A dog’s tongue color says a lot about its health. Responsible pet parents must know what a healthy dog tongue looks like and what discoloration will tell you about your pet’s health issue.
What Your Dog’s Tongue Will Tell You About Its Health
Tongue Color and Its Meaning
Anatomy of a Dog’s Tongue
What Causes Tongue Discoloration?
Common Health Issues That Affect Your Dog’s Tongue
Signs that Indicate Problems in Your Dog’s Tongue
Frequently Asked Questions
Get Acquainted With Your Dog’s Tongue Color
Colors matter, and when it comes to a dog’s tongue, it could be that of a potentially fatal health condition.
A healthy dog should have a pink tongue—with a few exceptions like the Chow Chow and Shar Pei (they’ve naturally occurring blue-black tongues).
But even the slightest changes in tongue color should be a cause for concern. Having a dog tongue color chart to identify possible health issues can make all the difference.
Your pet may not be able to talk, but a sudden dog tongue color change is always an outcome of a medical condition.
These health issues could be hereditary or acquired, but in most cases will need urgent medical intervention. If you notice any change in your dog’s tongue all of a sudden, pick up that dial and punch your vet’s digits.
What the Fact! Apart from its color, a dog’s tongue temperature could also indicate whether it’s in good health or not. Normally, it is warm and has a temperature of 101.0 to 102.5°F. However, if it feels very warm, almost bordering on hot, your pet could be running a fever!
Pink tongues are what you want to see on your dogs. The color tells you that your dog is in the prime of its health, unless your dog is from the following breeds:
For most dogs, pink is the normal color of their tongue because of the blood flow and mucous membranes.
The younger the dog, the more pink the tongue is. This indicates vitality and strength. As dogs grow older, the pink becomes paler.
However, veterinarian Tawnia L. Shaw from Oregon points out, even the slightest color change could mean your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen.
“Grey or blue tinge to a normally pink tongue means oxygen is not getting through the blood right and you need to seek veterinary attention immediately,” she explains.
Unless it’s natural for the breed, a purple tongue is a danger signal, as dog trainer Julia Hammond points out.
She says, “Unless your furry friend is a blue-tongue breed, a purple tongue in dogs is usually related to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia). The coloration caused by hypoxia is known as cyanosis.”
And she’s correct!
A purple tongue is an indication of cyanosis, which is the lack of oxygen distributed to the skin and mucous membranes. Cyanosis may be a result of either a cardiovascular, circulatory, or respiratory issue.
Visit a veterinarian right away to identify and treat the underlying condition causing cyanosis before the matter takes a turn for the worse.
Shar Peis, Eurasiers, and Thai and Phu Quoc Ridgebacks are known to have blue-black tongues, as veterinarian Paula Loniak from Athens points out.
In her words, “There are a few breeds of dog, most commonly the Chow Chow, that have a dark ‘black’ (or dark purple) pigment variation to their tongues. The Chow Chows usually have entirely dark tongues, some dogs that are mixed breeds might have a partly pigmented tongue; they might have some Chow Chow in their lineage.”
But if your dog does not belong to any of these breeds and still has black spots on its tongue, it is likely that your pet has pigmented skin cells.
The dog could be born with the pigmentation, or these spots could develop over time—either way, it’s not a matter of major concern.
For example: Morkie poos often change their coat color as they grow up and in the process may develop black pigmentation on their tongues too. However, this isn’t something you should concern yourself with.
Remember that black spots result from melanin clusters forming on your dog’s tongue.
However, if you notice the pigmentation changing color and the texture looking bumpier than normal, it’s best to bring your dog to see its veterinarian.
A dog’s tongue looks pink because of the blood flow. So when it turns red, it signifies an abnormal amount of blood flow. There could be several reasons for this:
Also known as high blood pressure, the increased pressure exerted by the blood on the veins and arteries cause the tongue to turn red.
This condition results from severe microbial infection in your dog’s blood and leads to fever, red tongue and gums.
Dehydration leads to dry tongue in dogs that may also turn a darker shade of pink, which may give it a reddish appearance.
Red tongue coupled with inflammation could be due to an infection, which also causes the dog to have a high fever.
Excessive panting resulting from exhaustion or overheating can turn your dog’s tongue red.
