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Why Do Cats Have Wet Noses? Here’s What Science Can Tell Us

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By Nicole Cosgrove

wet nose of a male cat

Those early morning wake-up visits from your cat wouldn’t be complete without the feeling of your kitty’s wet nose against your cheek. If you’ve ever wondered why your cat has a wet nose, there are some reasons for it.

You may be surprised to learn that many mammals have wet noses, and that includes animals in the wild and those we keep as pets. So, what’s the deal with animals like your cat having a moist nose? To better understand the reason why cats have wet noses, you have to know a bit about animal biology.

Get to Know the Rhinarium

The moisture that is created by a cat’s nose primarily comes through sweat glands located on the rhinarium which is the hairless skin that surrounds the nostril openings. In addition to the glands on the rhinarium, the drainage from a cat’s tear ducts also contributes to the animal’s wet nose.

Of course, drinking water can cause a cat’s nose to be wet, as can environmental factors like rain and snow. Cats can also get wet noses from grooming themselves which is something they spend lots of time doing.

Now that you know where the moisture comes from on a cat’s nose, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty and tell you the reasons why felines have wet noses.

close up of a cat's nose
Image Credit: Sa Ka, Pixabay

A Wet Nose Keeps the Body Temperature in Check

As humans, sweat pours out of our bodies on hot days to cool our bodies down. Unlike us, cats cannot sweat all over their bodies as they only have sweat glands in their paws that provide cooling.

When cats get hot and start feeling overheated, they use their wet hairless noses to create evaporation to help regulate their body temperature.

A Wet Nose Fine Tunes Their Smelling

Unlike us humans who have taste buds covering our tongues, cats have very few of these taste receptors on their tongues to determine what foods to eat.

Instead of using taste buds to decide what to eat, cats rely on their sense of smell. The moisture on a cat’s nose attracts scent particles, allowing the animal to zero in smells to determine what they are. If a cat has a problem like a respiratory infection that leaves its nose warm and dry, the animal loses some of its ability to smell which in turn, decreases its appetite.

close up of ginger cat nose
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

A Cat’s Nose Moisture Varies

Because cats usually have cool wet noses, some cat owners think that a warm and dry nose means a cat is sick but that’s not necessarily true. During a typical day, a cat’s nose temperature and moistness vary. Your cat can wake you up by placing his wet cool nose on your chin and have a warm dry nose later in the day when he’s lounging around.

Dr. Patterson of the department of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M stated that “wet or dry noses are not a sign of illness per se” and whether your pet’s nose is dry or wet is “largely related to the temperature and humidity in their environment.”

When to Worry About a Dry Nose

While you don’t have to worry if your cat’s nose is sometimes dry, you should be concerned if your cat shows some signs of illness. Things to watch for include excessive thirst, decreased appetite, weight loss, and vomiting or diarrhea. If your cat’s nose seems to always be dry and you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian to find out what’s wrong.

A Wet Drippy Nose May Be a Warning Sign

While it’s common for a cat to have a cool wet nose, it’s not common for a cat to have a nose that runs or drips. If you notice your cat has a runny nose, he could be suffering from an upper respiratory infection or allergy. If the drainage coming out of the nose is thick and colored, it could be a bacterial infection. A cat suffering from an upper respiratory infection will usually cough, sneeze, and have runny eyes. The cat will probably also have a fever and refuse to eat.

If the drainage coming from the nose is clear, it’s likely an allergic reaction. Either way, play it safe and contact your veterinarian. Remember that your pet cat depends on you to safeguard its health so don’t hesitate to reach out for medical advice/assistance whenever you suspect your cat is ill.


Your feline companion relies on that cute nose of his to explore his environment and provide him with an acute sense of smell. It’s normal for a cat to have wet noses because the moisture helps regulate body temperature and fine-tunes their sense of smell. The next time your kitty cat snuggles up to you, take a good look at that cute little nose to appreciate how important it is!

Featured Image Credit: JM Fotografie, Shutterstock

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