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Help, My Dog's Nose is Peeling

Dog's Nose Peeling

You are used to seeing your dog's wet nose, but now that you have noticed that your dog's nose is peeling and dry, you are rightfully concerned. Fortunately, contrary to what you may have heard for many years, a dry nose doesn't mean your dog is sick, but a nose that is peeling can be indicative of some problems. A peeling nose, of course, isn't that concerning to warrant a middle-of- the- night trip to the emergency vet, but it's something that is best having seen by the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

dog nose

A Possible Infection

If your dog's nose has scabs and is peeling, there may be an infection at play. The dog's skin on the nose, as the skin on the rest of the dog's body, may be prone to bacterial infections (such asbacterial nasal pyoderma, also known as mucocutaneous pyoderma) or fungal infections.

If the dog's has rubbed, or scratched the nose, this may have removed the superficial protective layer of skin cells, allowing pesky bacteria to enter and making the nose more prone to infections.

While there can be several other possible causes for a dog's peeling nose, bacterial infections are quite possible, which is why veterinarians often opt to prescribe a trial of antibiotic medications and see what happens before running a long battery of tests.

In the veterinary field (and medical field as well) there is a saying: "when you hear hoof beats, think horse and not zebra." This aphorism coined in late 1940s by Dr. Theodore Woodward, simply means that doctors should focus on the likeliest possibilities (horses) when making a diagnosis, not
the unusual or rare ones (zebras).

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In the case of a peeling nose, veterinarians therefore hope it's just an infection and that the dog will get better with medications. If the dog's nose indeed gets better, then, that's suggestive that the dog's nose was really suffering from a bacterial or fungal infection

If there is no improvement, then it's time for running some tests (thyroid blood tests, check for skin allergies as possible underlying causes) and possibly, looking for a "zebra."

"We usually try antibiotics first to see if they will help, but when they don't the next step is to biopsy to get a diagnosis."~Dr. Marie, veterinarian

Discoid Lupus in Dogs 

Picture  of dog's nose with discoid lupus

Picture of dog's nose with discoid lupus

Discoid lupus is not really a zebra (vets see it pop up in their practice every now and then), but is something the vet will likely consider when a dog presents with a nose that is peeling and it doesn't respond to antibiotics.

Discoid lupus in dogs is an immune system disorder in which the immune system ends up attacking the skin cells in this area. Fortunately, this is a condition that does not spread, but it stays confined to the dog's nose area possibly up to the bridge of the muzzle. It also is not contagious, so there is no concern about it being passed from one dog and another, explains veterinarian Dr. Zoe. 

Affected dogs develop pink damaged raw tissue, covering the dog's entire nose, or the front of the nose, with crusty, scabby areas. Some dog owners describe it as a bad sunburn affecting the dog's nose that is peeling.

In order to diagnose this disorder, the vet will need to have a tissue biopsy done. There is no treatment for this condition, but it can be managed with steroids.

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A Case of Pemphigus

Pemphigus is another immune system disorder that can cause the nose to become slimy looking and to peel in some cases.

What happens in this case is that the dog's immune system attacks a specific component of the skin known as desmoglein I. Desmoglein I is responsible for attaching skin cells to each other, and therefore, when it is is destroyed by the immune system it results in the skin's outer layer splitting apart and forming pustules and blisters, explains veterinarian Dr. Mark Thompson. 

This condition can affect any dog breed but is mostly seen in akitas, Doberman pinschers, chows, dachshunds, Newfoundlands, bearded collies and schipperkes. It is more common in middle-aged and older dogs. The symptoms are quite similar to those of discoid lupus.

Initially, the blisters and pustules that rupture and develop a crust may start in the dog's face area, but later on, it may expand to the dog's feet, legs and entire body.

dogs allergic to grass

Crusty, scale-like nose in a senior dog.

Dog Nasal Hyperkeratosis

Hyperkeratosis is a medical term used to depict the thickening of the outer layer of the skin. In this case, the skin of the dog's nose thickens courtesy of a tough, protective protein called keratin, for the purpose of protecting the area against local irritation.

The condition is often seen in senior dogs. The dog's nose is often described as looking very rough and having a scale-like surface that looks as if the dog's nose is peeling off. Some people describe it as a dog's nose being covered in mud or dead skin piled up on top of the nose, where the skin and the black part of the dog's nose begins.

Affected dogs can be treated with topical keratolytics such as Kerasal® ointment (made of 5 percent salicylic acid and 10 percent urea, which is available over the counter, explains Dr. Thomas Lewis, a veterinarian specializing in dermatology. 

" For many dogs, treatment might not be necessary if it is mild. Or, a moist compress should be applied for about 5-10 minutes. This softens the excess keratin. Then another agent is applied to the area...I have had good luck with a product called Kerasolve."~Dr. Ralston, veterinarian.

Other Possible Causes 

There are several possible causes for a dog's nose peeling, but they may be less common. Possible differentials include nasal solar dermatitis, contact allergies such as from eating from a plastic dog bowl, sensitivity to certain medications, presence of mites (although they prefer to stay in places covered by hair), zinc-responsive crusting and scaling of skin, trauma and cancer.

As seen, the possibilities are several and only your vet can ultimately determine the underlying cause of your dog's peeling nose and treat it accordingly. Complicated or challenging cases may require a referral to a veterinarian specializing in veterinary dermatology.

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  • DVM360: Nose-itis (Proceedings)
  • Pet Place: Pemphigus Foliaceus in Dogs
  • DVM360: Diseases of the nasal planum (Proceedings)

Photo Credits:

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

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