You know how when an unconscious human is rushed to the ER, one of the first things doctors do is check their pupils? For dogs, gum color and texture are equally important indications of health.
Dog gums can tell us if they’re experiencing a life-threatening emergency, heart conditions, or malnutrition among many other conditions. But most dog owners wouldn’t be able to tell you what health dog gums look like. It’s something we don’t necessarily think about that often.
You may have even landed on this post because you feel like there’s something wrong with your dog’s gums but aren’t sure if that’s how it always looked like.
So in this post, we’ll cover everything a dog owner needs to know about their canine’s gums and when to rush to the nearest vet.
Note: While we did our best to properly research this article, this website does not provide veterinary advice and is intended as informational only. This information is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice, and the person can help your dog best is a professional who is able to fully evaluate your dog.
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Dog Gums – Emergency Signs
If your dog is exhibiting any of these signs, this warrants urgent hospitalization or care and can be a matter of life or death. For more information about each of the signs below, skip to this section.
White or pale gums means that your dog is likely suffering from anemia, shock, or has ingested something poisonous. In either case, this warrants immediate medical attention. Anemia can be caused by liver issues, parasites, or other medical conditions. Getting immediate veterinary care is especially important if the dog is panting more than usual, weak, or drowsy, which all mean that its blood circulation is critically low.
Blue or purple gums means your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen, and also requires emergency care. As with humans, lack of oxygen is a serious issue that can cause a range of severe medical conditions and should be handled as urgently as possible.
Slow Capillary Refill Time
After pressing on a spot on your dog’s gum, its natural color should return to normal within 2 seconds. If it takes longer than that, your dog’s blood circulation is lower than it should be, which can indicate a systemic health issue, or a life-threatening emergency. Either way, this needs immediate vet care.
If you notice swollen or bleeding gums, we’re happy to tell you that it’s not immediately life-threatening, but it does need urgent veterinary care nonetheless.
Swollen or bleeding gums mean that your dog is likely in a lot of pain. These signs can indicate any number of dental issues, from simple plaque build-up to oral cancer and more.
How to Tell Your Dog’s Gums Are Healthy
Now that we got the time-sensitive matters out of the way, let’s dive in a bit deeper.
The majority of dog owners wouldn’t be able to describe their dogs’ gums on a good day. It’s just one of those things you wouldn’t notice unless something is wrong, or you’re well-versed in canine health.
So in this section, we’ll go through each characteristic of gums, what the healthy version of it looks like, and go through some of the most common signs of trouble you may face.
The color of your dog’s gums is one of the biggest gauges of your dog’s health.
Most healthy, normal gums are somewhere between bubble gum and light salmon. However, there are numerous breeds that have slate-black gums.
There are even breeds that have blue-purple tongues and gums by default such as Shar Peis and Chow Chows.
A lot of dogs are born with dark pigmentation or may develop them as they age. This is where it can get a little tricky since dark spots appearing may also indicate oral cancer.
The safest thing to do if you notice dark spots that weren’t there earlier is to take your dog for a checkup. This is especially true if your dog is younger than three years old, but only your vet can tell normal pigmentation apart from pathological discoloration. Much like humans, routinely looking for (and investigating) new spots is important to catch any potential issues early.
This is where all the major signs of health issues can be seen in dogs. The color of gums is a direct indicator of various numbers related to your dog’s blood.
- Pale/white: This is a sign of acutely low blood circulation. As mentioned above, seeing white gums means getting your dog to the vet right away is imperative.
- Black: This could be natural coloration (in the case of certain breeds such as Chow Chows), or a sign of oral cancer.
- Yellow: Just like humans, yellow gums or jaundice often indicate liver disease.
- Blue/purple: This indicates low levels of oxygen in the blood and can be very serious. Get your dog to the vet.
- Bright red: If it appears over time, this is likely to be gum disease. If it happens suddenly, your dog is likely having a heat stroke. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention for your dog.
Capillary Refill Time
Have you ever pressed on your own skin and watched it momentarily lose its color before fading back to normal? This is called diascopy. A similar test can be done with your dog’s gums.
Your dog’s gums will turn to a white-ish pink when pressed on. Much like your own skin, pressing on gums pushes blood out of the capillaries near the surface. The length of time that it takes to go back to its normal collar is called Capillary Refill Time, or CRT. Healthy gums should go back to salmon pink in less than two seconds.
Longer CRT can indicate a heart condition or that your dog is actively going through shock due to low blood circulation. This is a severe emergency situation that may be fatal or cause irreparable damage within mere minutes.
If you own a dog, then you probably know by heart (and dread) the sensation of slimy dog drool. This is exactly how your dog’s gums should feel to the touch.
Dog gums should be always wet enough so that when you touch them, your finger can slide over them very easily.
Sticky, dry gums indicate dehydration. If your dog is exhibiting other signs such as weakness, difficulty breathing, and loss of balance, they may be experiencing acute dehydration, meaning you need to rush them to a vet immediately.
Texture and Growths
Dogs can have smooth or rough gum texture, and that rarely indicates a health issue. If it has turned from smooth to rough, that may indicate an oral problem.
You may also find warts that are caused by a viral disease and are relatively easy to treat. Finally, a lump on your dog’s gums can be a benign or cancerous tumor. Much like lumps and growths in humans, it’s a matter of routinely checking for changes, and having any suspicious areas checked by a doctor (or in your dog’s case, a veterinarian).
Most of us actively avoid our dogs’ mouths and for good reason, the sliminess and pointy ends may not be very encouraging.
After seeing all this information, we hope we’ve convinced you to thoroughly check your furry friend’s to familiarize yourself with how it normally looks.
Knowing what healthy dog gums look like can help you discover health issues faster. And once again, if your dog has very pale gums, blue/purple gums, or bleeding gums, please get them to a veterinarian right away.