Dry, Cracked Or Crusty Boxer Nose: What It Means And How To Heal It

Your Boxer’s nose is a miraculous apparatus many orders of magnitude more powerful than your own.

It is also an important indicator of your dog’s health, and a reflection of his nutrition.

A variety of causes can result in your Boxer’s nose becoming dry, crusty or cracked — some of them serious but most, easily fixed.

With a dog as up close and personal as a Boxer, it’s hard to miss whether the nose is hot or cold, wet or dry.

But even more than temperature and moisture, pay attention to changes in the texture or color of your Boxer’s snout.


I am not a vet. This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.


Signs Something Is Wrong With Your Boxer’s Nose

Your Boxer’s nose should be black in color and an even cobblestoned texture.

To state the obvious, it should not be:

  • Cracked
  • Crusty
  • Discolored
  • Fading from black to brown
  • Depigmented to become pink
  • Scaled
  • Thickened
  • Peeling
  • Flaking
  • Bleeding
  • Blistered or ulcerated
  • Scabbed over

Furthermore, if your Boxer dog has:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Swelling
  • Odor coming from the nose
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sneezing
  • Pawing at nose
  • Nose bleeds
  • Noisy breathing
  • Bulge or lump on either side of nose (Can also be a tooth root abscess)

…this can indicate internal issues such as:

  • Foreign body embedded in the nasal cavity
  • Infection
  • Nasal tumor

If A Boxer Has A Warm, Dry Nose, Does It Mean He’s Sick?

No.

This is a myth.

Your Boxer’s nose will vary throughout the day from cool and wet to dry and warm.

A warm and dry nose without other symptoms is usually not a problem.

However, pay attention if it occurs in combination with other signs of illness like vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy.

Changes in texture and color are more important warning signals than moisture and temperature.

Pigment loss and cracking, flaking or certainly lesions can be signs of underlying disease processes.

Another myth is that the short-nosed facial structure of a Boxer creates a dry nose because the dog can’t lick his nose to moisten it.

A dog’s nose is kept moist not by licking (this actually serves to dry out the nose, just like licking creates chapped lips) but by secretions from tear and nasal glands.

Why Do Boxer Dogs Get Crusty Noses?

Common causes of a dry, cracked nose in a Boxer include:

  • Dehydration
  • A highly processed diet i.e. kibble
  • Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency
  • Dry air
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Sunburn
  • Contact dermatitis in reaction to plastic bowls
  • Drugs like prednisone

The first two of these causes are interconnected.

Dehydration

A dry, cracked nose in a Boxer often begins with dehydration.

What is the prime cause of dehydration in the average pet Boxer?

Kibble

Dogs fed dry, ultra processed dog food exist in a constant state of dehydration compared to dogs fed a natural canine diet.

A dog’s biologically-appropriate diet consists of fresh raw meaty bones, muscle meat and a little offal, all of which is richly hydrated.

The high moisture content of fresh, real food is why raw-fed dogs typically drink significantly less water than kibble-fed ones.

Water is also involved in digestion and a raw diet contains most of the necessary moisture within the food itself.

The fact that it’s devoid of moisture is just the tip of the iceberg of problems with kibble as a food for Boxers.

Fatty Acid Deficiency

This very common deficiency can cause changes in the nose tissue with it becoming thickened and dry.

Here too the issue is poor diet.

A properly balanced raw diet provides a dog with the full complement of nutrients, in the correct proportions required for optimal health.

Healthy skin and glossy coat are two of the hallmarks of a raw fed Boxer.

Dry Air

Low humidity occurs outdoors in winter and can be an issue indoors all year round, due to the air conditioned environments we live in.

Even if you don’t use an air conditioner, a home heated with a fireplace in the colder months will be very dry.

Dry air can sap the skin of moisture, predisposing it to cracking.

Exposure To The Elements

Extremes of temperature and especially wind can be drying to the skin, particularly where it’s exposed on the top of the nose.

Sunburn

Your Boxer’s skin can burn just like yours.

This can be a particular problem in white Boxers, particularly those with pink noses.

Plastic

Contact reactions to plastic are more specifically a sensitivity to p-benzyl hydroquinone.

The lips can also be affected.

If plastic bowls or water dishes are used, the chemical can also be absorbed through the skin as the dog eats or drinks, disrupting the production of melanin, responsible for the dark pigment in skin.

