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by K Marie Alto March 09, 2023 9 min read
When our noses are wet, we think of having a stuffy or runny nose and associate it with being sick.
Is the same true of our feline friends? Sometimes our kitties' noses are wet, and sometimes they're dry.
Is either one a cause for concern, or are they both more or less normal?
There's a common myth with both cats and dogs specifically revolving around their noses. It goes a little something like this: if your cat's nose is wet, they're fine and healthy. If it's dry, they're sick and need attention.
This is entirely a myth. In fact, cat noses go through cycles throughout the day. Whether it's wet or dry in general depends on what they've been doing recently, what their habits are, and even their natural health levels. Some cats just run damper than others. It's sort of like how some people are prone to sweating a lot more than other people. Each kitty is unique.
Fun Fact:the print of a cat’s nose is unique just like the human fingerprint!
Why do I bring this up? Mostly just because it can lead you to over-think a situation or miss signs of actual problems. A wet nose is usually fine but it can indicate a respiratory illness in certain situations.
Likewise, a dry nose is usually fine but can indicate dehydration. The key is context, so looking at other symptoms and behaviors is critical. You also need to take into consideration what is normal for your cat.
There are actually a lot of different reasons why your cat's nose might be wet, either when they're just wandering around and going about their business doing cat things or when they're up in your business rubbing their face all over you and yours. Let’s go through some of the most common reasons.
Sometimes, your cat's nose might be moist because they just licked it. Cats pretty frequently mlem those pink tongues of theirs right up over their noses for a bunch of different reasons. The biggest two are grooming and temperature regulation.
Cats groom themselves with their tongues, so they use their tongues to solve a lot of different bodily problems. If their nose itches, tickles, or feels like it has something on it, your cat is likely to give it a lick. It's a feat only a few talented humans can pull off, but cats do it without breaking a sweat.
Temperature regulation is also important. Humans sweat when we need to cool off since the evaporation is an effective way of cooling us down. Dogs don't have much in the way of sweat glands, so they pant. Cats don't usually pant (at least, they shouldn't be!), but they also have relatively few sweat glands. So, they'll often moisten their noses and let that evaporation help cool them off.
Catnip can also be a culprit here. Catnip stimulates a lot of different parts of a cat's system, and it can make tear ducts or nasal glands work overtime. More likely, though, it just tickles their nose while they're sniffing at it, and they're licking their nose more to alleviate it.
Another reason your fur baby might have a moist nose is sweat. Like I just mentioned, cats use their noses as one of the primary ways they keep their temperature down because it's one of the few places where their skin is directly exposed to outside temperatures.
Their noses are also one of the few places they have sweat glands. So that moisture might not be kitty drool; it might be kitty sweat. Either way, it'll evaporate quickly since that's what it's meant to do.
Nasal cavities, sinuses, eye sockets, tear ducts, and all the other sorts of bits in the nose and mouth are connected to one another in various ways. One of the more surprising things a lot of people don't know – about themselves or about their cats – is that when your eyes water and tears build up, they don't always evaporate or fall away.
You actually have little drainage ducts in the corners of your eyes, where excess tears can drain away back into your head. Usually, they drain into the nasal cavity, down the back of your throat, and are absorbed back into your body.
With cats, it's the same way, so that means it could be out through the nose. This is another case where your fur baby might lick their nose because of the excess moisture.
If you've ever spent time working outside when it's humid, you know that evaporation stops working once the atmospheric moisture levels get too saturated. You can't send more moisture into the air if the air is already saturated, after all!
Well, the same thing goes for your kitty as well. Their little noses can't evaporate and dry back if the air around them is too moist. You'll probably notice that your cat's nose is wetter the more humid it is outside and inside, wherever they spend their time.
So, if your kitty has a wet nose that seems to be more seasonal, it’s likely in the hottest months of the year.
Cats love to drink water, whether it's from a faucet, from a bowl, or even from your own cup!
One quirk of this is that they need to put their faces really close to the water to lap it up. Obviously, right?
Whatever the case may be, sometimes your fur baby just has a wet nose because they got it wet trying to drink. No big deal, right?
One of the only potential causes for concern on this list, at least as far as a wet nose is concerned, is a cold. Cats can get the sniffles (or any other sort of respiratory illness) the same way people do, and that means they have similar symptoms, including post-nasal drip, a runny nose, a stuffy nose, or irritated sinuses.
