We address the characterization of dissipative bosonic channels and show that estimation of the loss rate by Gaussian probes (coherent or squeezed) is improved in the presence of Kerr nonlinearity. In particular, enhancement of precision may be substantial for short interaction time, i.e. for media of moderate size, e.g. biological samples. We analyze in detail the behaviour of the quantum Fisher information (QFI), and determine the values of nonlinearity maximizing the QFI as a function of the interaction time and of the parameters of the input signal. We also discuss the precision achievable by photon counting and quadrature measurement and present additional results for truncated, few-photon, probe signals. Finally, we discuss the origin of the precision enhancement, showing that it cannot be linked quantitatively to the non-Gaussianity of the interacting probe signal.