The skin may simultaneously become irritated and inflamed.

Rubber dog toys can also cause this effect.

Note that so called “Boxer dog acne”, red bumps on the chin, is sometimes associated with plastic bowls but is more often generated from the inside out, by diet.

Prednisone

If your dog is on medication, consider whether it could be affecting his skin, including his nose.

Prednisone, for instance, can cause a skin and soft tissue condition called calcinosis.

This involves a disfigurement and weeping of the skin along the back (in the case of calcinosis cutis) or the deposition of hard lumps of calcium phosphate on “bony prominences” including the nose (in the case of calcinosis circumscripta).

This may manifest on the nose in the form of sores on the nose that contain a wet, chalky substance that oozes and then slowly heals, perhaps leaving a scar.

This is what calcinosis circumscripta caused by prednisone looks like in a Boxer dog.

Here is a description of the full range of serious side effects prednisone had on my 18 month old Boxer.

Health Conditions Associated With Dry, Cracked Or Crusty Noses In Dogs

A range of more serious underlying health conditions including skin diseases and autoimmune disorders have chronically dry noses among their symptoms.

If your Boxer’s nose is seriously and persistently dry and cracked, or losing pigmentation, you will want to rule out conditions including:

  • Nasal hyperkeratosis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Excessive licking of the nose
  • Nasal solar dermatitis
  • “Snow nose”
  • Pemphigus foliaceous
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE)
  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis
  • Nasal infection

Nasal Hyperkeratosis

This condition involves excessive formation of keratin, a type of protein overgrowth with no known cause.

The nose becomes rough, hard, dry and thickened, especially on top.

There may also be painful cracks and sores.

Bacteria and yeast can colonise the cracks.

Hyperkeratosis is most common in older dogs and breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Beagles and Springer Spaniels.

Typical treatment involves steroid creams, antibiotics and sometimes cutting away of the keratin with the application of wet dressings.

Hypothyroidism

Among the symptoms of an underactive thyroid is thickened skin on the nose with a leathery appearance

Excessive Licking Of Nose

A Boxer’s nose may dry out if he’s licking it excessively.

Compulsive licking can happen due to neurological issues like seizures or stomach disorders like acid reflux.

Nasal Solar Dermatitis

Known as “Collie nose”, nasal solar dermatitis is caused by lack of pigment on a dog’s nose (sometimes called a “Dudley nose”) combined with excessive sun exposure.

It’s most common in sunny parts of the country.

You may observe weepy, crusty skin with the hair falling out.

It can progress to inflammation of the entire nose with open sores.

Boxers are thankfully not usually affected by nasal solar dermatitis.

“Snow Nose”

In this condition the nose color fades in the colder months but returns to normal when the weather warms up.

Pemphigus foliaceous

This autoimmune skin disease starts with patches of red skin on the face including the nose and ears.

It involves boils and crusty skin lesions, most often across the bridge of the nose.

It’s diagnosed with skin biopsy.

Treatment can involve immunosuppressive drugs

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)

This is an inflammatory autoimmune skin disease that causes pigment and sometimes texture loss in the nose and the subsequent development of inflammation, sores and crustiness.

Other areas of the face including lips, eyelids and ears may also be involved.

Again, Boxers are not among the most commonly affected breeds which include German Shepherds, Pointers, Sheepdogs, Huskies and mixed breed dogs.

Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis

This is a zinc deficiency caused by the intestines being unable to process zinc, which is necessary for healthy skin.

There may be crusting and scaling on the mouth as well as the nose.

Nasal Infection

Infected sinuses can lead to irritated nasal passages.

A runny nose or discharge with sneezing and trouble breathing can be part of this suite of symptoms, as well as a dry nose.

Abnormalities In A Senior Boxer Dog’s Nose

In older dogs, the nose can be affected by cancer of the nasal cavity and by mast cell tumors, to which Boxers are generally predisposed.

Symptoms of nasal cancer include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Nose bleeds
  • Noisy breathing
  • Changes in physical appearance of the face

Why Is A Boxer’s Nose Normally Moist?

It’s important for a dog’s nose to be moist (most of the time) in order to smell properly.

When a scent is inhaled, it’s dissolved and transported to the olfactory (scent) receptor cells inside the nose.

While humans have only five million scent cells, dogs like the Bloodhound have as many as 300 million.

