Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses?

Their incredible snouts are constantly gathering information.

Australian Shepherd licking nose.
Dogs lick their noses to help them interpret smells better. Lysandra Cook / Getty Images

You might have heard that a wet nose is a sign of a healthy dog. Having a wet nose helps dogs learn more about other animals, people, and food, but their noses can get damp in a variety of ways, and a dry nose isn't necessarily a sign of bad health.

Dogs use their noses to gather a lot of information about the world. Dogs have about 220 million olfactory receptors in their nose, compared to 5 million in humans. So it’s no surprise their incredible snouts have been trained to sniff out everything from survivors in disasters to all sorts of medical conditions.

Here are the reasons a dog has a wet nose, what it means if your dog's nose is dry, and when you should worry about your dog's nose.

Dog Noses Are Covered in Mucus

There are glands in the inner linings of a dog’s nose that secrete mucus. This mucus works to keep the nasal canals moist, according to VCA Hospitals. A thin layer of mucus also covers the dog’s nostrils. When a dog is constantly sniffing, they are inhaling microscopic particles and these get stuck in the mucus, making it easier for dogs to figure out what they’re smelling.

Dogs Lick Their Noses

While dogs are sticking their noses every place, they’re also constantly cleaning them off with their tongues. Sure, this helps a dog get rid of the mud from the backyard or the crumbs picked up from the pantry. But this isn’t just a hygiene habit. 

When a dog licks its nose, the saliva from its tongue clings to the mucus already on its nose. That helps keep the nose wet enough to trap scent particles, which improves the dog’s ability to smell things. And when the dog licks its nose again, it transfers those particles into its mouth where the Jacobson’s organ is located. Also called a vomeronasal organ, it is an olfactory sense organ located in the roof of a dog’s mouth that helps translate information about smells.

They Get Wet From Exploring the World

Jack russell terrier puppy is sniffing out traces. Pet animals.
Dog noses get wet from their surroundings. SergeyTikhomirov / Getty Images

Dogs stick their noses in a lot of places. They push them deep in wet grass and weeds, in puddles and in damp brush. They might sniff damp corners and basements and splash around in all sorts of interesting locales. So their noses can also get wet because of the places they explore.

Wet Noses Help Dogs Cool Off

Golden retriever lying in the grass on hot day
A wet nose, combined with panting, helps a hot dog cool off. Nevena1987 / Getty Images

Those glands inside the linings of a dog’s nose that produce mucus also secrete a clear fluid that serves a completely different purpose, according to VCA Hospitals. This watery substance evaporates from their nose, helping them cool down.

Dogs don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies like we do. They have some sweat glands on their paw pads where they have no fur. But mostly they rely on panting when they’re hot. That heavy breathing with their mouths open helps them evaporate moisture from their tongues, nasal passages, and linings of their lungs, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). When air passes over the wet tissue, it cools down their bodies.

What If My Dog Has a Dry Nose?

Close-Up Of Dog
A dog's nose might sometimes be dry after a nap. Stephan Spanfelner / EyeEm / Getty Images

In many cases, a dog will have a cold, moist nose. But don’t worry if your dog’s nose is dry. There are several normal reasons your pup’s nose could be warm and dry, says the AKC.

After a nap. If your dog just woke up, it’s likely that their nose is dry. Sleeping dogs are too busy snoring and dreaming to lick their noses. Chances are, once your dog is awake for a bit, the licking and sniffing will start and their nose will become wet.

After exercise. Some dogs might be dehydrated after extreme exertion, especially in hot weather. Get them into a cool, shady spot and give them water to drink.

After exposure to the elements. Being out in the sun, wind, or cold can dry out your dog’s nose and, in some cases, cause sunburn or chapped skin.

With age. Like people develop dry skin, some dogs get dry noses as they age.

When Should I Worry About My Dog’s Nose?

Noise moisture and dryness are not barometers of your dog’s health. However, a dog’s nose can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health concern. Take your dog to the vet if your dog’s nose is cracked, has sores, or the skin around it is red, advises VCA Hospitals.

Also, see your vet if your dog has more than the usual amount of mucus or the mucus is thick or colored. It could be a sign of an infection or of something stuck in your dog's nose.