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Why Are My Dog’s Gums Pale? Get your Teeth into these 5 Gum-related Problems

All medical claims reviewed by Dr Pippa Elliott. BVMS, MRCVS.

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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 normal 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:

  • 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: Inside 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.

         Anaemia is a huge topic because there are lots of reasons a dog might be anaemic. Just a few examples include:

    • The bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells
    • The red blood cells in the circulation become damaged or are destroyed
    • A bleed or internal bleed, so that blood is lost faster than it is made.

         From this you see how important a vet checkup is, so that the cause of the anaemia is identified and treated

  • 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.

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 indicates 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 anyway. 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.

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