Once the odor molecules are absorbed into the mucous layer, they are converted into a nerve impulse which is transmitted by the olfactory nerves to the brain where it’s analyzed and interpreted.

The smell center of the brain is forty times larger in a dog compared to a human.

Dog’s also have another cavity in their nose called the Jacobson’s organ, dedicated to detecting pheromones, the chemicals in dog urine used to mark territory and signal readiness for mating.

The moist, hairless area of your Boxer’s nose has a unique pattern of ridges and dimples, a noseprint akin to the human fingerprint in that no two dogs’ noseprints are the same.

Learn more about Your Boxer’s Secret Superpower here.

What Can I Put On My Boxers Dry Nose?

This comes under how not to treat your Boxer’s dry and crusty nose.

Common (but misguided and potentially harmful) responses to a dry nose include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Store-bought products
  • Vaseline
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Shea butter
  • Calendula ointment

Some savvy marketers have even targeted products directly at Boxer owners, naming them “Boxer nose butter” and such.

According to respected integrative vet Dr Karen Becker, topical ointments are mostly useless for addressing dry, cracked noses in dogs.

(They’re also potentially harmful as your dog will lick his nose and ingest the substance.)

If you absolutely must put something on your Boxer’s nose, Dr Becker recommends using a dab from an all-natural vitamin E capsule or a little coconut oil (but dogs love the taste of coconut oil and it will be gone in a second).

A healthy Boxer’s nose requires no moisturizers or other products.

Approach this from the inside out, via diet.

As you might have noticed with lip balm, once you start using moisturizers, the body can become reliant, creating even more pronounced dryness when the product is not applied.

You want to support the body’s own processes.

The way to do this is through proper nutrition.

Do not pick off the scaly or crusty material from your Boxer’s nose as this may expose delicate tissues.

It will fall off when it’s ready.

Prevention And Treatment Of Boxer Dog Dry Or Cracked Nose Issues

The best way to keep your Boxer’s nose in good shape is to:

  • Feed a fresh, raw canine diet
  • Limit sun exposure in the hottest hours of the day
  • Avoid plastic bowls or toys (Ceramic, stainless steel or glass is great)

Notice we do not recommend sunscreen for Boxer dogs.

Your Boxer will inevitably lick his nose, ingesting the product.

It is also absorbed via his skin.

Be warned that many sunscreens made for people contain zinc which is toxic to dogs.

Even products made for dogs and labelled as non-toxic do not belong in your dog’s body.

There are other ways to protect your Boxer from overexposure to the sun, which come without the risk of introducing synthetic chemicals into your dog’s body.

Simply avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day, particularly in summer.

Boxer Dog Nose Running? Don’t Panic

You’ll notice your Boxer’s nose might run when he’s doing a lot of sniffing.

No problem!

Even thick mucousy discharge can sometimes occur and is not necessarily cause for alarm.

The nose — like the ears, eyes, skin and paws — is a common route used by the body to expel toxins and wastes when the primary eliminative organs of kidneys and bowels (pee and poop) are overburdened.

Nasal discharge may happen after improvements are made to a Boxer’s diet or after a course of medication is discontinued.

In this case the discharge is a “productive” symptom serving the purpose of eliminating toxins from the body, and not a process to be suppressed.

Do Boxer Dogs Have Nose Problems?

There is something called respiratory distress syndrome, or brachycephalic syndrome, that relates to breathing difficulties in short nosed breeds.

Boxer Dog Nose Surgery

Sometimes vets recommend surgery to “widen a Boxer’s nasal passages”.

This surgery is increasingly treated as routine in breeds like Bulldogs and French Bulldogs but should not be necessary in a well-bred Boxer.

Approach any such recommendation with caution.

A little snoring can be normal in a Boxer and does not automatically indicate breathing difficulties.

Conclusion

If your Boxer’s nose has become dry, crusty or cracked, the most likely culprit is dehydration due to the feeding of kibble.

Offer a fresh, natural canine diet and you’ll likely see your dog’s snout return to normal.

Avoid applying balms, moisturizers or sunscreen as your dog will ingest these substances.

References

Banks, Faith, The Nose and Smelling, Treatment and Care of the Geriatric Veterinary Patient, Chapter 7, 2017

Becker, Karen, DVM, Know Your Pet’s Nose, Mercola Healthy Pets, 2018

Isenhart, Paula, The Dog’s Nose: How It Works And Skin Conditions, 2013