Why is My Dog’s Tongue Discolored?

By Langley Cornwell

A friend of mine has a Shih Tzu, Molly, whose tongue always sticks out. Apparently, this condition isn’t terribly unusual for brachycephalic dogs; Shih Tzus, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Boston Terriers and Pekinese dogs experience it the most. The issue is that the shape of these breed’s skulls makes it difficult for their teeth and mouth to restrain their tongue, so it hangs freely.

Because Molly’s tongue is always lolling out of her mouth, you can’t help but notice it. It doesn’t seem to bother her though; she scarfs up her CANIDAE dog food enthusiastically. The other day, however, my friend rushed Molly to the veterinarian’s office because she saw an unusual stripe of color on the side of Molly’s tongue. Fortunately, the discoloration on Molly’s tongue was nothing serious.

The vet said that when a part of a dog’s tongue hangs out of her mouth constantly, it simply gets dry. If the tissue remains dehydrated, it can become stiff, rough and discolored. The discoloration my friend saw is a type of pigmentation that results from the mild irritation.

My friend was told that she could rehydrate Molly’s tongue by regularly dropping a bit of water on the part that sticks out, but that it wasn’t necessary. The vet said that if Molly didn’t seem to suffer because of her dry, discolored tongue then it was okay to leave it alone.

Molly’s case was an easy one, but there are many reasons that a dog’s tongue changes colors. As a responsible pet owner, it’s good to be aware of medical conditions that can contribute to color changes on a dog’s tongue.

anne f.Cyanosis

If your dog’s tongue looks bluish, it could be a sign of cyanosis. This discoloration of the tongue, skin and mucous membranes results from inadequate oxygen in the blood. A variety of conditions can cause cyanosis including heart disease, respiratory disease and exposure to toxins.

Uremic Syndrome

Uremic Syndrome (or Uremia) causes a discolored and ulcerated tongue, among other maladies. Uremic Syndrome occurs when urea and other waste products accumulate in a dog’s body and becomes poisonous. This toxic waste build up often happens when a dog’s kidneys are unable to eliminate the contaminants, which could indicate an advanced stage of kidney failure. Obstructions in the dog’s urinary tract could also prevent proper elimination.

Black Tongue

A black looking tongue may mean that your dog has an inflammation or ulceration in his mouth, especially if it’s accompanied by excessive drool. A solid black tongue can also indicate a deficiency of niacin. If the blackness is not solid but rather in spots, it could be a sign of melanoma.

Not all color changes are cause for alarm. There are a variety of reasons a dog’s tongue may be discolored, and the reasons vary across dog breeds and ages. Two breeds in particular, the Shar Pei and the Chow Chow, are born with pink tongues that gradually turn purplish-black due to increased pigmentation. Even so, when your rescue dog suddenly develops purple spots on her tongue, it doesn’t mean she is part chow.

Some dogs, regardless of breed(s), develop spots of excess pigmentation on their tongues. The cause of this excess pigment is unknown, but it can occur in mixed breeds as well as show breeds. Additionally, there are over 30 dog breeds known to have tongue spots.

Because the causes of tongue discoloration vary so widely, it’s wise to err on the side of caution. If you notice any unusual changes to your dog’s tongue, schedule a visit with your veterinarian.

Top photo by Mitch Barrie
Middle photo by Anne F.
Bottom photo by sandyseek

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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