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Most people expect a cat’s nose to be cool and wet, and this is true in most cases, but a dry nose on its own is not a sign of sickness. The cool, moist hairless portion of the nose is known as the planum, nose pad or nose leather, and is covered in bumps and ridges that are unique to each cat.
Why do cats have a wet nose?
The cat’s nose and footpads contain eccrine glands, a type of sweat gland which has three functions:
- Thermoregulation: To cool the surface of the skin and reduce body temperature
- Protection: The secretion of the eccrine glands preserves the skin’s acid mantle to protect it from colonisation from pathogens
- Excretion: Eccrine sweat glands provide a route for excess water and electrolytes to leave the body
- Smell: A wet nose helps to trap scent molecules to enhance the cat’s sense of smell
The moist substance on the cat’s nose is made up of sweat, which is predominantly water and some electrolytes.
A healthy cat’s nose is usually cool and moist, but dryness is not always indicative of a problem. The nose can be dryer and/or warmer for a number of reasons including sickness, after a nap, dehydration, low humidity, exposure to heat (heater, lying in the sun).
When to see a veterinarian
The best way to determine if a dry nose is an issue is to watch for accompanying signs. A skin turgor test can help evaluate for dehydration. Lift the skin at the back of the neck and release it, the skin will rapidly snap back into its normal position in the cat who is well hydrated. If the cat is dehydrated, the skin will take longer to return its normal position.
A dry nose in itself is not a cause for alarm, but it can be a sign of an underlying problem if it is accompanied by other signs which may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nasal discharge (clear or mucopurulent)
- Eye discharge
- Increased urination and thirst
Other changes to a cat’s nose
While a dry nose without accompanying symptoms is not a concern, other nasal changes do need to be investigated by a veterinarian. These include:
- Swelling on the outside or inside of the nose
- Abnormal growths
- Ulcers which do not heal
- Dry or peeling skin on the planum
- Nasal discharge (clear, mucopurulent)
- Lumps or bumps
Black spots are common on the nose of ginger (red) cats as they age, which is due to areas of hyperpigmentation. This condition, known as lentigo, is similar to freckles in people and is benign. However, it is always recommended that you speak to a veterinarian, to rule out other possible causes such as neoplasm.
A wet or dry nose is not a sign of illness on its own but can be a manifestation of an underlying disease if accompanied by additional signs. Environmental factors play a part in how wet or dry the nose feels.