Wet noses and dogs go together like peanut butter and chocolate. It’s one of those things that most dog owners come to love about their pets, yet it’s also a bit of a mystery to many. Why do dogs have wet noses, anyway? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Does it serve a purpose? Fortunately, there are some easy answers to this somewhat complicated question.
Wet Noses and Scent
A dog’s sense of smell is as important to it as the sense of vision is to the average human. Dogs are absolutely scent-oriented creatures, using their noses at least as much as their eyes in order to both find food and to deal with threats. A dog who can’t smell, then, is a dog who is lacking one of his or her most important attributes. Your dog’s brain works overtime to ensure that he or she is always able to get the scent-based data that he or she needs but to do that he or she is going to need a nose that’s able to do some frankly amazing things.
For a dog, everything comes down to scent receptors. Humans are fairly smell-blind when compared to their canine companions, as we have a paltry six million scent receptors in our noses compared to the over one hundred million that are present in dogs. All of these scent receptors are hooked up to the scent processing parts of a dog’s brain, which is easily forty times bigger than the related part of a human’s brain. What this means, then, is that your dog is really better at sussing out the sources of odors than any of us.
How much better is your dog at this? Well, it’s estimated that your dog could be up to ten thousand times better at detecting odors than the average human, an ability that is aided by the addition of an organ called the Jacobsen’s organ (1). This organ is actual located inside your dog’s nasal cavity, but it opens up into your dog’s mouth – giving it the ability to also focus as a backup sensor and a key tool for detecting certain chemicals.
The one thing that both your dog’s nose and Jacobsen’s organ need to get all this data, though, is scent particles. While there are always scent particles in the air, they’re even easier to detect when they stick to damp surfaces. As such, your dog’s nose actually works as an important tool for helping him or her to keep smelling his or her favorite food scents.
Wet Noses and Cooling
Wet noses aren’t just there for smelling, though. They’re actually an important part of keeping your dog cool.
Sadly, dogs aren’t able to sweat. Fortunately, dogs have developed a whole host of other anatomical tools to help deal with this fact. Dogs pant, of course, and they also dissipate heat out of their feet. What you might not know, though, is that your dog also uses his or her nose as a method of cooling himself or herself down. That’s right – in many ways, your dog’s wet nose works as part of his or her own personal air conditioner.
Why Are Dog Noses Wet?
Now that we know why dogs have wet noses, it makes sense to figure out exactly how their noses get wet. As you might expect, the answer here is both cool and a bit gross.
The secret, of course, is secretion. Your dog’s nose secretes mucus just like your own nose secretes mucus. The inside of your dog’s nose is designed to ensure that it’s kept wet at all times, both in order to keep your dog cool and to enhance his or her ability to find scents. As such, a little bit of mucus always sticks to your dog’s nostrils so that he or she will be able to function at his or her best. There’s also a great deal of clear mucous that’s just there to help cool down your dog, further enhancing his or her wet nose.
If this isn’t enough, your dog also makes sure that his or her nose stays wet by doing some of the work on his or her own. If you’ve ever stopped to watch your dog at play, you might notice that he or she keeps licking his or her nose at all times. As you might expect, this is what helps to keep your dog’s nose coated in a lovely layer of saliva. This is another one of those reasons why your dog has such an incredibly long tongue, along with the fact that your dog needs that same tongue to be able to get at all of the delicious dog treats that might lie just out of his or her reach.
It’s not just moisture that you’re dog is going after when licking his or her nose, though. Your dog is also bringing some of the scent particles on his or her nose into his or her mouth so that he or she can bring them closer to his or her Jacobsen’s organ. This transportation is a vital part of ensuring that your dog can get all of the data possible.
It’s also important to remember that your dog knows that he or she needs a wet nose to get scents, so he or she is going to keep it wet on purpose. That’s right – your dog is actually licking because he or she wants to be smarter!
Finally, dog noses get wet because your dog uses his or her nose. When your dog sniffs the ground, plants, and other matter, he or she is almost certainly going to get some kind of moisture on his or her nose. The environment helps your dog to keep his or her nose moist, which in turn makes it much easier for your dog to keep interacting with the world.
What About Dry Noses?
Since you now know the importance of a wet nose, you might start worrying about what it means if your dog’s nose is dry. There are actually many who would tell you that a warm nose means that your dog is sick, but the truth is that it might not actually mean anything. There are plenty of very healthy dogs that have dry noses and plenty of sick dogs that have wet noses – figuring out you’re dog’s health does, unfortunately, take a lot more work than just touching his or her nose.
In fact, many dogs have warm noses because of very specific reasons. Some dogs have dry noses after they exercise or take naps, just as humans might have dry mouths after the same activities. Other dogs tend to get dryer noses over time, both as a sign of aging and as a sign that they have been exposed to the elements over the years. In fact, dogs who primarily live outside or spend most of the day running around in their invisible dog fence may tend to have a dry nose as a default.
Can a Dog’s Nose Be Too Wet?
While a wet nose is a good thing, your dog’s nose might actually be too wet at times. While having a bit of snot from time to time is a fairly normal thing for dogs, you do need to be on the lookout for too much mucous. Too much mucous from a dog’s nose is just as bad as it is from a human’s nose, as it can be a sign that there’s something going on with your dog’s respiratory system.
At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that your dog’s wet nose is more than just another fun part of your dog’s anatomy. It’s a vital tool and one that will help your dog to live his or her best life. While getting poked with a wet nose might not always be the best feeling, it is one that you should learn to cherish.