In medicine, there are a number of common and easily accessible ‘signposts’ that display to us important information about internal body health. One of these is the ‘mucus membranes’ – better known as the gums that sit at the bottoms of the teeth and on the inside of the cheeks. In dogs, these are typically easy to find and examine and can tell us a lot about what is happening on the inside.
How do I check a dog’s gums?
In most cases, you can simply lift the upper lip of your dog, if they will tolerate this safely without causing distress to either of you. You will be able to see the inside of the lip and cheek, and the gums sitting above the upper teeth. The normal gum color for dogs is a ‘salmon-pink’ color – a healthy bright pink that will turn white if you press on it but quickly return to pink again within 1-2 seconds once you remove your finger. Some darker color dogs will have pigmented or black colors on their gums – this is entirely normal, but just look around for gaps between the pigmented areas to see the pink color.
Gums also tell us about how hydrated a dog is, so they should also feel a little moist and not sticky or dry. That said, if your dog has just been panting or working hard then a little stickiness is normal! Any other color (or dryness) is not normal and can reflect a range of other health problems, which can be serious.
What should I do if I notice pale or abnormal gums in my dog?
Since pale gums can mean a range of things, there is no specific advice of ways to help until a diagnosis has been made.
If you are concerned at all by the color of your dog’s gums, you should contact your local veterinary clinic for further advice.
Your dog may or may not have other symptoms of illness such as lethargy, so it is worth making a note of these and passing these to the clinic too, as these may also be relevant as signs of a slowly developing problem. Your clinic may well recommend an examination and investigation by a veterinarian. This is important to do at an early stage, as it will either put your mind at ease, or it will spot a developing problem quickly and allow you to get it sorted. Win-win!
What affects the color of the gums in dogs?
The color is based heavily on your dog’s bloodstream and what is happening within it. Normal color is produced by a normal number of red blood cells, operating at the right blood pressure, with no other significant toxins or chemicals present. Illness can change any of these factors in any number of ways, and all these changes will quickly be displayed on the gums. A sick dog’s gums can vary in color from pale pink, to white, to grey- and even yellow and purple.
What different colors might I see on my dog’s gums?
This suggests that there are fewer red blood cells within the gums at all, so the bright pink color is lost. This may happen if your dog has reduced circulating red blood cells (‘anemia’)
Pale gums may also happen if there is a significant drop in blood pressure, so fewer red blood cells are being pushed into the gums at any one time.
You may see pale gums if your dog is unwell and has become dehydrated. This is caused by a reduced volume of blood circulating around the body and reduced blood pressure.
White or Grey Gums in Dogs
If the gums are white or grey, this is the next stage after pale gums and happens for the same reasons. It means that the changes in your dog are more extreme and there are essentially no red blood cells in the gums at all.
White or grey gums are usually a sign that something life-threatening is happening inside the dog and it is important to seek emergency veterinary attention immediately.
Yellow Gums in Dogs
Yellow gums are a sign of jaundice – a generalized yellow color that you may also find in the skin or the whites of the eyes. Jaundice is caused by high levels of a chemical called bilirubin.
Increased bilirubin happens for several reasons but in general, it is either a sign of liver problems or a sign of red blood cells being destroyed. If red blood cells are being destroyed, you may notice the gums are also pale (as above).
Bright Red or Purple Gums in Dogs
If the gums are much brighter and/or redder than normal, this is either caused by too many red blood cells in the gums or by toxic changes.
Blue Gums in Dogs
Blue gums are caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood inside the gums. This may be caused if your dog cannot breathe or is in breathing distress (choking, for example). Severe heart and lung disease or a very low blood pressure may also contribute to this.
If your dog is extremely cold, this may turn the gums blue.
What will my veterinarian do next if my dog has different color gums?
As mentioned, if you are concerned about the color of your dog’s gums, it is important to seek veterinary advice at an early stage. The sooner a problem is identified, the sooner it can be treated properly! Changes in the gum color can reflect serious health problems.
Your veterinarian will perform a complete health examination of your dog and discuss with you any other symptoms your dog may be showing or have shown at home. Based on this, your vet may be able to give you advice and possibly treatment moving forward.
If the veterinarian is concerned, they may recommend a general blood test to look at the health of your dog’s bloodstream. This will help identify any problems with the red blood cells or the liver, for example. Further investigations would depend on the specific signs your dog is showing. If bleeding is a concern, your clinic may recommend imaging (either by X-ray or by ultrasound) to check if your dog is bleeding internally and if so, how much and where from. If the heart is a concern, a heart ultrasound may be a good next step.
At each step, your veterinarian should keep you up to date with their findings and what the outcome is likely to be for your dog. This will help you and your veterinarian to make the best plan of action for all involved.
Will my dog with pale gums be ok?
This is a really difficult question to answer because many of the causes of pale gums or gum color changes can be very severe problems. In general, the sooner you seek advice and help, the better the outcome is likely to be.
Many of the causes of pale gums are at the very least manageable and lots of diseases can be well managed long-term to give a good quality of life for as long as possible. However, it may be that further investigations identify a severe problem that is not curable or manageable.
Can I prevent this from happening?
Many things can cause changes in gum color and so in the vast majority cases, this is not your fault or your dog’s fault- it is usually just bad luck. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent everything. The general advice is still the best in this case- feed your dog a good quality complete and healthy diet, exercise them regularly and appropriately, and avoid toxins and poisons where possible.
Pale gums are usually a sign of something serious and should be examined by a vet as soon as possible. Your dog will likely need lots of investigations to determine the cause of the pale gums. If you are in any doubt, just check with your vet- they’ll be happy to help even if it proves to be nothing to worry about!
Featured Image Credit: February_Love, Shutterstock
- How do I check a dog’s gums?
- What should I do if I notice pale or abnormal gums in my dog?
- What affects the color of the gums in dogs?
- What different colors might I see on my dog’s gums?
- What will my veterinarian do next if my dog has different color gums?
- Will my dog with pale gums be ok?
- Can I prevent this from happening?