The cute, little, boopable noses we all love on our fur babies can actually tell us a lot about the overall health of their skin. From changes in pigmentation to crusting, any changes in the appearance of the nose is worth having checked out by your veterinarian.
Source: Dr. Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC
“As a veterinarian, I always trust pet owners’ intuition when they suspect that something is wrong with their dog. I’ve seen some owners bring in their dog to say, “Something’s wrong with him,” even though the physical examination may be totally normal. Once blood work is done, it turns out they were right and we’re able to pick up on some early stages of disease (e.g., protein-losing nephropathy, Lyme disease, or even cancer)! So, as a pet owner, I want you to trust your gut instinct when it comes to picking up on subtle signs of abnormalities in your dog.
After all, you live with your dog and can pick up on potential early signs of disease or medical problems.
My dog’s nose feels to wet or too dry
That said, in the emergency room, I often hear, “His nose was dry, so I knew something was wrong.” Kudos to you for observing your dog carefully, but actually, in general, Fido’s nose is not an indicator of how sick or healthy he is.
Check out your dog’s nose right now. You may notice it fluctuates between slightly drier to a more soft, moist nose depending on the day, weather, and humidity. A dog’s nose usually feels wet due to the lateral nasal glands and the nasal vestibular glands producing secretions that keep it moist. There is, however, no direct correlation between the health of your pet and their sniffer (for the most part).
When could my dog’s nose indicate a health issue?
If you notice that your dog’s nose is excessively thickened, cracked, or bleeding, then that does mean something may be wrong. Some underlying skin diseases or immune diseases such as pemphigus (more commonly seen in breeds like Collies) or lupus can present this way. The difference will be very obvious.
What nose symptoms warrant a trip to the veterinarian?
- Bleeding from the nose
- Green colored discharge from the nose
- Excessive thickening or cracking of the nose
- Any lumps, bumps, or masses near the nose
- Any asymmetry of the nose or nasal cavity (area over the bridge of the nose)
- Itching, scratching or rubbing of the nose on the carpet
These signs may indicate underlying problems, such as:
- A clotting abnormality (e.g., mouse or rat poisoning)
- A platelet problem such as immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP)
- Aspiration pneumonia or pneumonitis
- Pemphigus foliaceus
- Nasal adenocarcinoma or other types of cancer
- Foreign body (e.g., something stuck in the nostrils like a plant awn or grass seed)
Workup for nasal problems include blood work (to look for evidence of an infection or increase in white blood cell count) clotting tests (to look specifically for mouse or rat poisoning or platelet problems), x-rays (of the chest and nose), biopsies (done by endoscopy [a camera is placed in the nostrils under general anesthesia]), or even a catscan. The sooner you recognize the problem, the sooner it can be treated.
When in doubt, check with your veterinarian. My hint? Just remember this handy little rhyme: if it’s dry or wet, no vet; but if looking makes you sick, get hip! (i.e., get to a vet for a check up!)”
This should help you weed out your anxieties over dry and wet noses.
But What Is Pigment Change and What Causes It?
Pigmentation changes can mean a dark nose becomes grey (hypopigmentation) or pink (depigmentation), or a light-colored nose becomes freckled (lentigo).
Diseases that can cause loss of pigmentation include:
- Seasonal nasal hypopigmentation (aka snow nose). This is a benign change in which there is partial, cyclic lightening of the nose. It is most commonly seen in Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and huskies. There is generally no other visible change to the nose, and it does not require treatment.
- Vitiligo. Vitiligo is an immune-mediated disease that causes loss of pigment, which often affects the nose. It causes lightening of the hair and other areas of the skin, like the lips and eyelids. This condition can be progressive and there is no known effective treatment, but the clinical signs are generally cosmetic and do not cause any systemic changes.
- Discoid Lupus Erythematosus. Causing loss of pigmentation in the nose, this immune-mediated disease differs from vitiligo due to erosions/ulcerations or fissuring of the skin, which can lead to bleeding and crusting. This disease, if untreated, can cause a loss of tissue. It can be challenging to differentiate from a mucocutaneous pyoderma (see below), and this condition often requires a biopsy for confirmation. Since it is a focal immune-mediated disease, therapy is often focused on topical medications.
- Cutaneous lymphoma. A rare type of cancer that is contained in the skin, this commonly causes loss of pigmentation in the nose, lips, and eyelids. In addition to loss of pigmentation, there is usually swelling of the nose, ulceration, and crusting. Generalized skin lesions are commonly seen as well. A biopsy is required to confirm this diagnosis.
What Causes Crusting of the Nose?
Crusting of the nose can be focal or generalized. It can occur as the sole change to the nose or in combination with other issues like loss of pigment or cracking and bleeding. As always, It is vital to note all the changes you’ve seen, since it can help streamline the diagnostic work up.
Diseases that Cause Crusting of the Nose:
- Xeromycteria (aka parasympathetic nose). Generally a focal, unilateral crusting of the nose, this condition is brought on by loss of innervation to the nerves that cause secretions that moisturize the nose. It can often be seen concurrently with dry eye and is commonly caused by trauma to the nerves or hypothyroidism.
- Mucocutaneous pyoderma. The result of a bacterial infection of the mucous membranes, this ailment can cause focal or generalized crusting of the nose. The exact cause of mucocutaneous pyoderma is unknown, but has been associated with allergic disease or trauma in some animals. The symptoms presented are very similar to discoid lupus erythematosus.
- Pemphigus foliaceus. Another immune-mediated disease that affects the nose, this causes crusting that extends from the nose onto the hair of the muzzle, around the eyes, onto the paw pads, and the ear flaps. It often causes generalized lesions on the bottom. This disease requires a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and life-long therapy with immune-modulating medications.
How Do You Determine What is Causing Pigmentation Changes?
In order to predict the prognosis and the best direct treatment, a full diagnostic work up is generally necessary, especially considering the variety of potential causes.
Typically, there are several diagnostic tests that may be conducted. If there is crusting present, a sample will be taken to look for bacteria and inflammatory cells. If no infectious agents are noted, a biopsy may be needed to determine the underlying cause.
In general, most diseases that affect the nose are manageable and your veterinarian can help keep that nose as boopable as ever.
- Source: Carey Hemmelgarn, DVM DACVECC