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Canine tongue color and signs of illness

Updated on February 18, 2012

Did you know that it is possible to tell if the dog is sick simply by looking at the color of the tongue? A dog’s tongue is unique. Apart from its usual function of tasting the food, the tongue acts as a conveyor that delivers food and water to the mouth. This muscle can be a texture sensor…tough when licking bones but tender and soft when cleaning newborn. Dogs show their affection by slobbering humans with wet kisses. Dog’s have a one of a kind temperature regulator…the tongue. This vascular muscle of a dog that contains taste receptor cells is used to lick and heal their own wounds. An owner will learn about the state of the dog’s health by paying attention to the color of the pet’s tongue.

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Canine tongue color

The normal color of canine tongue is pink. In some breeds, the pink tongue is speckled or dotted with black or blue. The tongue is a sensitive organ that changes in color when physiological change in the dog’s body occurs. Color other than pink is an indication of a health concern. Chow Chow and Shar Pei are breeds that have naturally black tongues thus determining the health by examining the tongue would be rather difficult for these breeds.

White tongue

White tongue indicates low red blood cell count. Commonly, anemia is due to canine leukemia. It can also be associated with tick borne diseases.  White tongue seen in injured dogs is a sign of internal bleeding. Dogs, apart from being inquisitive, are also indiscriminate eaters. A dog that has been lapping toxic substances would have a white tongue. Tongue discoloration in this instance is an indication of poisoning.

Blue/black tongue

If your dog is not a Chow Chow and you noticed the pet’s tongue to be black, you may need to take the dog to an animal hospital ASAP. Blue or black tongue is an indication of cyanosis, a condition where the body suffers from insufficient oxygen supply in the blood. This condition is commonly attributed to a heart or respiratory disease. A black tongue can result from exposure to toxins. Uremia is another cause of tongue discoloration. Kidney failure in its terminal stage will be unable to filter the toxins from the body resulting to discolored and ulcerated tongue. Foul breath, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite are other symptoms of this disease.

Reddened tongue

Reddened, swollen and black spotted…these are manifestations of melanoma, a type of cancer. The black spots can be hard to detect if the dog has a black tongue. Other symptoms will be noticed when the disease progresses. The size of the tongue will increase due to severe inflammation and growth of the cancerous tissues.

Helping the pet

Unlike the ears or the eyes, infection is not common in canine tongues. Nevertheless, it would be a good habit to examine the tongue of the pet every now and then. The discoloration of the tongue can be as simple as the licked dye from a chew toy. However, the discoloration can also be a sign of a life threatening disease. Nothing beats prompt medical attention in ensuring the pet’s complete recovery from an illness.


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