When I first adopted my precious mutt, I spent days just looking at his fluffy face. It wasn’t long before I noticed a curious habit the pup continues to practice to this day. Awake or asleep, I’d sometimes catch my dog with a part of its tongue just casually hanging outside of its mouth. So why does my dog’s tongue stick out when its mouth is closed? A cursory investigation came up with no conclusive reason, so I decided to dive deeper.
If you’re an animal lover, the chances are that you’re already familiar with the iconic blep. Yes, that’s the slang term most people use for this adorable facial expression. And dogs aren’t the only ones that do it, either! You’ve probably seen photos of various animal species lounging around with their tongues hanging out of their closed mouths.
So since this phenomenon is so prevalent, let’s start by explaining what it is. More importantly, what distinguishes it from other, similar animal behaviors?
How Do We Define the “Blep”?
As I’ve mentioned, “blepping” isn’t exactly a scientific term. However, it has been used in recent years to describe expressions you might see on dogs and cats. But is it something you need to worry about?
To begin with, let’s look at the situation I’m describing here to avoid confusion. After all, both canines and felines are capable of making some pretty adorable facial expressions, most of which heavily feature some slobber.
In the case of the blep, the animal in question usually has its mouth mostly closed. You may partially see only the tip of its tongue, just hanging slightly over the lip. Typically, the dog seems to have no knowledge of its tongue sticking out unless you call attention to it by touching it. At that point, most pups quickly slurp it back.
If your pup is panting or lapping something up, it doesn’t technically count as a blep. For example, if the dog is rhythmically passing its tongue over its nose or lapping something up, the sound it makes is a “mlem.”
Because both of these terms describe the sound these actions make, they are technically onomatopoeic. In the case of the blep, we might say that the sound the word is describing is what we imagine a hanging tongue would sound like.
Speaking of which, later on, we’ll discuss how this expression differs from hanging tongue syndrome. For now, though, it’s safe to say that seeing a part of your pup’s tongue outside of its mouth is nothing to be concerned about. But if you’re still a second away from frantically typing why does my dog’s tongue stick out when its mouth is closed? into a search engine, don’t worry. The answers will be revealed momentarily.
Why Does My Dog’s Tongue Stick Out When Its Mouth Is Closed?
Now that we’ve established the topic of conversation, let’s get to the bottom of why animals unknowingly stick their tongues out. When you’re faced with such an adorable expression, you can only think that your pet is being cute on purpose. As far as I know, that’s not the case.
But what else could be causing this behavior? Why does my dog’s tongue stick out when its mouth is closed? There are several possible explanations.
Firstly, let’s talk about the most likely explanation for this unusual phenomenon. Perhaps the peeking tongue is just a sign that a dog is just too relaxed to keep it behind its teeth. Its jaw is slack, so even though its mouth appears to be closed, its tongue can hang slightly outside of it.
Even wild animals demonstrate a propensity for sticking their tongues out when they’re relaxed. And it’s not just tigers and wolves we’re talking about here. Most animals do it, from grizzly bears and koalas to otters and seals. If it has a tongue, it probably hangs loose once in a while, if only while the animal in question is sleeping.
If I had to guess, I’d say that all of the blepping photos online show one of two scenarios. They’re either pictures of dogs relaxing or sleeping or they’re showing them in an alert state. So in some situations, blepping can show that a dog is putting all of its focus elsewhere.
For example, it might be waiting for a treat or a walk, or even a good cuddle. That way, showing tongue might be a behavior similar to drooling. It’s something dogs do when all of their attention is focused on something else.
Tasting the Air
Another common explanation I’ve seen notes that animals may stick their tongues out to essentially taste the air.
Of course, dogs can do this even without sticking their tongues out, though. Usually, they’re able to detect the taste of air through inhaling it thanks to Jacobsen’s organ. They can access that particular feature by simply holding their mouth open.
Still, if you catch your pet with its tongue out while you’re cooking something scrumptious, it’s probably just trying to get a taste.
Panting Due to Exhaustion
Of course, your dog could just have its tongue out to cool down. Panting — or taking short breaths, usually with the tongue hanging outside — is how dogs regulate their body temperature.
Our bodies achieve the same thing by sweating during and after strenuous exercise. However, dogs work differently. But if your pet’s tongue is sticking out after playtime, you probably knew the cause already.
Hanging Tongue Syndrome
Most of the time, the answer to the question why does my dog’s tongue stick out when its mouth is closed? is one of the above. However, there are other causes you might consider.
As we have established, blepping usually only involves the very tip of the tongue. However, some dogs have their whole tongues hanging outside of their mouths. But why?
Well, the most obvious reason is that it’s a matter of their breed. Some canine breeds are prone to a thing called the “hanging tongue syndrome.” We usually see it in smaller breeds with flat snouts. To put it simply, they don’t have enough room in their mouths for their tongues.
But that’s not the only reason why your pet’s whole tongue could be out. It may also be due to its teeth. For example, if your dog has an overbite or underbite, their tongue could be slipping out accidentally. They’re probably just too lazy to suck it back in.
On the other hand, if the teeth were diseased and had to be extracted, there may be nothing there to hold the tongue in. All these are things that can cause “hanging tongue syndrome.”
But don’t worry, we’re not talking about a dangerous condition. As long as your dog has plenty of water to hydrate that loose tongue and check it for discoloration every once in a while, it should be fine.
Finally, there is one last thing you ought to consider if you’re trying to figure out why your pet’s tongue is sticking out. If you’ve recently started giving your dog new medication, it may be worth looking into its side effects. Hopefully, your vet would have shared those with you when you got the prescription but it can never hurt to check online. Maybe someone else has noticed the same effect.
Usually, all you need to worry about in that regard are pain relievers and anxiety medication. However, I should also remind you to check any additional supplements you may be giving your dog for these effects as well.
Why Does My Dog’s Tongue Stick Out When Its Mouth Is Closed? — Final Thoughts
When I first asked the Internet why does my dog’s tongue stick out when its mouth is closed? I was only mildly curious about it. All of these explanations have shown me that there’s much more to this expression than I previously thought.
Unfortunately, though, we still don’t have a clear scientific answer to the question we started with. What we do have are logical guesses. And until we know for certain why this behavior is so prevalent in the animal kingdom, that will have to be enough!