Often thought of as being a key indicator in the health and wellbeing of your pet, a wet nose is often mis-categorized by cat owners who simply want the best for their feline friends. In reality, the answer to “why are cats noses wet” is actually slightly more complex than you might initially think. Below, we give you the complete guide to a cat’s nose and why a wet cat nose isn’t an immediate cause for concern.
Are Cats’ Noses Supposed To Be Wet
If you’re wondering whether a cat’s nose is supposed to be wet or dry, I have some bad news – the answer isn’t as simple as a wet cat nose meaning your cat is healthy or unhealthy. This is actually one of the reasons why so many vets are visited with the simple question “why is my cat’s nose wet?”, as you won’t be able to find a clear-cut answer without first checking your cat over.
Put simply, a cat’s nose is designed to be both wet and dry. Indeed, there are several cycles throughout the day where your cats’ nose may distinctly vary from being dry to wet, then back again, without any cause for concern. It’s all part of their natural ability to adapt to their surroundings, which we’ll discuss in more detail, below.
Does a Wet Cat Nose Mean My Cat is Sick?
The good news is that having a wet nose does not necessarily mean your cat is sick. However, as with all things, you know your cat best and if your pet seems a little off to you there’s absolutely no harm in getting them checked over by your local veterinarian.
This is especially true if you notice any other signs alongside a wet nose. For example, a cat who is feeling under the weather is more likely to hide away from humans. This can often make it more difficult for owners, as catching an illness early is often key to getting the problem sorted before it develops into a much bigger issue.
Other key signs that your cat is sick include changes to their eating and drinking habits, digestive problems such as vomiting and diarrhea, an unusual coloring in the gums and a high temperature. If you spot these symptoms alongside a wet nose or in any combination, we would advise that you seek advice for your vet as soon as possible. This will allow you catch any illness quickly, helping you and your furry friend to get back to normal, as quickly as possible.
Similarly, a dry nose does not necessarily mean that your cat is poorly, either. That said, you might notice problems that are concurrent with a dry nose or even the result of long-term dryness, such as cracked skin or breathing problems. That’s why it is very important that your cat’s nose be allowed to maintain its own little ecosystem – which often requires cycles of being both wet and dry throughout the day.
Why Do Cats Have Wet Noses
Just like dogs, cats have extraordinarily sensitive noses – and that means that their noses require a lot of upkeep in order to be maintained to peak condition. If they’re too dry and they’ll end up with sore, cracked noses that aren’t as susceptible to picking up scents. Thus, their body does a great job at keeping a wet cat nose in order to maintain a healthy, functioning nose.
By doing this, scents are picked up more quickly, as the scent particles will sit more readily on a moist nose over a dry one. This keeps your cat’s sense of smell at it’s best and helps them with hunting, as well as helping your cat to avoid any possible dangers that may be incoming.
A wet nose on cats has a secondary function, however. As cats are covered in a double coating of fur, they are prone to overheating on occasion. Thus, keeping their nose wet allows for the heat to be more quickly transferred from their body, thanks to evaporative cooling (where heat transfers more quickly through liquid). In other words, your cat may need a wet nose in order to sweat.
One final theory as to why a cat’s nose is wet, is that this area of the skin – the nasal planum or hairless nose skin – allows for excess fluid to be drained from a faulty tear duct. This ensures that your cat won’t have an increased level of pressure against their eyes and keeps their eyes healthy, too.
Of course, there is always a risk that an excessively wet or dry nose may indicate an underlying illness, even without any of the symptoms listed above. Generally, it is accepted that a very wet nose is more concerning than a very dry nose (which is usually a simple indication of conserving water, which can be easily remedied by providing better access to water for your cat). If you genuinely feel that your cat’s nose moisture is becoming disproportionate to what you think is normal for your cat, then please do contact your vet for further advice and a checkup.
Illnesses A Wet Cat Nose May Indicate
While a wet nose on cats is unlikely to indicate anything serious, there are times when a wet nose is directly linked to illnesses and issues in your cat’s health and wellbeing. If you notice dripping or that your cat’s nose seems to be wet for longer than usual, or with greater levels of liquid, then it could be a sign of an upper respiratory infection (URI).
Not entirely dissimilar to the common cold in humans, URI’s can start from a wide range of different bacteria and there’s no real way to stop your cat from picking these up. Like most infections, these aren’t dangerous if they are treated quickly and appropriately, but they can easily build into a larger, more serious problem if left untreated. They are passed from direct contact with other cats and are extremely contagious – so do keep your cat indoors until they have finished their medication in these cases, to avoid the infection being spread further.
There are also, unfortunately, some chronic carriers in some instances. In these cases, the URI is caused by the feline herpes virus, although they are not sexually transmitted diseases. In the same way that herpes is a lifelong illness in humans, a cat with feline herpes will always be a carrier and prone to spontaneous outbreaks. Because of this, it is possible for some indoor cats to already have the virus and only present symptoms much later on in their life.
Usually, when you visit your vet for a wet cat nose, they will look at their gums and eyes first. This is to check for any ulcers, which can be a clear indication of the herpes virus. However, for other URI’s, it is likely to run concurrently with symptoms such as pus in the eyes, sniffling, sneezing, coughing and being lethargic.
This illness is likely to last between 7 and 21 days per bout, with the average being dependent on the overall health and wellbeing of your cat. That said, the main collection of symptoms is likely to be seen between days 2 and 10, at which point you should see a sharp improvement. Bear in mind that the entire 21 days require your cat’s isolation, as this is the incubation period in which your cat is at their most contagious.
The first time you bring your cat in, you may be given some antibiotics or painkillers and discharged quickly. However, if you feel that your cat is repeatedly becoming ill, then don’t hesitate to ask for blood to be taken. These can rule out many illnesses, putting your mind at ease, as well as being able to check the correct levels of hormones and nutrients are currently being utilized.
This can help the vet ascertain the cause of the illness itself and possibly provide you with medication designed to decrease the number of outbreaks or lessen the effects of the outbreaks. It will also help determine if there are any other issues, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), which will require further observations, tests and lifelong care.
The above information may seem a little disconcerting at first, but URI’s are very common, and most symptoms are easily treatable with little to no effect on your cat’s happiness. Remember that this information is mostly for general advice and should not be taken in lieu of advice from your vet, so please do make an appointment at your local surgery if you suspect that your cat’s wet nose is a URI.
- Nicholas DeMarino, Should a Cat’s Nose Always Be Wet & Cool?, The Nest
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.