What your dog's nose can tell you

Does a cold nose means your dog is healthy? Find out what her snout can truly reveal about her overall well being.

A lot of people believe the texture and temperature of a dog’s nose is a reliable barometer of how she’s feeling. While there’s some truth to this adage, it’s not as simple as it seems. The appearance to your dog’s nose can definitely tell you something about her overall health, but it’s important to separate fact from fiction. To do so, we spoke with holistic veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Mahaney.

AW: Does a moist, cold nose signify good health, or this is just a myth? How does the temperature or dryness/dampness of a dog’s nose point to what’s going on in his body?

PM: The classic perspective of a dog’s moist nose indicating the utmost picture of health isn’t necessarily always the case. Just like the skin (the body’s largest organ), it is an indicator of overall health, but should not be the exclusive means of determining if a dog is well or ill.

However, the nose can yield some valuable information about what’s going on inside the body.

For example, if the body is sufficiently hydrated, then it is more likely the nose will be adequately suffused with blood and will therefore seem moist. When the body is dehydrated, as occurs with diarrhea, vomiting, reduced interest in or ability to consume water (as occurs with kidney/liver disease, cancer, etc.), then insufficient blood reaches the nose and both its moisture level and appearance can change on a short- or long-term basis.

Elevated body temperature (hyperthermia) can cause the nose to feel warm to the touch. Conversely, decreased body temperature (hypothermia) can make the nose seem cool.

AW: What should a healthy dog’s nose look and feel like?

PM: It should appear uniform in size (the right side equaling the left), and be moist to mildly dry to the touch. Look for smooth and consistent airflow in and out of both nostrils (more noticeable with a closed mouth). It should lack textural and pigmentary changes, both on the surface and in the deeper tissues, and should exude only small amounts of clear discharge.

AW: What does it mean if a dog’s nose is running, and when should I be worried?

PM: First, let’s explain what is meant by “running”. From my perspective, a “running nose” indicates the presence of some form of nasal discharge. Whether it’s clear liquid, thick opaque mucus, or blood, all discharge from it can have mild to severe potential associations with underlying health conditions.

  • Clear discharge: Often a normal occurrence in small quantities. However, irritation from inhaled environmental allergies (smoke, perfume, air freshener, pollen, etc.) can irritate the nasal passages and lead to an increased volume of discharge.
  • Thick opaque mucus: When irritation becomes more severe, or infectious organisms like bacteria grow in the nasal passages, the consistency and color of the discharge becomes more opaque and thicker (respectively).
  • Blood: Also called epistaxis, blood emerging from the nose can result from mild to severe trauma to the tissue at the outermost part the nose (nasal planum), where it meets up with the outside environment; or deeper in the mucous membranes lining the nasal passages. A penetrating injury, blunt trauma or scrape to the surface can cause bleeding that will typically stop with gentle pressure and by calming the dog down (sometimes requiring sedation and pain medication). When a piece of foreign material enters the deeper nasal passages and becomes imbedded there, or when a tumor grows and destroys normal tissues, there’s a higher likelihood that blood vessels will be eroded and major bleeding will occur.

AW: Do changes in pigmentation signal a problem?

PM: Pigmentary changes in the nose’s tissue can potentially indicate a deeper health issue, but this is not always the case. Changes in pigment can also be correlated with a dog’s breed, age, environmental exposure, etc. However, in general, any changes in pigmentation should be addressed with a veterinarian.

AW: What about changes in texture?

PM: The texture and the development of scaling (skin flaking) or sores that don’t heal or are slow to heal, can certainly correlate with underlying health issues. Nasal hyperkeratosis is a disorder commonly seen in older dogs or certain breeds (e.g. cocker spaniel, Labrador retriever) where the nose takes on a dry, callus-like or cobblestone appearance due to excess production of keratin. It can be associated with a dog’s genes, dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS), or even blocked tear ducts.

AW: What are some additional conditions that can manifest as symptoms on a dog’s nose?

PM: Specific diseases that manifest as abnormalities on the nose include immune-mediated (autoimmune) conditions such as pemphigus foliaceous (PF) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). These skin diseases affect many mixed and pure breeds, with the Nordic (malamute, husky) and herding (Australian shepherd, cattle dog, collie) breeds being most susceptible. PF and DLE cause irritation, crusting and the development of secondary infections (bacterial, fungal, etc.) at affected sites, especially on the nose or the bridge of the muzzle. Squamous cell carcinoma (cancer of the skin’s squamous cells); adenoma (cancer of glandular tissue); lymphoma (cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell), and others can alter the gross appearance (size, shape, etc.) of the nose, and even create a nodular consistency to its surface.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.