Why are my dogs gums pale?
The state of a dog’s gums says a lot about their health.
Healthy dog gums are a great sign your fur-friend is fit and well. But what do pale gums in dogs, or red, bleeding gums or a fleshy-growth mean?
Let’s sink our teeth into the topic of what a dog’s gums tells us about their overall health, what to look for, and what it all means.
What Do Healthy Dog Gums Look Like?
Before you can spot a problem, know what the normal colour of the gums looks like.
Take the example of a power socket. You know electrics shouldn’t spark, smell of burning, or have smoke billowing out. If one of these things happens, instantly you know there’s a problem.
The same with a dog’s gums. As a rule, healthy dog gums should be a healthy pink colour:
- Pink: What shade of pink? Go to a mirror and have a look at the colour of your gums. Unless your dog has naturally pigmented gum tissue, they should appear a healthy bubble-gum pink.
- Moist: A healthy mouth should be slightly shiny, as the gums are well-hydrated and the dog is producing enough saliva.
- Not Look Angry: Healthy gums should not bleed or have an angry red line where the gums meet the teeth.
- Not Smell: Healthy gums should not smell. A whiff of doggy bad breath that makes you gag is definitely not normal.
OK, so let’s start our toothy troubleshooting.
Pale Gums in Dogs
“My dog’s gums are pale. What does it mean?”
First, it’s important to know that pale gums in dogs are not normal and your fur-friend needs an urgent vet checkup.
The reason why the gums are pale can be due to anaemia in dogs (a lack of red blood cells), poor circulation (such as a shock reaction), pain or even anxiety.
- Anaemia: Red blood cells circulating in the fine capillaries of the gums give them their characteristic pink colour. If, for whatever reason, there aren’t enough red blood cells, then the gums will appear pale.
The causes of anaemia are a huge topic because there are lots of reasons for anaemia in dogs. Just a few examples include:
- Bone Marrow Disease: The bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. This can be due to a lack of raw materials, such as iron, so that production of red blood cells can’t occur, or conditions such as leukaemia when the bone marrow produces too many white cells at the expense of red blood cells.
- Destruction of Red Blood Cells: The red blood cells in the circulation become damaged or are destroyed, such as occurs with autoimmune disease and hemolytic anaemia. This occurs when the dog’s immune system turns on itself, which leads to destruction of red blood cells or of the platelets which are vital for blood clot formation.
- Internal bleeding: A bleed or internal bleed, so that blood is lost faster than it is made. Internal bleeding is serious and it’s important the reason is identified and treated. The worst cases may need a life-saving blood transfusion to stabilize the patient whilst the underlying problem is diagnosed.
- Parasite Infestations: External parasites such as fleas and lice, and internal parasites such as hookworm, suck blood. If the dog has a heavy enough infestation, they lose blood more rapidly than its formed and the red blood cell count falls too low.
- Blood Clotting Disorders: A dog’s health depends on their ability to form blood clots, which plug damaged blood vessels and prevent excessive bleeding. Certain genetic problems, such as Von Willebrand’s disease, mean the dog’s body lacks certain clotting factors, which means the slightest knock can cause bruising of bleeding. Alternatively, eating food laced with rat poison is a common way that some dogs develop severe anaemia, because these poisons inhibit blood clotting in all mammals, not just rats.
- Ill Health: Health problems such as kidney failure can lead to anaemia. One of the kidneys many jobs is to produce hormones that tell the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. When the kidneys are sick, they don’t produce enough of these hormones and so the dog’s blood begins to thin.
From this, you see how important a vet checkup is, so the cause anaemia is identified and treated.
Also, pale gums are just about anemia. For example, poor circulation, fear or stress can cause the gum colour to become pale
- Poor Circulation: If the blood supply to the gums is reduced, they will look pale. Examples of this include:
- Heart disease: When the heart pumps weakly, blood may struggle to reach the extremities such as paws, nose, and gums
- Shock: A dog involved in an accident may well go into shock. An important signs not to miss is pale gums, dry mouth, cold paws, and a racing heart.
- Pain or Anxiety: The effects of stress hormones on the body put it into a state of fight or fright. This involves redirecting blood from the extremities such as the gums, to the heart and major muscle groups.
Apart from pale gums, other signs of anaemia include extreme tiredness and lack of energy. This is a healthy blood count is necessary to provide the oxygen to power the muscles. A lack of oxygen means the muscles and organs are deprived of energy and so the dog becomes desperately tired all the time. Indeed, another sign of anaemia is a poor appetite, which can in part be due to the underlying cause driving the problem.
White Gums in Dogs
“My dog’s gums are white.“
Get straight to the vet. Even an albino animal that lacks pigment in the skin, should have pink gums.
White gums indicate severe blood loss, anaemia in dogs, or profound shock.
This requires immediate action so contact the vet as a matter of urgency.
Red Gums in Dogs
“Why are my dog’s gums red?”
As a rule of thumb, redness in dogs means inflammation is present.
Take a closer look at the dog’s gums to see whether the gums are red overall or if the redness is localised to an angry red line where the gums meet the teeth
The latter is a sign of periodontal disease in dogs and gingivitis. This may well be accompanied by a bad smell.
Another sign to look for is bleeding along the gum margin. This is a sign the gum is severely inflamed, which causes bleeding when touched or the dog bites down on a biscuit.
Left untreated periodontal disease leads to gum recession, tooth root abscesses, and teeth falling out. However, that angry red line is an early warning sign that action is needed. Don’t ignore that call to action since improving oral hygiene with regular brushing and dental chews helps protect those pearly whites.
But a quick few words of caution.
If the gums are brick red overall and all the gum tissue is this colour, see a vet immediately. Brick red gums are a sign of septicaemia, which can be life-threatening. Don’t delay. Call the vet no matter what time of day or night.
Black Gums or Brown Spots on Dogs Gums
Whilst the majority of gums are bubble-gum pink, some dogs do have a blotchy pigment patterns to the gums. These patches may be brown or a dark colour, and perfectly normal for that individual. Indeed, bear in mind that some breeds, such as the Chow Chow, have black gums as de rigeur.
Just check that the darker areas are not raised above the pink ones, bleeding, or look angry in any way. Some of the nastier oral tumours are darkly pigmented, so if in doubt, see a vet (See Below.)
Growth on Dog’s Gums
Perhaps your dog has a lump in their mouth. Should it be there?
Don’t panic, and instead check the other side. The left and right hand sides of the mouth should be mirror images of each other. If the bump is present on both sides, then it may well be normal anatomy (but if in doubt draw it to your vet’s attention.)
Certain breeds such as Boxers, are prone to fleshy growths on their gums. These can sometimes grow so big as to swallow up the teeth. Whilst these are often just additional fibrous gum tissue, and nothing to worry about, get the vet to take a look. Occasionally a more serious but atypically unpigmented tumour can masquerade as one of these harmless epulides.
The one to worry about are dark lumps on the gums, especially if they are coal black. This can be a sign of a malignant melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and needs urgent attention.
Lift the Lip
Now you know what healthy dog gums look like, get into the habit of lifting their lip and looking.
Recognizing signs of periodontal disease or unnaturally pale gums, and taking action will help keep your fur-friend healthy.
“Why are my dog’s gums pale?” Now you know the answer and are empowered to do something about it.