- Pale gums could signal a medical emergency and dogs should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
- Normal dog gums are pink in color and moist to the touch.
- Causes of pale gums range from internal bleeding and anemia to cancer and kidney disease.
- Pet parents should regularly check their dog's gums a few times each month.
When it comes to our dogs’ oral health, we typically envision a pretty set of pearly white teeth. But teeth are just part of the dental health equation. The gums provide a crucial window into a dog’s overall health.
A problem with the gums—such as pale gums in dogs—is a clue to a serious, underlying health condition. It always requires further investigation.
Let’s explore why dogs have pale gums and what you can do about it.
Dog Gum Basics
The gums are one of several structures in the mouth that support the teeth. Healthy, normal gums in dogs have a pink or salmon color. The gums are pink because of the many tiny blood vessels just under the gums’ surface.
Healthy dog gums are also shiny and moist, indicating that your pup is well-hydrated.
There are normal variations in dogs’ gum color. For example, some dogs have mottled gums, meaning that the gums have spots of dark pigment. This is nothing to worry about.
Checking Your Dog’s Gums
As a responsible pet parent, you already know about closely monitoring your pet’s health and behavior so that you can detect when something’s not right.
Checking your dog’s gums should be included in this monitoring. Fortunately, this is easy to do and not at all uncomfortable for your dog.
Gently lift the upper lip and pull down the lower lip to observe your dog’s gum color, which should be pink or salmon in color.
Next, gently touch your dog’s gums to determine if they feel moist. Gums that feel a little sticky or tacky could indicate dehydration.
You can also perform the capillary refill test, which is a quick way to evaluate hydration status and blood flow to the gums. Gently press your index finger to your dog’s gums and lift your finger back up. The area you pressed will be white from your finger’s pressure, then return to the normal pink color in 1-2 seconds, indicating adequate hydration and a quick refill of the blood vessels.
If more than 1-2 seconds pass before your dog’s gums turn pink again, your dog may be dehydrated or have an underlying health problem that is affecting circulation.
Check your dog’s gums at least once or twice a month. However, it’s best to check the gums each time that you brush your dog’s teeth, which should be a few times a week. Take note of any change in the gum’s feel and appearance.
Be aware that, for dogs with mottled gums, it can be challenging to see the capillary refill test results and determine if the gums have changed color.
Pale gums in dogs range from pale pink to white. Because pale gums are usually associated with a problem with hydration or circulation, the gums will probably feel sticky and lose their shiny appearance from a lack of moisture.
Causes of Pale Gums in Dogs
Many health problems can affect a dog’s circulation and lead to pale gums. Some of the more common causes of pale gums include:
Anemia is a decreased number of red blood cells (RBCs). It is not a disease unto itself but rather a consequence of some other disease process. Dogs with anemia are often weak, tired, and have difficulty breathing. They also experience weight loss, have a faster heart rate to pump out more blood, and might have bloody noses.
Shock occurs after a traumatic event, such as being hit by a car, that causes significant external or internal bleeding. A dog’s circulation plummets, blood vessels constrict, and gums become pale.
Dogs in shock have rapid breathing, a rapid heartbeat, and reduced body temperature.
Shock is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary treatment.
The kidneys produce a substance called erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates RBC production. During kidney disease, the kidneys stop working well, meaning that EPO production goes down. With less EPO, fewer RBCs are being produced, ultimately leading to pale gums.
Signs of kidney disease include excessive drinking and urination, reduced appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Internal bleeding can result from traumatic injury or organ disease, such as stomach ulcers. Internal bleeding reduces circulation, leading to pale gums in dogs. Signs of internal bleeding vary according to the cause. For example, stomach ulcers can cause vomiting.
Parasites can wreak havoc by feeding on a dog’s blood and depriving dogs of vital nutrients. Fleas land on a dog’s fur and feed on the blood. A heavy flea infestation can cause significant blood loss, leading to pale gums. Symptoms of a flea infestation include intense itching and hair loss from the constant scratching.
Intestinal parasites like roundworms cause digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea. They can also cause weight loss and reduced energy and appetite.
Bloat in dogs can quickly become a life-threatening condition. When the stomach fills with gas, it can become so distended that it twists upon itself, leading to a dangerous cascade of circulation problems. Pale gums are a consequence of these circulation problems.
Dogs with bloat have distended abdomens and become restless and distressed.
Blood Clotting Disorders
The blood clotting process is complex. A blood clotting disorder, such as thrombocytopenia (a lack of platelets), disrupts this intricate process and causes abnormal bleeding. Pale gums could result from abnormal bleeding.
Signs of blood clotting disorders include excessive bleeding and skin bruises.
If your dog’s heart cannot pump blood properly, the gums won’t get the blood supply they need to stay healthy, leading to pale gums. Heart disease signs are numerous and include lethargy, reduced appetite, coughing, and a fluid-filled abdomen.
Heavy Metal Toxicity
Dogs aren’t exactly picky eaters, so they may eat something that contains heavy metals, such as pennies or nails. Heavy metals like zinc can reduce RBC production, leading to anemia and pale gums.
Heavy metal toxicity also causes symptoms like vomiting, reduced appetite, and lethargy.
Cancer robs the body of so much. Dogs can be affected by many types of cancer. Some types of cancer affect the bone marrow, which produces RBCs. If there’s cancer in the bone marrow, RBC production goes down, leading to anemia and pale gums.
Cancer has a broad range of symptoms that depend on the type of cancer.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Pale Gums
If your dog has pale gums, act promptly and contact your veterinarian immediately. Pale gums in dogs are abnormal and always warrant further investigation by a veterinarian.
If your dog is critically ill from shock or bloat, immediately seek veterinary care from your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital. If your dog is in shock from a traumatic injury that’s caused significant bleeding, you can perform first aid by covering the wound with a clean cloth. However, your primary goal is to get your dog treated as soon as possible.
The other causes of pale gums listed above are not necessarily life-and-death medical emergencies. However, because pale gums indicate an underlying health problem, your dog will need prompt veterinary care.
Your veterinarian will ask you many questions as they examine your dog to determine the cause of the pale gums. Come prepared with as much information as possible, including what’s listed below:
- First observation of the pale gums
- What the gums looked and felt like
- Other symptoms or changes in behavior
- History of trauma
- History of eating something that contains heavy metals (e.g., pennies)
A detailed history will give your veterinarian more clues of the underlying problem. After performing a physical exam, they will perform other diagnostic tests, including routine blood work, X-rays, and blood clotting tests.
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the cause of your dog’s pale gums, follow their recommended treatment plan. Treating the underlying cause will help the gums return to their normal healthy color and appearance.
The sooner your veterinarian can determine what’s causing the pale gums, the sooner your dog can be treated and get back to good health.
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