Causes of a Crusty Nose in Dogs


The causes of a crusty nose in dogs are various and it is therefore important investigating any underlying potential causes. Dogs owners are often led to believe that a wet nose is a sign of health and therefore assume that the presence of a crusty nose in dogs means something is terribly wrong with their companion. The truth is, the level of moisture of a dog’s nose is not a reliable sign of health,  just as our lips, dog noses tend to be more humid or less based on several factors such as how dry or humid the air is. If your dog’s nose, on top of being dry is also crusty, this warrants a vet visit so to rule out or confirm several potential causes of a crusty nose in dogs.

A crusty nose in dog needs investigation by a vet.

Causes of a Crusty Nose in Dogs

Sometimes, dogs may develop a crusty nose as a result of their environment. A dog’s nose is made of a leather-like material that can be quite resistant, but up to a certain point.

Sometimes excess wind may cause the nose to dry up and become a little crusty at times. If your dog lives mostly indoors, it is possible that your dog’s nose becomes dried out from your heating system.

For mild cases, adding a little moisture may help out. Veterinarian Dr. Kara suggests puncturing a vitamin E capsule and dribbling its contents on the dog’s nose or passing a layer of petroleum jelly on the nose on a daily basis.  This may help keep the nose soft and promote healing. Applying a warm water compress for 5 to 10 minutes prior to applying any topical products can be helpful for better absorption.

When the cracking is pretty severe, spreading up to the top of the dog’s nose, or there is discoloration (black areas turning pink) or presence of ulcers or raw areas, you want this quickly investigated by a vet to rule out certain medical conditions.

A case of nasal hyperkeratosis in an old dog leading to a crusty ridge on the top of the nose.

Dog Nasal Hyperkeratosis

Hyperkeratosis is a medical term that denotes a thickening of the outer layer of the skin. When a dog develops a condition known as dog nasal hyperkeratosis, a distinctive thickening of the skin of the dog’s nose makes it appear crusty.

What causes the thickening of the skin? In this case, the skin of the dog’s nose thickens because of the excess formation of a tough, protective layer of protein called keratinThis formation occurs for the purpose of protecting the area against local irritation but it remains unknown why this happens in the first place.

Affected dogs are often senior dogs. The crusty nose appears to have a scale-like surface that is quite unsightly. Some dog owners initially mistake it for a nose covered in mud. It’s as if the nose’s surface is peeling off. 

The issue is fortunately mostly cosmetic, meaning that the crusty nose in the affected dog is not cancerous, infectious, nor fastidious in any way to the dog. The color of the nose doesn’t typically change with this condition.

Treatment typically consists of keratolytic therapy which tackles any type of lesions in which the epidermis produces excess skin. A common product used is Kerasal®, an over-the-counter ointment composed of 5 percent salicylic acid and 10 percent urea, explains Dr. Thomas Lewis, a veterinarian specializing in dermatology. 

Picture of dog’s nose with discoid lupus

A Case of Discoid Lupus 

In some cases, a crusty nose in dogs may be caused by a condition known as “discoid lupus.” In this condition, the dog’s nose may have ulcerations that appear as raw spots. The nose may also lose color, turning from black to pink.

Discoid lupus is an autoimmune disorder meaning that it’s caused by the immune system when it’s attacking itself.  In this case in particular, the immune system is attacking  the mucus membrane where the dog’s nose attaches to the skin.

Definite diagnosis is obtained by taking a tissue biopsy (just about the size of a pencil eraser) under sedation.

The tissue biopsy is then sent out to a pathologist who will be looking at it under a microscope. Treatment involves the use of an immunosuppressant drug such as a steroid or cyclosporine.

A Case of Pemphigus 

Picture of canine pemphigus foliaceus

In this case, the crusting of the dog’s nose is caused by an immune-mediated skin disease where the immune system attacks the connections between its own skin cells. Pemphigus is considered the most common autoimmune skin disease diagnosed in animals in veterinary medicine

There are several different types of pemphigus. Each form involves a different area of the skin. Pemphigus foliaceus in dogs causes clusters of small vesicles that then turn into pustules. The pustules tend to rupture and become crusted as seen in the picture.

As in the case of lupus, definite diagnosis is obtained by skin biopsy and treatment involves the use of immunosuppressive drugs such as corticosteroids (prednisone or dexamethasone) .

Other Possible Causes 

In some cases, a crusty nose in dogs may appear from a dog’s allergy to plastic bowls. In this case, it would help to replace all plastic bowls with stainless steel bowls.

Exposure to the sun causing sunburns (solar dermatitis) may cause drying  of the nose and crusting but this most often happens to dogs with light colored coats or pink noses. The application of  a safe sunblock specifically marketed for dogs (with no zinc) may help in these cases protect the nose.

Dogs who use their nose a lot to explore their surroundings in the great outdoors may develop annoying fungal infections (ringworm) or bacterial infections.

Another possible cause of a crusty nose is a form of cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma. This is a very aggressive type of cancer and treatment consists of surgery. Having chest x-rays done prior to surgery is important so to ensure there are no signs of the cancer spreading to the lungs.

Photo Credits:

  • Canine discoid lupus erythematosus showing loss of noseprint, depigmentation, ulceration and tissue destruction – all characteristic of the syndrome self – Own work canine cutaneous lupus of the planum nasale / discoid lupus CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Canine pemphigus foliaceus self – Own work CC BY-SA 3.0

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