Has your dog been having issues eating or drinking and is showing clear signs of discomfort? There are various dog tongue problems that may be at play here. If you cannot perform the examination yourself, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Depending on its symptoms, it might be dealing with:
- Oral Papillomatosis
- Soft tissue trauma
- Tumor or cancer
Dog Health: The Most Common Dog Tongue Problems
Both you and I know that dogs, no matter how much we take care of them, can develop some health problems over time. In particular, dog tongue problems seem to be on every dog owner’s mind, as they can prevent the canine from drinking water and eating food, leading to the overall worsening of its well-being.
But what are the most common dog tongue problems, and are they all as worrisome as they may seem? Without further ado, let’s see if everything that can go wrong with a dog’s tongue requires an emergency vet checkup and whether there are some “issues” that don’t pose a health risk at all.
7 Most Common Dog Tongue Problems
As one of the most common dog tongue problems we can come across, glossitis has been a huge issue for both canines and their owners over the years. The condition is actually the inflammation of the tongue, and it can be caused by both primary and secondary factors.
Usually, glossitis goes hand in hand with cheilitis, stomatitis, and gingivitis, which are inflammations of the lips, gums, and soft mouth tissue, respectively. However, it may also come about due to:
- Insect stings, such as bee stings, which may lead to tongue swelling (some dogs even try to eat the bees!)
- Lacerations, which pose a great threat in terms of bacterial infections
- Tongue injuries (burns and lesions)
- An undetected autoimmune disease
- Other diseases the dog might have picked up along the way, such as herpes virus, canine distemper, and Bartonella.
Sometimes, there isn’t a primary cause of glossitis. Metabolic disease is a huge issue for dog owners and their pooches, and conditions such as diabetes, hyperparathyroidism, liver, and chronic kidney failure, as well as neoplasia, are all too common. They are also associated with glossitis in dogs.
The most common symptoms of glossitis include:
- Tongue swelling
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Pain and difficulty swallowing as well as breathing
- Inability to consume food (anorexia and general changes in appetite)
- Bleeding gums and ulcer formation and bleeding
- Plaque and tartar buildup
Since it is one of the ugliest dog tongue problems (for the lack of a better description), oral papillomatosis is somewhat easy to notice. Unfortunately, the incubation period of this viral disease is rather slow, and it may last for anywhere between two and six months. As such, by the time we notice the first symptoms, the dog may have already transmitted the disease to its other furry buddies!
This viral disease typically occurs in young pups who have been in contact with infected dogs. Its main feature, so to speak, comes in the form of flesh-colored, white, or grayish wart-like masses that appear on the mouth’s mucous membranes.
These lesions may appear sporadically throughout the mouth, or they may appear in clusters. Usually, they cover the lips, the tongue, and the palate, with some popping up on the throat as well. Their size varies just as much as their location; warts may be as tiny as a few millimeters or grow up to a few centimeters.
The good news is that they don’t pose a huge risk for the dog. There’s no pain involved, and the dog can usually live with them just fine, as long as they don’t cause any trouble while chewing or swallowing food.
Still, since the disease can spread easily, it’s a must to get the dog checked by the vet. Usually, warts regress on their own, after which the dog is practically immune to reinfection. The vet can also prescribe an antiviral medication, an antibiotic, and even a vaccine.
Ulceration Due to Acute Renal Failure
Ulceration is another common tongue disorder that may inflict our furry buddies. Sadly, it most often is a symptom of another underlying condition, such as acute renal failure or cancer.
There are various causes of acute renal failure, so treating the underlying issue is a must as well. The condition may have been brought about by:
- A bacterial infection (such as leptospirosis), which the dog may contract by drinking contaminated urine or water
- Decreased blood flow
- Bee stings, snake bites, and heatstroke
- Poison — antifreeze (ethylene glycol, radiator fluid), grapes, raisins, and certain pills such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
If your dog’s kidneys are shutting down rapidly, the vet may discover a few telltale symptoms during the physical examination. Most often, they may notice:
- Oral ulcers and “uremic breath”
- Necrosis or discoloration of the tongue
- Bile-stained fur
- Enlarged kidneys
The dog may also experience seizures and abdominal pain.
