What is Hanging Tongue Syndrome?

July 17, 2010

By Linda Cole

Seeing a dog with their tongue sticking out is cute, especially when puppies do it. Most of the dogs we see competing in the World’s Ugliest Dog competitions always seem to have their tongue hanging out between their teeth. However, a dog’s tongue sticking out all the time could be a condition called hanging tongue syndrome, and it can cause the dog pain. Hanging tongue syndrome isn’t life threatening in itself, but it could indicate something is wrong.

A dog’s tongue is quite remarkable when you think about it. They use it to drink water, help keep themselves cool and to clean their coat and feet. Plus, most dogs aren’t shy when it comes to giving us a warm, sloppy kiss when they feel we need one.

How the tongue helps cool the dog is simple, yet effective. When dogs get hot while playing or exercising, they pant to cool down. The blood vessels in the tongue swell because of increased blood flow to the tongue. As the dog pants, moisture is created by their breath which evaporates and cools the tongue. As the tongue cools down, the blood flow is cooled and this goes throughout the dog’s respiratory system, cooling his entire body.

A dog’s tongue sticking out constantly can end up dry and cracked which can be painful for them. Just like when we get dry, cracked lips from spending too much time in the sun or from dry air during the winter. If the dog’s tongue sticks out regularly, the end can become dry if they don’t or can’t pull it inside their mouth to moisten it. Hanging tongue syndrome is usually seen more often in smaller breeds like the Chihuahua, King Charles Spaniels and the Mexican Hairless, but larger breeds can be affected as well.

Hanging tongue syndrome can occur if the dog has suffered an injury or some kind of trauma to their muzzle or jaw. Some neurological diseases or deformities of the mouth or teeth can leave their tongue sticking out because their condition won’t allow them to pull the tongue all the way into the mouth. You can tell your dog has hanging tongue syndrome when they don’t or can’t pull their tongue all the way in to moisten it. The tongue can even become discolored. If hanging tongue syndrome develops suddenly, it could be a sign of neurological problems, so make sure to have your dog checked out, just in case.

Sometimes, medications or temporary injuries can cause the dog’s tongue to hang outside his mouth. If the dog lets his tongue stick out during the healing process or while on medication, once the injury heals or the medication has ended, the dog should return to normal. This isn’t hanging tongue syndrome. However, it’s always a good idea to have your vet take a look at your dog if he does allow his tongue to hang out.

Dogs who have their tongue sticking out all the time should be monitored to make sure a bacterial infection doesn’t develop. Any sign of change in skin texture, bleeding, swelling or even a slight change in color should be checked out by a vet. These dogs are also at greater risk for frostbite during the winter months. A dog with true hanging tongue syndrome may need surgery to remove the part of the tongue that sticks out of his mouth. One common characteristic of dogs with hanging tongue syndrome is excessive drooling after drinking or eating. Dogs with this syndrome can usually remain the happy and normal pet you’ve always known, however.

Some dogs have an overbite or under-bite that makes it difficult for them to keep their tongue in their mouth because their teeth don’t line up properly. This is also not true hanging tongue syndrome. For some dogs, leaving the tongue sticking out of their mouth is just a sign of complete relaxation. It’s only true hanging tongue syndrome when they can’t pull it back in.

Hanging tongue syndrome is not something dogs can control. For whatever reason, they just can’t pull their tongue all the way into their mouth. It’s not uncommon to see puppies and even older dogs become so laid back and relaxed with their tongue sticking out the side of their mouth. As with any health concern, a visit to your vet may be in order to make sure everything is alright.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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