A generic term for inflammation of the tongue, Stomatitis can be caused by a number of underlying issues, ranging from diabetes to gall bladder or kidney stones, or even cancer.
Yellow tongue and gums indicate jaundice, just as yellow eyes do in us humans.
The increased level of bilirubin causes the yellow coloration.
Jaundice may be due to bile duct obstruction, red blood cell destruction, gastritis malfunction, or liver disease. You must get your pet checked immediately before the disease takes a turn for the worse.
As the dog grows older, its tongue becomes paler. But even then a whitish pale tongue is something you should worry about.
When you consult a pale dog tongue color chart, it will tell you several possible issues: anemia, leukemia, internal bleeding, or parasites.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, fleas are the most common parasite to cause health issues among pets. The insect can consume 15 times its body weight in blood, which can trigger parasitic anemia in dogs.
A dog’s tongue is more mobile than other animals, making the organ muscles complex enough to induce versatile movements.
There are two types of muscles, extrinsic and intrinsic, that allow dogs to use their tongue for prehension, chewing, and swallowing. It’s thick at the base, tapering out at the front end. A thick later of hyper-responsive epithelial cells covers the tongue.
Because it performs so many functions, a dog’s tongue is a very important organ for it.
But, when it comes to food, dogs sniff more than they lick.
This is because dogs have only 1,700 taste buds. So they use their sense of smell to decide whether they want to eat something or not.
What the Fact! Licking things, their humans, or themselves is therapeutic for dogs as it releases endorphins.
Now, as part of your pet’s oral health, make sure to maintain good dental hygiene. Clean your dog’s mouth, teeth, and gums regularly. Keep the tongue clean, too, because bacteria can grow on it, causing terrible breath and diseases.
Tongue discoloration is an outcome of changes in your dog’s body. These could be environmental (think temperature) or medical (an infection or disease).
It could also be due to your dog’s breed. Most breeds will have a pink tongue, common color for healthy dogs, but others could also have a blue tongue, black or spotted tongue.
Puppies may have a pink tongue that turns into a pale tongue when they get older.
But if you’re talking about a pale white tongue, it may mean that your dog has a serious health issue. Red, purple, and yellow colored tongues are also indicative of bad health.
Glossitis refers to the inflammation of the tongue.
It happens when the tongue is irritated, pierced, or cut by foreign objects.
Sometimes, you can miss out on the swelling caused by Glossitis because it is on the lower surface of the tongue.
However, you will know something is wrong because your dog may be unable to eat and will have a stinky breath accompanied by oral discharge which could have traces of blood in it.
Gastric ulcer in dogs happens when the stomach lining develops lesions and other disruptions. Cancer medication and liver disease can lead to ulceration.
In some cases, an ulcer is associated with the dog’s kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, anxiety disorder, and sepsis, among other causes.
Symptoms of ulceration include dark stools, vomiting (sometimes with blood), diarrhea, abdominal pain, poor appetite, and a color difference in your dog’s tongue.
Oral Papillomatosis is a viral infection that causes warts on your young dog’s oral mucous membranes. These warts appear on your dog’s lips, tongue, and throat.
The infection is usually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and it’s hard to determine a timeline because the incubation period is between two and six months.
Typically, warts regress on their own and your dog will become immune from the virus after healing. However, if reinfection does happen, surgical excision of warts may be necessary.
Stomatitis is inflammation of the oral mucous membranes, affecting the gums, tongue, lips, as well as the floor and roof of the mouth.
It is a bacterial infection and is very painful for the dog.
Symptoms of stomatitis include red tongue and loss of appetite due to the pain.
Treat it immediately, because as DMV Alexander M. Reiter from the University Of Pennsylvania says, “If tissue destruction is marked, ulcerative or gangrenous stomatitis can develop, with secondary bacterial infections.”
Treatment of stomatitis includes a thorough cleaning of your dog’s teeth, which is also a preventive measure.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in older dogs, but half of the types of dog cancers are treatable if caught early.
Dogs with heavily pigmented skin and mouths have a predisposition for developing oral melanoma, says Robyn Elmslie, a veterinarian specializing in oncology practicing for Veterinary Cancer Specialists in Englewood, Colorado.