Gingivitis and stomatitis are fairly common dog problems, so it goes without saying that there has been a lot of research involving them. Thus, the recovery prognosis is usually quite good, especially when it comes to gingivitis. If the dog has stomatitis, it may vary depending on the dog’s overall state.
Stomatitis is the disease that will affect the tongue as well, in comparison to gingivitis, which doesn’t cause any tongue swelling or bleeding. However, stomatitis doesn’t have a clear cause, which makes its treatment all the more difficult. It appears that it might be caused by an overreaction of the gums to bacterial biofilm (communities of microbial cells).
If your dog has gingivitis, you’ll notice:
- Swelling and redness along the gumline
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Bleeding gums whenever you brush its teeth
What makes stomatitis worse? Well, it’s a more severe type of inflammation, so it will cause issues with the tongue and the lips, as well as other soft tissues around and inside the dog’s mouth. Furthermore, it’s extremely painful, which may make the dog lose its appetite. It may also affect its fur, as the canine isn’t able to self-groom.
The most common symptoms are:
- Bad breath
- Tongue inflammation
- Bleeding gums and blood in the saliva
- Visible plaque
- Loss of appetite, difficulty eating or drinking, and weight loss
- Inflamed gums
- Lesions (either on the gums or somewhere else inside the mouth)
Since stomatitis doesn’t have a clear cause and might be just a symptom of an underlying issue, it would be best to let the vet do a full checkup. The most common causes are:
- Bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections
- Reaction to some medications
- Autoimmune disorders
- Hormonal deficiencies
- Renal failure
- Hypereosinophilic syndrome
- Reaction to being in contact with caustic substances
Soft Tissue Trauma
General infections fall underdog tongue problems most owners simply cannot avoid. As our pooches explore the world, they are bound to chew on things or eat stuff they shouldn’t (such as the bees we have already mentioned).
All of this exploring may result in cuts, burns, and lacerations, which can either be classified as minor injuries or potential bacterial breeding grounds. If the wounds do get infected, they may cause inflammation of the tongue. Even if the cuts are on the gums or the teeth are infected, the inflammation can spread and affect the tongue as well.
Signs of tongue injuries are not that difficult to notice, but some owners may ignore them and believe that the wounds are not that serious. Still, because bacterial infections are common, it’s vital to take the dog for a checkup if you notice any signs of distress, malnourishment, drooling, or bad breath.
Tumors and Cancers
Sadly, when talking about dog tongue problems, we do have to mention the dangers of tumors and cancers. The most common type of tumor that may affect the dog’s tongue is the SCC, or squamous cell carcinoma.
Accounting for about 50% of all dog tongue tumors, the SCC is a malignant tumor of the cells that appears in the form of lesions within the mouth. Those lesions may be nodular or resembling a cauliflower, or they may be thicker in some areas. Either way, they can appear anywhere inside the dog’s mouth, including on the tongue. Sometimes, they may also open up and bleed.
Should your dog have SCC, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Oral pain, especially if the tumor has gone into the bone. Due to the extreme pain, it is in, the dog may not want to be touched on the head at all.
- Excessive panting and salivation
- Bad breath
- Diminished appetite or difficulty eating
Even though it is not as talked about as some other dog tongue problems on this list, cyanosis is a rather serious condition that requires an immediate vet checkup. Unless you have a breed that naturally has a purplish, blackish tongue, any sudden bluish coloration inside the mouth is a cause for concern.
Typically, cyanosis occurs due to too much-oxygenated hemoglobin, which is an alarming symptom of dangerous conditions such as respiratory and congenital heart diseases. Alternatively, it may indicate exposure to chemicals that lead to the creation of abnormal hemoglobin forms.
