Why Do Dogs Lick Their Nose?

December 25th, 2018. Last Updated April 11th, 2020

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Do you ever wonder why dogs lick their nose? Christmas just happened to fall on a Tongue Out Tuesday this year, so we thought we’d take a deep dive into this mystery…

This question was one of the first I had about dogs. The natural length of their tongue allows them to lick their nose, but “because they can” just isn’t a good enough answer.

Nose licking can mean a variety of things, all of which we’ll get to in this article. But first, let’s start off with the nose and the tongue–two of our furry friends’ most vital body parts.

A closeup of a dog's snout at she sniffs the area.
A beautiful snoot if I've ever seen one!

The Nose - Your Dog's Gateway To The World

Dogs rely on their noses for just about everything. Whereas we humans use our noses for relatively trivial tasks, our dogs depend on them for survival and exploration.

To get an idea of just how strong our dogs’ noses are, get this: they contain about 100,000 times as many nasal receptors as ours. Some dogs can even detect a half teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

So the next time something smells potent to you, remember that it’s 100,000 times worse for your dog.

You thought your bacon smelled good? Can you imagine it smelling 100,000 times better?

A dog about to chomp on a glazed donut with bacon on it!
Omg it smells so good... (Yuna didn't actually get to eat it)

But a dog’s nose is more than just a sniffing machine.

Just think of all the ways dogs interact with the world around them.

They don’t have sweat glands on their bodies, but rather on their nose and paws. They use their noses to greet other dogs, often giving a little kiss as they say hi. Also, they use their noses to greet humans for the first time as well, and learn our various scents.

Essentially, a dog’s nose is vital to maintaining homeostasis and communicating as much as it is for sniffing and exploring.

So we now know a bit about the nose. The other key organ to understanding why dogs lick their nose is none other than the tongue of course!

The Tongue - A Dog Trademark

The classic image that comes to people’s mind when they picture a family dog is that tongue hanging out, revealing a huge, friendly smile.

The dog tongue has a variety of functions. Obviously, taste is one of them. Dogs have many taste buds on their tongue, though not nearly as much as humans do, unfortunately.

The sheer length of their tongue offers some unique advantages. For example, dogs are known to drink water with their tongues by curling them backward to scoop water into their mouths.

Dogs groom themselves as well. You’ll find them licking various parts of their body to maintain cleanliness (however they define “cleanliness” at least).

Also, they use their tongues after exercise. A happy, panting dog may look all smiles, but he’s just trying to cool off!

A dog with a wide smile on her face!

Sometimes, they’ll use their tongues to lick their nose. In fact, your dog should be doing this often–it’s normal behavior.

So what happens when these two great organs meet, and why?

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Nose? 10 Possible Reasons

Dogs lick their noses for 5 primary reasons:

  • Communicating calmness
  • Encouraging calmness when anxious
  • Cleaning or tasting something on it
  • Making it more receptive to smells
  • Cooling themselves off

If you notice any abnormal nose-licking or it becomes obsessive, it could be due to one of these 5 reasons:

  • Nose injury
  • Nausea
  • Nasal discharge/tumor
  • Partial seizures
  • Dental disease

5 Likely Reasons Why Your Dogs Lick Their Nose

If your dog is just casually licking their nose, it’s most likely due to some of the reasons below.

Nose Licking Often Communicates Calmness

When a dog licks their nose, this usually indicates that they are calm. Dogs lick their nose often when they are comfortable.

The nose lick acts as preparation for the nose to accept additional stimuli. Often, your dog is getting ready to interact with another dog or human and take in all the wonderful new smells.

The lick also calms your dog down internally. If you notice gentle licks, this indicates your dog is relaxed and you can safely allow him to greet others.

Or, Nose Licking Encourages Calmness While Anxious

Interestingly, if your dog isn’t in a calm state, licking their nose can help reduce levels of nervousness and anxiety.