Luckily, your fur baby will generally show other symptoms if this is what's bothering them. For one thing, their nose won't just be a little moist; it'll be dripping. They'll also probably be panting or breathing open-mouthed, because their nose is stuffy. They may also hide, cry in distress, or have other symptoms. You can read a whole lot more about various causes of respiratory distress over here.
Not usually, no.
If you suspect your fur baby is sick, then you'll want to take them to the vet to make sure it's nothing serious and to get any useful medications or supplements to give them. Most of the time, though, they aren't sick; they're just a little damp, and there's nothing wrong with that! It's perfectly normal and natural for a cat's nose to be a cold, moist little dab of purring love.
Vet journalist Ingrid King says this:
"Even though people seem to think that a wet nose is a sign of health [and] a dry, warm nose is a sign of sickness, that's actually not true. Cats' body temperature is naturally higher than humans, so most of the time, a cat will feel warm to the touch.
A cat's nose may go back and forth between being wet and dry several times a day, depending on the cat's activity. Did your cat just eat or groom herself? Her nose will be wet. Has she been lying in the sun, or is the air in your house extremely dry? Her nose will be dry. The only way your cat's nose will be an indicator of her health is if you notice anything abnormal, such as flaking skin, lumps and bumps, or a runny nose."
Now let's take things in the opposite direction. Why is your cat's nose dried out? Is that dangerous or a cause for concern?
The most common reason your cat's nose is dry is, well, it's dry out! Dry air, even at what we consider a comfortable level of humidity, is enough to dry out things like your kitty's nose (and their skin, eyes, and nasal cavities too.)
They lick their nose, they get it wet, that moisture evaporates, and they're left with a dry nose. That's all there is to it!
This is especially common in the winter months in many locations, though some places have hot, dry summers as well. The drier it is outside and inside, the more likely your cat's nose will be dry.
Pro Tip: To combat the dryness of the climate, consider getting a humidifier.
They might also have a dry nose because they've been napping in a pleasant sunbeam, and that direct sunlight dried them out. You'll notice that when they wake up, one of the first things they're likely to do is go take a drink. Honestly, same; we should all be drinking a lot more water than we usually are.
Cats can also get sunburned, particularly on their noses. From the ASPCA:
"Cats are at risk of getting sunburn on their hairless noses, which can cause dryness, swelling, redness, and flaky skin. Sunburn is more prevalent in white-haired cats who have pink noses. If your cat has a light coat or is obsessed with soaking up the sun, you may need to take steps to protect them against harmful rays."
Wait, didn’t I just say that’s a reason your cat’s nose is wet? Well, yes, I did, but excessive licking can lead to a dry nose.
If your kitty has a runny nose, they are likely to lick it more often to clean up. If the sniffles don’t resolve in a day or two, the excess licking over a period of time can lead to a dry, rough irritated nose.
If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you’re familiar with the little barbs on their tongue. Constant licking can cause a lot of irritation, so it’s important to recognize the change so you can help your fur baby get well.
Speaking of drinking more water, sometimes cats can end up dehydrated.
In fact, I just listened to a vet talk about how cats that eat only dry food often live in a purrpetual state of mild dehydration. Cats naturally get a lot of water from their food, but dry food is obviously lacking that moisture.
Some cats also don’t like still water, so they may be ignoring their water bowl until they convince you to turn on the sink for them. I’m a big fan of water fountains because they keep the water moving, and in my experience keep kitties drinking more often.
Minor dehydration just means your fur baby will be thirsty, but major dehydration can crop up and cause problems. Keep an eye out for symptoms like:
These can all be signs of systemic distress, which can be caused by things like dehydration and the issues it causes, including electrolyte imbalances and organ problems.
Is a dry nose cause for concern? Again, not generally. It's only if they have other symptoms of dehydration that you need to get them checked out and rehydrated.
If you're concerned that your cat has some kind of health problem, here's a quick exam process from the humane society:
If you spot any problems, bring your fur baby to the vet to give them a once-over. Hopefully, nothing's wrong, or what's wrong can be solved with a little pampering!
Now, I'll hand it over to you, the readers! Tell me all about your furry friends! Are their snoots a little more on the wet side, or are they a little more dry? I absolutely love hearing all about your fur babies, so be sure to share your stories in the comments section down below!
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 40K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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