The telltale signs of cyanosis include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Purplish or bluish footpads (possible symptom)
- Purplish or bluish coloration, including the gums, the tongue, the lips, and skin areas with superficial blood vessels
Dog Tongue Problems That Aren’t Dangerous or Worrisome At All
Some dog tongue problems may not be directly connected to the dog’s tongue, i.e., they don’t actually affect it. One of those is ranula, a type of cyst that grows underneath the tongue and causes swelling. It is a sign that the sublingual salivary gland or the sublingual ducts have suffered some damage.
Additionally, there are potential dog tongue problems that are only problematic in terms of aesthetics. Those dark pigmented areas inside the dog’s mouth and on its tongue don’t actually pose a risk to its health. As long as they are flat, they are completely harmless. They are the result of microscopic melanin granules, which may grow or change a bit over time.
The problem is when these pigmentations aren’t flat. In case you notice that the spots are actually bumps or a bit raised, it’s crucial to take the dog to the vet as soon as possible. Those could be melanomas that require immediate attention.
How to Check for Dog Tongue Problems
To avoid ignoring any potential dog tongue problems, we as owners should include oral examinations into our dogs’ regular routines. Granted, if it’s in pain, it may be difficult to examine the dog’s mouth each time. Still, if there is pain — there’s no need to even do the examination. Any sort of pain should be reported to the vet!
When checking for dog tongue problems, make sure to look for bruises, lacerations, and ulcers. You can run your finger across the soft tissue inside the dog’s mouth and check whether there are any bumps or raised areas.
While doing so, check for any bleeding and push the tongue up a bit as well. There shouldn’t be anything bumpy underneath it either.
Tongue diagnosis is very popular in Chinese medicine and is used to determine the true condition of a patient. Luckily, we can also use it to detect any potential dog tongue problems while examining the canine’s mouth.
In a nutshell, Chinese medicine believes that we can learn more about someone’s overall well-being by taking into consideration the shape, color, and coating of their tongue. In the same way, we can check what our dogs’ tongues say.
Here are the colors you should pay attention to:
- Purple or blue. If your dog’s tongue is this color, it may be suffering from heart or liver disease, or even lupus. Alternatively, you may be dealing with circulatory or respiratory problems, hepatitis, organ distress, or liver cancer. The dog may also be in pain or suffering from toxicosis.
- Red. A red tongue could mean that your dog is suffering from a bacterial infection, diabetes, or cancer. There might be something wrong with its gallbladder, kidneys, or thyroid. On the other hand, it might be dehydrated, vitamin-deficient, feverish, or suffering from a toxin buildup.
- Pale or white. In case your dog’s tongue is pale or white in color, it may have lost a lot of blood, is generally weak with a degraded immune function, or malnourished. Alternatively, the pooch may be lethargic or anemic. It may have edema too, leukemia, or problems with its gastric system.
- Yellow or orange. Dogs with a yellow or orange tongue may be suffering from a liver or gallbladder malfunction. If that’s not the case, it’s a good idea to check for any signs of gastritis.
Unless you have a dog that naturally has a black tongue (breeds include the Chow Chow, Shar-Pei, and Eurasier, just to name a few), your dog’s tongue should be pink.
You should also pay attention to the tongue’s coating, as both its color and consistency can indicate some health conditions.
If the coating is thick or pasty, that may be a sign of an imbalance of the dog’s digestive system. That’s usually a problem in dogs who are fed grain-based diets. These don’t nourish the body, as they don’t have the bioavailable nutrients and enzymes necessary for the dog’s gastrointestinal tract to work properly.
As far as the colors go, the coating is usually white or yellow. If it’s palish in color, that could be a sign that the dog has a fever or is suffering from lung weakness. Alternatively, its gastric system may be malfunctioning.
If the coating is yellow, however, the dog may lack essential nutrients due to a poor diet. There could be some intestinal problems at play, too, such as pancreatitis.
As you can see, there are various dog tongue problems we as owners have to pay close attention to. Some of them are connected to more serious issues, such as diabetes, while others may just be a sign that the dog has been rummaging through the trash yet again. Either way, your dog’s tongue can tell you a lot about its overall well-being. So, if you want your pooch to live a long and happy life, you’ll make sure you examine its tongue on a regular basis and note any changes.