Symptoms of tumor or cancer include a red tongue, a lump somewhere in the body, swelling of the bone, a wound that doesn’t heal, a heavily pigmented mouth and skin, and abnormal bleeding.
A fall or impact with a hard surface can cause soft tissue trauma in dogs.
Soft tissue trauma causes inflammation, swelling, bruising, or sprain. While you can alleviate the pain with ice, your vet may recommend pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications.
However, soft tissue trauma to your dog’s tongue will make eating difficult and painful for your dog.
Dogs should eat at least two meals a day. A breakfast-lunch-dinner arrangement, like humans, also works.
If your dog isn’t eating, it may be because its tongue has an inflammation that makes it painful for your pet to lick or eat.
When you find your dog drooling more than usual, it may be suffering from dental issues like tooth decay, tartar buildup, and gum inflammation.
It could also be a symptom of an oral tumor.
Oral health issues will cause your dog to indulge in abnormal chewing motion.
It’s usually because the dog wants to remove something from its teeth or there is pain in its the teeth or gums. Check for any swelling of the tongue when this happens.
You cannot overlook even a small oral bloody discharge. There are several possibilities for a bloody discharge, including gingivitis, oral tumors, and lacerations.
Bad hygiene can cause bad breath, and so can underlying conditions like kidney or liver diseases.
Most dogs experience acute uremia or high levels of urea in the system due to kidney issues like inflammation and stones.
As Alexander M. Reiter, DMV from University Of Pennsylvania adds, “Uremia can cause stomatitis and oral ulcers.” Both affect your dog’s tongue.
You usually see a discoloration on the tip of the dog’s tongue due to blood clotting, and your dog may experience vomiting and nausea.
Sometimes, dogs will have extra pigmentation in different parts of the body including their tongues.
As long as the dark areas are flat and not bumpy, they are normal and you’ve nothing to worry about, explains Karen Becker, author, and veterinarian at Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
They are similar to freckles and birthmarks in human beings.
Insufficient oxygen in the body will cause a dog’s skin and mucous membranes to turn blue. It may be linked to major issues like heart disease or respiratory diseases.
One of the warning signs of cyanosis is the purplish or bluish coloration of the tongue, gums, lips, and areas of the skin in which the blood vessels are superficial, says Dr. Arnold Plotnick, DVM, Manhattan.
Further, your dog may have difficulty in breathing, make an unusual coughing noise, and show excessive lethargy.
Consult our dog tongue color chart to give yourself an idea of what your dog may be going through. If the chart indicates something serious, get in touch with the vet immediately.
Sometimes, your dog’s tongue changes color due to issues with internal organs, but a black tongue is nothing to worry about. It is usually just extra pigmentation that appears on the dog’s skin and tongue.
The chow-chow and the Chinesse Shar-Pei are the only dogs that have a black tongue. The tongues of all other dogs are pink. pic.twitter.com/LMBcDNIXGw
— Steve Keating (@LeadToday) April 14, 2018
The dog’s tongue should be pink unless you have a dog with different types of tongue like a Chow Chow or Shar Pei, noted for their purple or blue-black tongues.
The tongue is home to bacteria, so make sure you clean it as a part of your dog’s oral hygiene routine.
You can use a dog toothbrush to clean the tongue, or purchase a special tongue brush for dogs. Simply scrape off food or muck stuck in the dog’s tongue using the brush.
The process may be uncomfortable for the dog. Start with the process when your pet is just a pup and make it a routine.
A change in the tongue’s regular color may demonstrate a health issue like a blood clotting disorder that causes the tip of the tongue to turn dark or anemia that turns the tongue pale white.
Check our dogs tongue color chart for more information or consult your veterinarian as soon as you can.
“Learn what is normal for your dog, as significant changes, like ‘blanching’ or losing its normal bold color can indicate medical issues like anemia or internal bleeding.” – Terry Dinerman, Dog Trainer
We couldn’t agree more!
The tongue is an important muscular organ in all mammals, and dogs are no exception. It helps them regulate their body temperature, heal wounds, express their emotions, and do so much more!
So if you ever notice something unusual about it, consult our dog tongue color chart or see your dog’s veterinarian immediately.
A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.