Why is your dog’s nose warm? When it’s okay and when to see the vet

When you think about all the functions a dog’s nose performs, you might be inclined to call it the universal tool of the canine body. It acts as the daily news, collecting scents like scraps of information to use in interpreting your dog’s environment. It often doubles as a communication device, nuzzling the human hand to elicit a response. And it serves as an internal thermostat, helping regulate body temperature throughout the day.

As a temperature controller, a dog’s nose can be warm, cold, wet, or dry, depending upon the time of day, Fido’s level of activity, and weather conditions. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that the temperature of a dog’s nose fluctuates throughout the day. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why is my dog’s nose warm?”, forget what you think you know.

closeup of a dog nose and smile

Why is my dog’s nose warm?

Before we answer that question, it’s probably a good idea to explain how a dog’s nose works.

A dog’s nose is often wet because he licks it frequently to keep it moisturized. That might seem odd until you consider that a wet nose enhances your dog’s sense of smell. A wet nose helps trap scents better so that your dog’s 100 million scent receptors can go to work and tell him whose scent it is, what direction it’s coming from, and even if the human or animal he smells is fearful or anxious. The moisture left by licking that powerful instrument cools, and as a result, a dog’s nose is often cold.

But a warm, dry nose doesn’t always signal illness. Your dog’s nose might be warm for a variety of reasons:

  • He may have been sleeping, a state in which he isn’t licking his nose.
  • It might be hot outside. As the temperatures increase, so does the likelihood your dog’s nose will feel warm and dry to the touch. Monitor his water intake and make sure he doesn’t overheat.
  • It may be cold outside. If your dog sleeps next to an air vent, the circulating air might cause his nose to dry out, much like winter air can cause your throat to become dry and scratchy.
  • He may be older. Older dogs sleep more than younger dogs, which prevents them from licking their noses as much.

Some breeds are prone to dry noses

Additionally, a warm, dry nose may just be normal for your dog. Some dogs simply don’t lick their noses as much as others do. Others are prone to conditions that affect the natural moisture of their nose

For example, dogs with short snouts, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, have difficulty licking their noses, which causes their noses to be naturally dryer. Other breeds, such as Lhasa Apsos and Cocker Spaniels, are prone to blocked tear ducts. This prevents them from draining naturally into the nasal passage, which in turn, creates moisture.

black dog nose in gray blanket

When you should call the vet

As you can see, using the temperature of your dog’s nose to gauge his health isn’t particularly reliable. Contrary to popular belief, a warm nose doesn’t mean your dog is sick; however, the following conditions warrant a call to your veterinarian:

  • Difficulty breathing. Seek immediate medical assistance to rule out any lung or respiratory problems as well as heartworm, heart disease, tumors, or allergies.
  • Abnormal discharge, which may signal anything from dental disease to allergies or a respiratory virus like parainfluenza or distemper.
  • Nosebleed, which may indicate an injury or infection in his respiratory tract.
  • Sore, itchy, or crusty nose, an indication your dog may be suffering from allergies, dehydration, or even a sunburn.

Don’t panic

So, if your dog’s nose is warm to the touch, stay calm. Stop and consider whether the condition is a function of his activity level, age, or breed and look for other symptoms of distress. If there isn’t anything apparently wrong with his nose but he loses his appetite, starts sleeping more, drinks significantly less water, or begins vomiting or having diarrhea, there probably is something else going on.

Starting now, take note of your dog’s nose during the day. Notice when it’s cold and wet as well as when it’s warm and dry. Doing so will help you discover the logical reasons behind each condition, so you can determine what is normal for your particular pup. Then, you can use that benchmark to more accurately assess your dog’s overall health and more confidently know when it’s time to schedule a visit to the vet.

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