Canine tongue color and signs of illness

April 13, 2012

A dog’s tongue is truly amazing! Similar to human tongue, Fido’s tongue, although neurologically associated with the sense of smell, is first and foremost an organ of taste. This highly vascular large mass of muscle though has many other functions aside from tasting the dry kibble or savoring a home cooked meal. A dog’s tongue is one of the most important muscles in the body of a dog. Dogs are ultimate lickers because of their large long tongues. More than lapping up water and food, more than slobbering its favorite person with wet sloppy kisses, the tongue is a wound healing tool, a heat regulator and a texture tester. And what do you know… the tongue is the dog’s very own and personal barometer for health.

How many times have you heard other people’s advice to look at the nose and the tongue when choosing a puppy? The nose has to be wet and cold. Apparently, the color of the tongue is a good way of assessing the true state of the dog’s health. Dogs commonly have pink tongues because the surface is covered with taste buds and amply supplied with nerves and blood vessels. Other breeds, like the Chow Chow and Shar Pei have blue black tongues. Mixed breeds may have spotted and speckled tongues. Tongue discoloration is an indication of illness. Of course the discoloration of the tongue can happen if the dog has been lapping at toys with artificial colors. Before rushing the pet to a veterinary facility examine if the dye on the chewable toy is the culprit. As long as the dye is not poisonous, you have nothing to worry about.

A black tongue on a dog that is not a Chow Chow or a Shar Pei is a sign of illness especially if the dog is noticed to have a blood tinged saliva and a foul breath. This can be an indication of niacin deficiency or an inflammation and ulceration of the mouth. Discolored or ulcerated tongue is a symptom of uremia, a toxic condition that results if the function of the kidneys is compromised so that the waste products are retained in the blood instead of being excreted in the urine. Various conditions change the color of the tongue, the gums and the mucous membranes in the mouth to purplish or blue. Cyanosis is another possible cause of tongue discoloration. This condition results if there is a short supply of oxygen in the blood. Low oxygen level in the blood can be due to a heart or respiratory disease. An asthma attack causes the dog to pant, to wheeze and to cough when the airways in the lungs are blocked with thick mucus secretions. This situation will lower the oxygen level in the blood causing the color of the tongue to be changed from pink to blue.

A heart attack will weaken the heart’s ability to pump blood. Insufficient amount of oxygen will be delivered to the brain, to the muscles and to other organs causing the dog to collapse. White tongue can be an indication of anemia. Low red blood cell count can be due to an internal bleeding, canine leukemia or due to a tick borne disease. Reddened and inflamed tongue, one that has lumps and black spots is an indication of melanoma. The redness results from the growth of cancerous tissues. A white tongue can be a sign that the dog has lapped poisonous substances. The dog would need medical attention as this condition can be fatal of prompt treatment is not administered.

As always, prompt medical attention would always be necessary to help an ailing pet. Given the dog’s habit to pant, it would be easy to see the state of the dog’s tongue. Peak at the dog’s tongue and see if all is well with the health of the dog.

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