Thunderstorms and fireworks are known to be two of the most common stress-inducing things for a dog. That’s why dogs with storm phobias lick their noses at the sound of thunder.

Another signal of anxiety in dogs is excessive yawning. It’s common to see nose licking and yawning in parallel when your dog is confused or anxious.

Dogs Lick Their Nose To Clean It, Or Taste It

Next time you take your dog on a walk, stop and notice all the things he sniffs along the way. Dirt, flowers, bushes, sticks… and of course, other pee and poop… yuck.

Your dog is bound to get something dirty on their nose. A quick tongue lick acts as a windshield wiper of sorts. It cleans the nose and refreshes it.

A dog licking her nose and mouth in front of a beautiful calm river stream.

Or perhaps your dog is curious what he picked up, and he just wants a good old taste! It’s like getting free samples at the market, but for dogs.

A Wet Nose Is More Receptive

If you’ve ever wondered why dog noses are always wet, it’s because dogs lick them to keep their noses sensitive.

A moist nose is more adept at capturing scent particles because it’s damp.

Most dogs prefer a wet nose when they’re out and about exploring. Dogs naturally pick up moisture as they sniff around anyways, reinforcing their smelling powers.

Dogs Lick Their Noses To Cool Off

Ever tasted (accidentally or purposefully) your dog’s nose? You may find that sometimes it’s pretty salty. That’s because dogs actually do secrete moisture much like the way we sweat, through their nose and paws.

As mentioned before, dogs lick this moisture off their nose as part of a cooling ritual. And he accompanies this with some healthy panting.

5 More Serious Reasons Why Your Dogs Lick Their Nose

Sometimes, nose licking is a symptom of a more serious underlying condition. Whenever nose licking becomes excessive, consider seeing a vet and look for one of the following.

Nose Injury

Dogs tend to like to obsessively lick affected areas. This is why they need to wear cones post-surgery. Unfortunately, they just don’t know better!

Thus, one of the first things you should check for is a nose injury.

This can include bites, cuts, and scrapes. Any one of these are sure to feel weird for your dog and cause them to lick their nose.

Nausea

Dogs can get nausea too. This can be the result anything from a fever to having inhaled some terrible smell (skunk?!).

It could also be the result of carsickness. Or gastrointestinal upset. Anything that is likely to make us feel nauseous can affect our dogs the same way.

It’s also thought that dogs may eat grass to soothe nausea coming from an upset stomach.

READ: Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

Nasal Discharge Or Tumor

Did you know that dogs can get a bloody nose too? Blood and other forms of nasal discharge can occur if your dog ingests any foreign bodies, or has a nasal infection.

As we discussed previously, when your dog picks up anything dirty on their nose, they tend to want to lick (windshield wipe) it off.

A more serious possibility is a nasal tumor. Cancer can occur anywhere on a dog’s body, including the nose.

Partial Seizures

Sometimes, a dog licks their nose repeatedly because they’re experiencing partial seizures.

Your dog may not be licking their nose. It may look more like he’s snapping at the air.

If not seizures, these could also be symptoms of a compulsive disorder. In either case, don’t let your dog fight this alone–see a vet. Medication will soothe symptoms.

Dental Disease

In certain cases, nose licking could actually reveal a dental problem.

Some of your dog’s teeth have roots that extend back toward a dog’s sinuses . When they become infected, this can cause pain and discomfort and trigger nose licking.

It’s always good to do an annual dental checkup for your dog. Make sure those teeth and gums are clean.

Conclusion

Most of the time, nose licking is completely normal behavior in dogs. They do it to maintain the strength of their sniffer, and use it as a means of communication.

However, note that there are instances where excessive nose licking can be a warning sign.

Please make sure your dog’s nose and tongue are healthy! They are critical organs–don’t hesitate to contact your vet if you notice something’s off.

Make sure you check out Yuna’s Instagram for more daily updates!

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