it, or if she seems to be having trouble breathing or is making abnormal respiratory sounds, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. These symptoms may indicate there’s something going on inside the nose, such as the presence of a foreign body, an infection or even a nasal tumor, which is actually more common than you might think.
Other signs of nasal issues include sneezing, pawing at the nose, nosebleeds, noisy breathing, or a visible bulge or a lump on either side of your pet’s nose or face, which is sometimes caused by a tooth root abscess.
There are several medical conditions that can effect your pet’s nose.
Pemphigus erythematosus involves only the face, head and footpads. The red patches quickly turn into blisters, and then pustules that can become crusty and cause the hair to stick to them and eventually fall out. Areas of skin depigmentation are also seen with both these types of pemphigus.
There is a third type of pemphigus called pemphigus vulgaris, which is rare. Blisters and ulcers can form on the lips, nostrils and eyelids, and can also involve the nail beds, which can cause the nails to fall out.
With repeated sun exposure, the skin actually breaks down. In serious cases, the nose can become a big non-healing wound that’s incredibly painful for the dog, and increases the risk of skin cancer. If you have one of these breeds and his nose is scabby, don’t ignore it.
There are other systemic conditions that can affect the health of your dog’s nose. The most common is hypothyroidism, which leads to a thickening of the skin of the nose and a leathery appearance.
Your pet nose knows everything. Hence, get acquainted with the normal, healthy look and shape of your dog’s nose so you can immediately identify any change that occurs. Keep an eye out for any unusual signs like nasal discharge, and also stay alert for excessive dryness, crusting or loss of pigmentation.
I also recommend you watch the nose as your pet breathes. Dogs and cats are nose breathers when at rest — their mouths are typically closed. If your pet’s nostrils flare more than normal, it could be she’s having some trouble breathing. If you notice anything unusual about your pet’s nose, especially if there are other signs of illness, it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
In my experience, topical ointments applied to a dog’s or a cat’s nose are often useless, because they get licked off within seconds. The only thing I recommend you apply to your pet’s nose while you’re waiting for your vet appointment is natural vitamin E or coconut oil. You can open a vitamin E capsule, squeeze out the contents, and apply it or a dab of coconut oil to your pet’s nose until you can be seen by your veterinarian.
Mercola, J. “Your Pet’s Nose Is a Barometer of Health (Don’t Fall for This Myth)” Retrieved April 15, 2018.