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Dog Nose Facts and Common Problems

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A dog’s sense of smell is vital to how they experience the world around them. This sense of smell is so sensitive and powerful that dogs are used to detect diseases like diabetes and cancer and help law enforcement and military sniff out narcotics and bombs. 

We rounded up five interesting dog nose facts, plus explore some common dog nose problems. Let’s take a closer look at your dog’s amazing nose!

5 Interesting Dog Nose Facts

closeup of dog nose

There’s a lot that the average pet parent doesn’t know about their dog’s nose and sense of smell. Here are some of the most interesting things about your pup’s sniffer.

A dog’s nose is more intricate than it seems. The nose of a dog is a very complex structure, but we can only see a tiny bit of it. The outer, visible part of a dog’s nose consists of the nasal planum, the black or pink fleshy part of the nose, and the nostrils. When a dog inhales, the air flows into their nostrils and enters the nasal cavity, which consists of the nasal turbinates, scrolls of tissue that are lined by scent receptors. 

The length matters. The length of a dog’s muzzle or snout is one of the reasons why dogs are expert smellers as this length gives more surface area for scent detecting tissues. 

Dogs have special scent-processing centers. When a dog sniffs, the scents detected are transmitted to the olfactory bulb of the brain, an area of the brain dedicated to scent detection and processing. Dogs also possess an organ for detecting pheromones, called the vomeronasal organ. 

Pheromones are chemicals that are produced by other dogs and animals that signal different messages. For example, a dog can pick up on pheromones produced by another dog that feels threatened that would signal that danger may lie ahead. The vomeronasal organ detects these pheromones in the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth that then travels up through the nose to the olfactory bulb. This organ allows dogs to essentially taste certain scents. 

Close up of dog's smiling face and nose

A dog’s sense of smell is way stronger than ours. Dogs have 30-50 times as many scent receptors in their noses as humans do and the size of their olfactory bulb in their brain is at least 3 times larger than ours, even though their brains are overall much smaller [1]. It is no wonder then that studies have indicated that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than that of humans [2]. 

It is important to take this into consideration in our daily routines. Dogs often find things with strong scents such as deodorizers, air fresheners and smoke unpleasant and irritating. For this reason, try to avoid using these things around your dog to keep his nose healthy and happy. 

Not all dogs have the same sense of smell. However, even among different dog breeds, their sense of smell can vary greatly. For example, a Dachshund has 150 million olfactory receptors, while a Bloodhound has 300 million [1]. 

Dog Nose Problems

Jack Russell licking nose

It is not uncommon for dogs to develop medical issues with their noses. Symptoms that may indicate a problem with your dog’s nose or his overall health include abnormal nasal discharge, nose bleeds, ulcerations or wounds on the nose, sneezing, and crusting of the nose. 

The most common dog nose problems include: 

  • Rhinitis
  • Dental disease
  • Nasal foreign bodies
  • Nasal tumors
  • Hyperkeratosis of the nasal planum
  • Autoimmune disorders

Rhinitis: This is an inflammation of the tissues inside your dog’s nose. Rhinitis can be caused by allergies, viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections. The most common symptoms include nasal discharge and congestion. 

Dental disease: Advanced periodontal (gum) disease is a very common cause of abnormal nasal symptoms including nasal discharge, nasal swelling, and nasal congestion. 

Nasal foreign bodies: Since dogs frequently have their noses to the ground to pick up on scents, it is common for them to get foreign material lodged inside their noses. In the western United States, it is common for foxtails—a type of spiny plant—to get stuck in nostrils. Symptoms of a nasal foreign body include violent sneezing with a sudden onset and nasal discharge, including blood, coming only from one nostril. 

Nasal tumors: Symptoms include one-sided nasal discharge, nose bleeds, and swelling that deforms the face. Nasal adenocarcinoma is the most common type of nasal tumor in dogs. It is important for biopsies to be used to diagnose nasal tumors, as nasal fungal infections can cause similar symptoms. 

Hyperkeratosis of the nasal planum: This is a disorder found mostly in older dogs and is caused by excess keratin deposits on the nose. This creates a crusty dry appearance to the nose. 

Autoimmune disorders: Discoid lupus erythematosus and pemphigus are two autoimmune disorders that frequently cause abnormal nasal symptoms including ulceration of the nasal planum, loss of nasal pigment, and crusting of the nose. 

Dog Nose FAQs

beagle in forest

Since your dog’s nose is such an important part of his overall well being, you probably have some questions about your pup’s sniffer. We did our best to answer some dog nose FAQs about color, texture, and discharge to help you know when to keep calm and when to talk to a veterinarian. 

Why is My Dog’s Nose Wet? 

Dogs’ noses are frequently moist to the touch. One of the reasons for this is that dogs have a thin layer of mucus covering their noses, which helps scent particles to better stick to their noses and improve their sense of smell. Dogs also frequently lick their noses, which helps to keep them wet and allows them to smell and taste simultaneously. 

Why is My Dog’s Nose Dry? 

Most dogs will develop dry noses at some point or another and this is not necessarily cause for concern. Spending time outdoors in the sun or in arid dry climates may cause a dog’s nose to become dry. Brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, will tend to have dry noses that may be due to a difficulty of licking their noses and increased risk of blocked tear ducts, which normally drain into the nose. 

Why is My Dog’s Nose Running? 

Dog nose running outside on a hike

Occasional clear nasal discharge can be normal in dogs. Allergies or nasal irritants, such as smoke or perfumes, can cause a runny nose in dogs. A persistent runny nose, especially if the discharge is thick or anything but clear in appearance, warrants an examination by your veterinarian. 

Why is My Dog’s Nose Changing Color? 

Some dogs are prone to a condition called a Dudley nose or snow nose. This will cause a gradual loss of black pigment on their noses. It may come and go with seasonal changes and is most common in Labs, Golden Retrievers, and Huskies. This is a cosmetic issue only and will only result in a loss of color in the nose without any crusting or ulceration, as is seen with other disorders affecting the nose. 

Why is My Dog’s Nose Bleeding? 

If your dog is bleeding from his nose, called epistaxis, this may indicate a serious problem. A bloody nose may indicate a nasal foreign body, a tumor, high blood pressure, or a blood clotting abnormality. Make sure to take your dog to see your veterinarian immediately if you notice nasal bleeding. 

How to Clean a Dog’s Nose? 

Generally, dogs do not need their noses cleaned. Most dogs can clean their own noses by licking them. However, dogs can sometimes stick their noses somewhere gross or develop a disorder, which may require cleaning. 

Should you need to clean your dog’s nose, clean only the outer surface and do not clean the inside or put anything inside your dog’s nose unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian. If your dog’s nose gets dirty, you can clean it with water and a soft cloth or cotton. Your dog’s nose is very sensitive and delicate, so make sure to only apply gentle pressure or dab it when cleaning.


  1. Lippi, Giuseppe & Heaney, Liam. (2020). “The ‘olfactory fingerprint’: Can diagnostics be improved by combining canine and digital noses?” Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine. 58. 10.1515/cclm-2019-1269
  2. Jenkins EK, DeChant MT, Perry EB. (2018 Mar) “When the Nose Doesn’t Know: Canine Olfactory Function Associated With Health, Management, and Potential Links to Microbiota.” Front Vet Sci. 5:56. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00056. PMID: 29651421; PMCID: PMC5884888.