Tongue problems in dogs. Be aware of changes

Lab type dog with big tongue hanging outYour dog’s tongue is a very obvious part of her anatomy, especially if she pants a lot on hot days or after exercise. And, you’ve certainly experienced it firsthand when she gives you a big, wet, sloppy kiss! Just like any health issue, you should be aware of tongue problems in dogs. And yes, noticing the color or any changes in the tongue is very important! But first, let’s discover exactly what the tongue is and its function.

What is the tongue?

The tongue is a muscular organ with many blood vessels, small arteries and veins. Its has a very well-developed network of glands, papillae (needed for taste) and lymphatic tissues. It houses about 1,700 taste buds

The tongue’s upper surface is known as the dorsum and the groove that runs through its center is called the median sulcus.

The basihyoid bone attaches it to the back of the mouth.

What does it do?

It’s responsible for taste. As a matter of fact, the tongue houses approximately 1,700 taste buds (humans have about 10,000) and each one has taste receptor cells that transmit messages to your dog’s brain. Because of these taste receptors, she distinguishes between sweet, sour, Diagram of dog headbitter and salty.

The tongue helps your dog cool down. Since dogs aren’t able to sweat like humans, the tongue acts like their own built-in radiator. When she pants, the air passes back and forth over her tongue and it cools her body. Also, as saliva evaporates from her mouth it enhances the cooling.

It allows her to drink. Since your dog can’t just walk into the kitchen and grab a glass of water (be sure to tell us if you know a dog who can), she can use her tongue just like a ladle to lap up her water by curling it backwards.

Your dog’s tongue also acts as a cleaning device. It’s kept wet with saliva and is thought to contain beneficial compounds that will destroy bacteria. It also stimulates the circulation of her newborn pups and helps them stay clean. A mother will also use her tongue to stimulate her babies to poop.

It even helps with smells. A dog will gather large scent molecules and with the help of the tongue will send them toward their incisive papilla in a behavior known as tonguing. The scent molecules eventually reach the vomeronasal organ and then the dog’s brain.

Diagnosing the tongue

A problem with your dog’s tongue can be a primary condition or secondary to some other problem in the mouth. Signs of a problem can include a reluctance to eat, abnormal chewing motion, excessive drooling, bloody discharge and bad smell.

The appearance of the tongue can illustrate various health conditions:

  • Pink – this is the normal color of tongue for most dogs (some dogs like Shar Peis have a blue-black tongue).
  • Yellow/Orange – this can indicate problems with gastritis, the gallbladder or liver.
  • Red – may indicate a bacterial infection, fever, gallbladder problems, kidney problems, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, cancer, toxin buildup, dehydration or vitamin deficiency.
  • White/Pale – can point to leukemia, anemia, loss of blood, edema, compromised immune function or malnutrition.
  • Purple/Blue – can mean heart disease, circulation problems, respiratory problems, liver disease, toxicity, organ distress, pain, hepatitis, liver cancer and lupus.
  • Black – If your dog isn’t a Chow Chow or Shar Pei, this is an indication of niacin deficiency or an inflammation or ulceration of the mouth.

When examining your dog’s tongue, look for ulcers, bruises, bumps, growths or bleeding. Also, check for bumps under the tongue and on the roof of the mouth. Also, note if it has a thick or pasty coating as this is frequently a sign that there’s a digestive system imbalance.

Tongue problems

Inflammation of the tongue is called glossitis. It can occur alone or with stomatitis (inflammation of the soft tissues of the mouth), gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or Cheilitis (inflammation of the lips).

There are a number of causes for these inflammations that include foreign body ingestion, exposure to toxic chemicals or plants, immune disease, nutritional disorders, metabolic disease, bacterial and viral infections.

The tongue is also a potential area for tumor growth and most of these are malignant.

Another growth on a dog’s tongue is oral papillomatosis and the papilloma virus causes this. These are tiny warts that resemble cauliflower heads and they appear all over the oral cavity. Fortunately, this condition tends to resolve by itself after several weeks.

There is another condition called a ranula that can develop. This is actually a cyst that grows on the underside of the tongue where the sublingual salivary glands stem from. The cyst can swell so much that the tongue is pushed toward the roof of the mouth or to the side of the mouth. Your dog may have trouble eating and drool excessively. It can be painful.

If you see dark, raised areas anywhere in the mouth, this can indicate melanoma and you should visit your veterinarian right away. However, about half of all cancers affecting a dog’s tongue are squamous cell carcinoma. The sooner your veterinarian treats this, the better chance your dog has for recovery.

Another condition is called cyanosis where the tongue and gums turn bluish or purple due to poorly oxygenated blood. This can be very serious because it could be a sign of heart and respiratory disease.

Funny dog with tongue sticking outConclusion:

I bet you didn’t know how complex and important your dog’s tongue is! As you can see, it’s an indicator of her overall health so you need to be vigilant for any tongue problems in dogs.

We love comments so be sure to leave yours below.


8 comments on “Tongue problems in dogs. Be aware of changes

  1. Zikora

    This is a beautiful website. You have given alotof detail on the tongue, i have learnt alot.

    Your bet is on the money! I had no idea how complex and important the dog’s tongue is. This is good to know. little things may have so much information if you know what they mean. I normally know I’m low on Iron based on how my nails look, i guess this is the same with the dogs. 

    I love the info on your site, my husband really want a dog and i’m trying to educate myself with as uch info as possible. this is helpful! Thanks

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Zikora:

      Thank you for liking my website!

      Most people probably don’t know how important a dog’s tongue is. 

      It’s great that you’re educating yourself before getting a dog. It’s so important to give them the proper care and to be alert for problems.

  2. Babsie Wagner

    We love our dog so much!  His name is Cyrus, and we were just talking about his big ol’ tongue.  LOL.  I never realized how important his tongue is.  Wow.  It’s like a big ol’ indicator of many many things, and I’m so glad to have found your article so that we can know if something is going on.  Thank you so much for this great article!  It’s very helpful!

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Babsie:

      Thank you for your comments!

      It’s amazing how much you can learn from a dog tongue! What kind of dog is Cyrus?

  3. Matt's Mom

    You know this is great information and I have printed it out.  I have two dogs that I dearly love.  I never realized that the color of their tongue could give me some information on any health issues that they might be having.  I have always just kind of went by what they are doing and/or what they are eating.  Thanks for the great information.

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Matt’s Mom:

      Thank you for your message!

      I think it’s so interesting that there are many indicators of an animal’s health. And, both we and they are lucky since they can’t verbally tell us!

  4. RoDarrick

    Wow wow! This is a very enlightening post and engaging one at that. Your bet is a sure win for you because I was so clueless as to the major indications attached to my dog’s tongues. I’m glad I read this post because I’ve been richly blessed with lot of information to which I was clueless of before. I will be more vigilant towards my dog now and look out for any traces of signs like this on its tongues. Thanks

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi RoDarrick:

      Most people likely don’t know that the tongue is an indicator of health. And, the tongue is just one of them. There are so many other ways to access your dog’s health. It’s a good thing since they can’t directly tell you if something is wrong!

      Thank you!


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