I got a frantic call from a family friend today. Her dog has not been feeling well for the last day or two. After telling me about his lethargy and nausea, she adds "but his nose is cold and wet, so I don't know if there is even anything to worry about." Maybe there is something to worry about and maybe there isn't, but the dog's nose is not the issue here. In reality, the dog nose theory is just a myth. Ah, if only it were that easy to tell if a dog is sick. A dog's nose does not necessarily have anything to do with health. Still, dog owners everywhere have heard this old wives' tale and wonder if they should be checking their dogs' noses whenever they seem "off." Actually, it's more important to look at the dog's signs and symptoms. So, I told my friend she should probably have the vet take a look just in case, no matter how her dog's nose feels.
I'm not 100% certain how this myth began, but its origins might be related to canine distemper, a deadly virus that still exists but was once much more prevalent. One symptom of advanced distemper is hyperkeratosis (thickening) of the nose and footpads. Basically, the nose and pads of the feet become hard and dry. Therefore, back when distemper was more widespread, a cool, wet nose was generally a good sign. Thanks to vaccinations, distemper is less common today.
What does it mean if your dog's nose is dry or warm? Maybe nothing. A sick dog might have a cool, wet nose. A healthy dog can have a dry and/or warm nose. Certainly, if the nose is dry and crusty, there might be a problem. Overall, it's most important that you learn to recognize the signs of illness and know when to call your vet. You can find out more about about the dry nose myth from Veterinary Medicine Guide Dr. Janet Crosby.