cat eye health

Should Cats’ Noses Be Wet?

Everyone’s a hypochondriac when it comes to their pets! You can spot the smallest of changes and think they’re significant. So, is a wet cat nose normal, or should your cat’s nose be dry? And whatever it should be like, what does it mean when it’s not like that?

Is it healthy for a cat to have a wet nose? It is. While cats’ noses can tell you something about their health, it’s normal for them to change from wet to dry or dry to wet on any given day. There are many reasons why your cat’s nose is dry that have nothing to do with health, such as a nearby heat source, sitting in a sunbeam for an extended period of time, or slight dehydration. There are also reasons why your cat’s nose is wet that are benign, such as natural fluid from mucus, tear ducts or sweat glands, recently drinking water, and licking the nose. That being said, an excessively dry or wet nose could be a sign of ill health, such as a respiratory infection (chronically wet) or dehydration (chronically dry). Check for other symptoms of ill health and if you’re concerned, talk to a vet.

The guide below first looks at whether it’s normal for your cat’s nose to be wet or dry. We’ll then cover all the reasons why it might be dry or wet in turn, including both reasons that are nothing to do with health and reasons that are.

Should a Cat’s Nose Be Wet or Dry?

cat in a forest
It doesn’t matter if your cat’s nose is wet or dry, so long as it doesn’t show other signs of ill health.

If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog before, you will have heard that your pet’s nose is a marker of its health. But your cat’s wet nose doesn’t mean it’s sick, nor does its dry nose.

This idea is partly an old wives’ tale and partly true. It has long been thought that a cat’s or dog’s nose tells you about its health. And while it can, it doesn’t always. In fact, your cat’s nose will be wet at some points and dry at some points on any given day. When you first see your cat, it might have a dry nose; but after it rests for a while, you may see that it has a wet nose. Or it may have had a wet nose to begin with and a dry nose afterwards. This is nothing to worry about unless your cat is displaying other symptoms of ill health, or if its nose is excessively dry or excessively wet (e.g. if it’s constantly running and your cat is sneezing because its nose is blocked).

Is It Bad If My Cat’s Nose Is Wet?

Not necessarily, no. It’s natural for a cat’s nose to be wet sometimes. While certain health issues can make the nose more wet than usual, or wetter for extended periods of time, that doesn’t mean you should worry if you notice your cat has a wet nose.

There are several factors that contribute to a wet nose. One is breathing. The air around your cat is full of moisture—not because of your cat, but because all air has a small amount of evaporated water in it (unless you live in Death Valley). When your cat breathes in, it breathes in this moisture too, which stops the area from drying out. What’s more, your cat expels excess body water through its lungs like all mammals do, so the air that it breathes out is more ‘humid’ than the air it breathes in. This is also the reason why your nose is always a little bit wet.

There are other reasons too. Your cat’s nose has sweat glands on it like any other patch of skin. These sweat glands can produce sweat and cause or contribute to a wet nose. Your cat’s tear ducts are located inside its face, not behind its eyes, but between its eyes and its nose—and they drain into its nose (as ours drain into our noses). Any external wetness of the eyes can contribute to a wet nose too, particularly if the eyes are runny. Then there are the even more banal reasons for a wet nose, like that your cat has recently been drinking or grooming itself.

Is It Bad If My Cat’s Nose Is Dry?

It isn’t necessarily bad if your cat’s nose is dry, either. Your cat’s nose could be dry for one of many benign reasons. It may be somewhat dehydrated from sitting next to a heater, it may been asleep and not licked its nose for a while, or it may be in a room with lots of air circulation.

Whether your cat’s nose is wet or dry, don’t worry unless you can see other signs of ill health. These include but are not limited to lethargy, not eating and drinking, fever, sneezing, ulcers and very runny eyes. If you spot these symptoms and your cat’s nose is overly wet or dry, talk to a vet.

What’s It Mean When Your Cat’s Nose Is Dry?

There are many benign reasons why your cat’s nose might be dry. There are also a few that are less benign. Let’s take a look at what they are and how you can tell which is affecting your cat.

Spending Time Near a Source of Heat

cat harness
A cat that spends lots of time in the sun may have a dry nose.

If you have a cat that likes to sit next to your furnace, boiler, radiator or another source of heat then this could partly be why its nose is dry. Sitting next to a source of heat dries out the skin, and since your cat is likely sat with its face close to the source of heat, its nose is the first place you would notice this happening.

To see if this is the reason why your cat’s nose is dry, monitor it throughout the day. If its nose dries out when it’s not next to a source of heat, then the issue is probably something else. But if it’s only ever dry after it has a quick snooze next to a heater, then there’s your answer!

Sitting in The Sun

Cats love to sit in sunbeams. While they aren’t cold-blooded, cats enjoy warming themselves in the sun, and can lose track of time and sit in the sun all day! If that sounds like your cat, then this could be why its nose is dry. Again, this is because heating a surface makes water evaporate quicker from that surface. Your cat will lose lots of water sat in the sun all day and could even become a little dehydrated. But at the very least, its nose will get dry. So, if your cat has been sitting in the sun all day and you notice it has a dry nose, this is probably why.

Lots of Air Circulation

Air circulation plays a key part in the evaporative process. The more air circulates over liquid on a surface, the more of that liquid evaporates. That’s why standing in front of a fan makes you feel cool when you’re sweating: the movement of the air helps the sweat evaporate and cools you down.

