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Healthy Dog Gums: What Should They Look Like?

Pet owner checking dog gums
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Maintaining healthy dog gums can stop bad breath, reduce tooth problems, and prevent tooth loss due to periodontal disease in dogs, which is one of the most common diseases diagnosed in dogs [1]. Healthy dog gums also play a role in helping maintain a dog’s overall health. Gum disease in dogs can lead to internal organ dysfunction, and abnormal gum color can indicate serious underlying diseases. 

But how do you know the difference between healthy dog gums vs. unhealthy gums? What do healthy dog gums look like? 

In this article you will learn what healthy dog gums look like and how to recognize warning signs that could indicate problems.

Healthy Dog Gums: What to Look For

In order to make sure that your dog’s gums are healthy, you first have to know what normal dog gums look like. If your dog is comfortable with you touching their mouth and in a relaxed, happy mood, then go ahead and lift their lips and take a look. 

Make sure to look on both sides of the mouth, top and bottom. Normal dog gums should be pink or pale pink, moist, with no bleeding or sensitive areas. If your dog is very excited, hot, or was just exercising, their gums will be darker pink. 

If you see black spots on a dog’s gums, don’t panic! Many dogs have black pigmentation on their gums and tongue. However, dogs can get melanoma on their gums, so if the black spot is new to you, be sure to have your veterinarian take a look to make sure it is nothing to worry about. 

It is best to check your dog’s gums at least once a week.

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Signs of gum disease in dogs include:

  • Red gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Foul breath
  • White buildup and brown staining on teeth (plaque and tartar)
  • Abnormal growths or swollen gums
  • Mobile teeth and tooth loss
  • Gum sensitivity
  • Trouble chewing, drooling, or dropping food
  • Gums that look like they are growing over teeth

Dog Gum Color Chart 

When checking your dog’s gums, it’s important to know what to keep an eye out for. The following chart can identify potential problems, so that you can discuss gum changes with your veterinarian.

Gum ColorWhat It Might MeanWhat to Do
Red gums in dogsGingivitis
Excessively high body temperature
Very excited or stressed
High blood pressure
Offer cool fresh water and let the dog cool or calm down. If the gums are still red when your dog is cool and calm, call your vet.
White or pale gums in dogsAnemia
Kidney disease
Internal bleeding
Heart disease
Clotting disorder
Internal parasites
Severe stress
Bloat (GDV)
Call your vet or go to the emergency clinic.
Blue or purple dog gumsMay be normal in some breeds Heart disease
Respiratory disease
Low blood pressure
Take your dog to the emergency clinic.
Black dog gumsMay be normal in some breeds
Have your veterinarian evaluate your dog.
Yellow dog gumsBlood loss
Liver disease
Call your vet or go to the emergency clinic.

What Causes Unhealthy Dog Gums?

Dog gum health is mostly a function of oral hygiene, but genetics also play a role. While small and toy breed dogs have more problems with gingivitis and poor gum health than large breed dogs, any dog can develop gum disease. 

In general, gum disease in dogs is usually due to poor oral hygiene leading to plaque and tartar build up on the teeth. Bacteria multiply on the surface of the teeth and eat away at gums and bone, causing gum recession, loose teeth, pain, and tooth loss. 

The Importance of Healthy Dog Gums

Gum disease not only creates bad breath and leads to bone and tooth loss, it is also painful and can negatively impact internal organ function. Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums. This bacteria circulates throughout the body, landing in the liver, heart, and kidneys and causing extra wear and tear in these internal organs. 

What to Do If Your Dog Has Unhealthy Gums

If your dog has unhealthy gums, then it is time to get a veterinarian involved. Do not try to brush your dog’s teeth if they have evidence of gum disease because it will hurt and may make the problem worse. 

If your dog’s gums are an odd color that you know isn’t normal, then you need to get your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Many times, abnormal gum color can indicate a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary care. 

If you are noticing the signs of inflamed gums due to gum disease, then veterinary intervention is also required. While this isn’t a life-threatening emergency, it is uncomfortable, can lead to tooth loss, and is causing stress on your dog’s body, so it is best to get it addressed as soon as you can. Schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian. 

During the appointment, your vet will take your dog’s vitals and conduct a full physical examination, including examining the teeth and gums. If your vet notices gum disease, they will likely recommend a full dental cleaning, x-rays, and full dental evaluation under anesthesia. Your dog will need to come back for this procedure and stay at the hospital during the day to have the procedure and recover. 

During the procedure, if your vet notices any diseased teeth that need to be removed or other issues, they will need your approval to remove those teeth. Always be available by phone when your dog is undergoing a veterinary dental cleaning. 

How to Maintain Healthy Dog Gums

Veterinarian checking dog's gums

The best way to maintain healthy dog gums at home is to brush your dog’s teeth regularly. Brushing every 2-3 days is best because it takes approximately 72 hours for plaque (white, soft build up that can be brushed away) to harden into tartar (must be scaled or scraped off). 

In addition to brushing, the following products can be helpful for some dogs:

  • Wiping the teeth with dental wipes
  • Long-lasting dental chews (keep your dog chewing for 10-15 minutes)
  • Water additives that reduce plaque build up
  • Therapeutic dental dog foods formulated to reduce plaque build up

Look for products that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval on them. 

It is also important to have your dog’s teeth checked once a year by your local veterinarian. Your vet can tell you if your dog needs professional dental cleaning and give you more advice on how to keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy. Even though a dental procedure is pricey, consider it an investment in your dog’s overall health, longevity, and quality of life. You can offset the cost of veterinary dental care with pet insurance, wellness plans, pet care credit cards, or payment plans offered by your vet.

While gum disease is common in dogs, with increased awareness and proactive measures, you can help your dog have a healthy mouth. You may also save your dog’s life or the life of another dog by understanding how gum color reveals health problems, so share this article with other dog lovers in your life!


  1. Wallis, C. and Holcombe, L.J. (2020), A review of the frequency and impact of periodontal disease in dogs. J Small Anim Pract, 61: 529-540. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsap.13218