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Ask a Vet: Why Is My Dog’s Nose Dry and Cracked?

Why is my dog’s nose dry and cracked? I want to ask the vet what I can put on it. It looks crusty and there’s a bloody crack on one side.

-Jared B.

Dear Jared,

You’re not the first person to worry about your dog’s dry, cracked, sore nose. You’ve probably read other articles on the internet that tell you the solution is to simply buy some “nose balm” and keep putting it on your pup’s snout every day. And that very well may help in mild cases. But there are more serious cases where nose balm won’t fix the underlying problem.

 If you notice your pup’s nose is dry and cracked, it’s time to do some investigation. The cause can be completely benign or a sign of a serious underlying problem. Allergies, skin infection and immune-mediated disease are a few of the most common underlying causes of a dog’s dry nose.

Dry Nose Symptoms

  • Dryness of the nose “leather”
  • Scab-like crusts on the hairless part of the nose
  • Color change from dark to pink
  • Enhanced cobblestone appearance
  • Appears like nose skin is coming apart
  • Sores on or in the nose
  • Occasionally see a runny nose
  • Dog rubbing nose on furniture or floor
  • Dog rubbing paw on nose
  • Dog doesn’t want you to touch his nose
  • Discharge from the dry crusty nose
  • Cracks that sometimes bleed
  • Unpleasant odor from the affected area

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Why Is My Dog’s Nose Dry and Cracked?

Allergy & Infection

Allergies are very common in dogs. When I say allergy I’m referring to an overreaction by a dog’s immune system to a normal substance such as pollen or food. This causes inflammation in the skin. A dry cracked nose may be the only symptom you see of allergies in your dog. 

But it would be pretty common to see other symptoms like scratching, ear infections, licking paws, losing hair, and runny eyes. In cases of food allergy, you may notice indigestion symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea in addition to those already mentioned.  

And let’s not forget about contact allergies. Your dog may be sensitive to something he’s touching with his nose, for example, his food dish, the bacteria in his food dish, his bedding, a wool rug in your house, etc. 

Skin infections can cause dogs’ noses to get crusty, and sometimes to crack and bleed. It’s not known why some dogs seem more prone to what veterinarians call mucocutaneous pyoderma. German Shepherds are one of the breeds that gets this problem more than others. 

We often see crusty spots on the dog’s lips or next to the corner of his eyes. This type of infection is usually caused by bacteria although fungal organisms are occasionally to blame. This condition may be related to allergy as well. 

Neurogenic KCS

Neurogenic keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) Is a condition in which the nerves that help produce lubricating fluid for the eyes and the inner nose are not working properly. Neurogenic KCS usually causes dry nose lesions only on one side. 

Many dogs with this problem also have thick nasal discharge in the affected nostril. They will also have a dry eye, possibly with a lot of mucus or crusts around it. In most cases, a cause is never identified, but inflammation and trauma are possible causes. 

Immune-Mediated Disease

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)  is one of the most common immune-mediated skin diseases in dogs. It usually affects the unhaired area of a dog’s nose and possibly other parts of the body. Some breeds are more prone to developing DLE than others including Collie, German Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog, and Siberian Husky.

Cancer

Cancer is a less common cause of crusting of the nose in dogs. Squamous cell carcinoma can present looking like a nose dryness. Dogs with chronic DLE lesions can sometimes transform into cancer as well.

Nasal Hyperkeratosis

Hyperkeratosis is the term used to describe a condition of overproduction in the horny layer of the skin. This looks like the classic crusty nose. 

The most common causes of nasal hyperkeratosis seen on dogs’ noses include keratinization disorders, autoimmune diseases, and hereditary nasal hyperkeratosis. Some of the breeds most affected by breed-related hyperkeratosis include the Labrador Retriever, English Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, French Bulldog, Pug and Boston Terrier. 

Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis 

Zinc-responsive dermatosis can occur in any breed but is most common in Siberian Huskies and Malamutes. Dogs suffering from this type of skin disease recover when they are given a higher level of zinc in their everyday nutrition. These dogs often have a crusty, dry nose and similar-looking pads on their paws.

Black and white bully breed dog... Why is my dog's nose dry and cracked?
This senior dog has a moderately dry, cracked, crusty nose.

Diagnosing the Cause of a Dry and Cracked Dog Nose

Dogs with a mildly crusty, dry nose may not need to have a definitive diagnosis made by a veterinarian. But dogs that have cracked, bleeding noses that don’t get better with simple over-the-counter treatment May benefit from getting a specific diagnosis.

Besides the physical exam, your dog’s veterinarian will very likely want to take a cytology sample from your dog’s dry nose lesions to examine microscopically. This may reveal bacteria, indicating an underlying infection.

A skin biopsy is very helpful in diagnosing the cause of a crusty dog nose. Your dog will need to be under anesthesia for this procedure but it’s a relatively minor operation. A biopsy is important in diagnosing immune-mediated disease, infections and cancer.

Your veterinarian may also take a sample from the nose lesions for culture. The laboratory can identify any bacterial or fungal infections that might be causing the problem. They will also tell your veterinarian which medication will work best to kill the organisms.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Cracked Nose?

The approach to treatment depends on how serious your pup’s nose lesions are as well as any other symptoms present. If a biopsy and other diagnostics don’t identify a specific cause, your vet May try treating empirically with either topical or oral medications. 

The response to treatment can guide The next step, so make sure you monitor your dog’s nose and tell your vet any changes you notice with each treatment.

Topical Medication That’s Better Than Olive Oil or Vaseline

Topical medications work well in some cases, but making sure your dog doesn’t lick them off immediately can be a challenge. You might try putting the medicine on and immediately giving your dog something like a stuffed Kong toy to lick so that the medicine has a chance to work for at least 20 to 30 minutes before he licks it off.

Olive oil and Vaseline aren’t very effective in treating nose problems. Some of the common medications veterinarians prescribe for mild to moderate-to-severe cases of nasal dermatitis include:

  • Phytosphingosine (Douxo Calm PS spray)
  • Aquaphor
  • Mupirocin
  • Steroids

Mild dry dog nose cases may respond well to applications of Kerasal(tm) to decrease excessive keratin production. “Nose butter” products can be applied daily to keep the nose moist.

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Oral Medication

When topical medications don’t seem to do the trick, your vet may resort to using oral medications. These are especially common to prescribe to dogs with immune-mediated skin disease. 

Oral medications prescribed for treating dry nose lesions in dogs include

  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Immune-modulators (prednisone, cyclosporine)
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  • Doxycycline and niacinamide
  • Pentoxifylline
  • Tacrolimus
Pug with a dry nose
Pugs tend to get a dry-looking nose as they age.

Other Steps to Treat Dog Nose Dryness

If your dog has been diagnosed with DLE, it is very important to protect his nose from sunburn. Sunscreen is not safe for your dog to ingest, so you’ll have to just keep his entire body out of the sun.

Heavy moisturizers (nose balm or butter) containing shea butter, coconut oil, etc. may help moisten a dog’s nose temporarily but won’t address an underlying disease. If you use a canine nose balm for 10 to 14 days and don’t notice a significant Improvement, get your veterinarian involved. 

Don’t waste time trying different over-the-counter products because there’s a chance your dog needs a very different treatment. 

Summary

Mild nose dryness is common in some dog breeds, especially senior dogs. But there are serious diseases that can look similar to run-of-the-mill nose dryness.

If your dog has new or worsening symptoms related to a scabbed nose, cracking, bleeding or changes in appetite or behavior you need a vet’s help. Many causes of nose dryness can be treated if caught in time. Don’t waste time trying different OTC products before you call your vet!

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