In the same way, if your cat is sat in a room with lots of circulation—say you have the ceiling fan running—then this can dry out its nose. Check the room for sources of air circulation such as open doors and windows, ceiling or table fans, or heaters and air conditioners.

Uh Oh: Your Cat Is Dehydrated

Cats experience dehydration for a variety of reasons. One is that cats on dry diets don’t get anywhere near enough water from their food, and don’t make up for that by drinking more. Or your cat may not like drinking from its water bowl because it’s uncomfortable in your home, the other cats in your home bully it when it tries to eat or drink, or just because it doesn’t like drinking standing water.

Whatever the reason, cats frequently experience dehydration, and this can cause or contribute to a dry nose. The main things that make your cat’s nose wet—mucus, saliva, tear duct drainage—are all bodily fluids, and dehydrated cats produce fewer bodily fluids because their bodies try to conserve what little water they have. Your cat won’t even pick up any water on its nose from drinking if it isn’t drinking as much. Keep an eye on your cat’s eating and drinking habits to see if dehydration might be the issue, and if it is, talk to the vet about how you can help your cat avoid it.

Uh Oh: Cat Dry Nose & Lethargic

Lethargy is a symptom of many different health issues. It’s where your cat stops moving around as much as it used to. It won’t play, it won’t explore, and it might not even bother getting up to eat or drink. Rather, it will hide itself away and may appear defensive.

Because lethargy is associated with many different health issues, if the only symptoms you notice are that your cat is lethargic and has a dry nose, your cat could be experiencing one of many health issues. Talk to a vet when you notice that your cat is lethargic regardless of whether it has a dry nose or not.

What’s It Mean When Your Cat’s Nose Is Wet?

There are also benign reasons why your cat’s nose might be wet. Let’s take a look at what they are—and what might signify that your cat’s wet nose is a result of poor health.

Your Cat Has Been Licking Its Nose

cat eating
If your cat was just eating something, then it may lick its nose to clean it.

Your cat’s nose could be wet because it recently licked it and left a little saliva on it.

Cats lick their noses all the time and for two reasons. Your cat may have been cleaning its nose, for example. It may have noticed that its nose was dripping, so it licked it clean. Or it may have been grooming itself, which cats like to do after they eat, or just because they feel messy.

But also, your cat may be trying to pick up a scent. Cats have just as strong a sense of smell as dogs, and use it to their advantage. Cats have a special organ in the roof of the mouth called a vomeronasal organ; it’s like a nose inside the mouth. When your cat licks its nose, it can pick up scent molecules caught in the mucus there. When its tongue touches the vomeronasal organ, it can ‘smell’ these dissolved molecules.

Watch your cat for a while. Check whether its nose is normally wet, and whether it licks its nose frequently. If its nose only gets wet when your cat licks it, then that’s why.

Your Cat Was Just Drinking

It’s also possible that your cat was recently drinking. Cats don’t drink in the same way taht dogs do, i.e. by using the tongue to scoop water up into the mouth. Rather, cats drink by flicking the water with the tongue and catching the water in their mouths by closing their jaws before it falls back down. If you watch your cat drinking, you can actually see this in action. Scientists only figured this out recently. According to LiveScience,

The first thing the researchers noticed is that cats and dogs drink very differently. Both animals extend their tongues and curl them back toward their chins as they approach water. But dogs use their bent tongues as a ladle, spooning water into their mouths. The scoop of sorts created by the cats’ tongues stayed empty. Instead, cats touched only the top surface of their tongue to the water.

Once a cats’ tongue touches the surface, it draws it back at a rate of almost four laps per second. The inertia of the movement draws the water upward (think “objects in motion tend to stay in motion”). At the same time, gravity fights to pull the water back down. As these forces lengthen and stretch the water column, the cat snaps its jaws shut at just the right moment, catching a mouthful of liquid before it falls.

Of course this method of drinking isn’t foolproof. Your cat can splash water onto its whiskers and nose by accident, or it could touch the surface of the water with its nose before or after drinking. While cats will groom themselves to get rid of any beads of water left on their faces, your cat’s wet nose could be covered in drinking water.

Cat Wet Nose Respiratory Infection

It’s also possible that your cat has a respiratory infection. A respiratory infection is something like a flu or a cold, where your cat’s respiratory system (its nose, throat and lungs) become infected by something. This causes several obvious symptoms such as:

  • Extra mucus. Your cat’s nose and respiratory system will produce more mucus than usual. Mucus catches bacteria and makes it easier for the body’s immune system to get rid of, so your cat will produce more when it’s sick. You may notice this extra mucus dripping down from your cat’s nose.
  • Cat wet nose with thick yellow, green or black mucus. Whereas your cat’s nose normally has clear fluid on it, be that clear mucus, saliva or water, the mucus may now be discolored. This is a result of dead bacteria and blood cells being expelled from the body.
  • Cat wet nose and sneezing. Sneezing is the body attempting to clear mucus and other blockages from the respiratory system. If your cat experiences trouble breathing because of the extra mucus, it will sneeze to try and get rid of it.
  • General signs of ill health such as lethargy, not eating and not drinking.

If your cat has a respiratory infection, you should take it to the vet. If the infection is caused by bacteria, then they may prescribe antibiotics to help fight it. They can also make recommendations on how to make your cat comfortable when it’s sick.