- Pale gums can mean something is seriously wrong with your dog — Conditions such as anemia, shock, and severe dehydration can cause pale gums.
- A dog’s gums should normally be pink in color — If your dog’s gums are any other color, it could be a warning sign for other health issues, however, this may depend on the individual dog.
- Check your dog’s gums regularly — Hold your index finger to their gums for two seconds and then let go. Your dog’s gums should return to a normal pink color within a second or two if they’re healthy.
So you’ve noticed that your dog has pale gums — is that cause for alarm? The truth is, pale gums could be normal for your pet, especially if you’ve noticed them before. However, there’s always the chance that it could mean something more serious, like cancer, anemia , or some other underlying cause.
Causes of pale gums in dogs
If your dog’s gums appear pale or off-colored, you should take them to the vet immediately, as this can be a sign of a life-threatening condition. Some common causes of pale gums in dogs include:
Anemia in itself is not a disease, however, an anemic dog may have another illness that’s causing their condition. These could include an autoimmune or chronic disease such as kidney failure , internal bleeding, metal poisoning, parasites, or cancer. They might also be experiencing a bleeding mass in their abdomen or chest area. Heavy blood loss can also cause anemia without any other illness present.
Bloat in dogs can occur when trapped gas causes their stomach to become distended. A swollen stomach can cut off blood supply to vital organs very quickly, so if you suspect bloat, take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Your dog’s stomach or colon can experience volvulus (twisting), which will require surgery to treat.
Like anemia, internal bleeding in dogs is a sign of a serious medical issue. Cancerous tumors, trauma, or ingesting poison (like rodenticide) or toxic foods or chemicals are all possible reasons for internal bleeding to occur.
There are two different types of kidney disease in dogs — chronic and acute. While chronic renal failure is a degenerative condition with no known cure, acute renal failure is typically caused by infection or anemia that can occur from ingesting toxic items such as chocolate or ibuprofen. If your veterinarian catches this disease early, your pet stands a better chance of recovery.
Poor circulation from heart disease can result in pale gums. Unfortunately, heart disease is fairly common, especially among elderly dogs. Although there isn’t a cure, your pet can still have a good quality of life with proper treatment.
Blood clotting disorders
There are several different types of blood clotting disorders in dogs. Some are genetic in origin, and others have environmental factors, such as eating rat poison. While it may seem like an odd symptom, the paleness is caused by the blood’s inability to coagulate — blocking the redness of the heme to show through the thin skin of the gums. While these disorders cannot be cured, they can be managed.
Other causes for blood loss that aren’t clotting-related include anemia, persistent vomiting (specifically vomiting up blood), and a bloody nose that has not resolved.
Severe dehydration can cause pale gums in dogs. Especially during warmer summer months, Fido must have plenty of access to clean water. Dogs with a lot of fur can overheat relatively quickly compared to those with shorter coats. This also holds true for flat-faced, or brachycephalic , dog breeds.
Similar to dehydration, but much more serious, shock occurs when your dog can’t get enough oxygen to their brain. There are several different types of shock including hypovolemic (loss of fluid), cardiogenic (originating from the heart), anaphylactic (allergic reaction) , and subjection to extreme temperatures. In addition to pale gums, signs your dog might be going into shock include excessive yawning, lethargy, and cold skin or ears.
⚠️ Going into shock can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. If you sense your dog is going into shock, call the vet at once.
How to check your dog’s gums
Pale gums in dogs can be pretty easy to recognize. However, you should check your dog’s gums periodically as part of a comprehensive healthcare routine. Pay special attention to changes you see, especially if your dog has spotted or black gums that can hide health-related changes.
Here are some steps to check your pup’s gums:
- Lift the upper lip — If it is safe to do so, lift the upper lip to observe the color of the gums just above the upper canine teeth. Most often, healthy dog gums will be some shade of pink from bubble gum to a salmon color.
- Press firmly on your dog’s gums — Do this with your index finger and then release to test how long it takes for the gum to return to its normal color (this should happen within 1–2 seconds). This is called capillary refill time and tells you how well blood is circulating.
- Examine the eyes — If you are unable to check your dog’s gums, examine their eyes instead. Gently pull the eyelid down and look at the color of the tissue. It should be light pink.
What to do if your dog has pale gums
If your dog has pale gums — or if they are discolored in any other way — you should take them to the vet to determine any underlying health issues. Discoloration you might notice can be directly related to your pet’s circulation and blood cell health, which is critical for their survival.
After you notice the color change and connect with your veterinarian, watch your pet closely for symptoms such as increased heart rate or respiratory trouble that could mean your pet is going into shock.
Urgent symptoms to watch for
Any gum discoloration you see is reason enough for a veterinary visit — whether or not your pet is experiencing any accompanying symptoms. However, certain symptoms are more urgent than others, requiring immediate medical attention — such as:
- Disorientation. Dogs experiencing difficulty walking, lethargy, and ataxia (or uncharacteristically intense weakness) need immediate medical care.
- Profuse vomiting and diarrhea. If your dog seems to be uncontrollably expelling from both ends, it’s time to get to an emergency veterinarian.
- Difficulty breathing. Shallow breathing, excessive panting, and gasping indicate that emergency veterinary care is necessary.
- Loss of consciousness. If your pet is slipping in and out of consciousness, get them to a veterinarian immediately.
Finding the underlying cause of pale gums in dogs
Once you arrive at the clinic, your veterinarian will determine the underlying cause of the changes you’ve seen in your dog’s gums. There are many different ways they can diagnose your pet.
If you notice a change in the color of your dog’s gums, there are many different non-invasive methods your pet can use to determine potential causes. Some of the most common include:
- Health histories. Your vet might ask you questions about your dog’s health history to determine the potential causes of your pet’s gum color change.
- Physical examinations. As they ask for a health history, your veterinarian will likely conduct a physical examination to assess the health of your furry friend.
- Chest X-rays. Radiographs can be used to determine the next steps in your pet’s diagnosis and treatment plan, assessing the health of the organs and structures in your pet’s body.
- Echocardiography. These tests safely check both the structure and function of your pet’s heart.
- Abdominal ultrasounds. Similar to a radiograph, abdominal ultrasounds show the health of the organs and structures of the abdomen.
- Fecal tests. Pale gums could be a sign of an internal bleed. Fecal tests can check for parasites that can cause internal bleeding, as well as other ailments.
Biopsies and lab testing
Lab testing can give your veterinarian a better look at what’s going on inside your dog — assessing for key counts/values and other signs that could speed up the diagnostic process.
Some of the most common lab tests used if your dog has pale gums include:
- Complete blood count (CBC). This test counts the number of cells present in your dog’s blood sample. Abnormal levels could indicate anemia (known as low iron).
- Serum chemistry panels. This test summarizes your dog’s general level of health and tests for values of certain substances, like electrolytes, or kidney and liver values.
- Urinalysis. Bleeding can occur due to kidney disease or urinary tract infections (UTIs). A urinalysis can determine whether your pet is dealing with either of those diagnoses or with something more advanced (such as urinary stones or tumors).
- Coagulation testing. This type of testing determines how well your pet’s blood clots. These tests can be done via a simple blood test.
- Infectious disease testing. This type of testing might be done to determine if your pet has a specific type of infectious disease — and they’re usually more commonly done if your pet is exhibiting other signs.
- Biopsies. Bone marrow biopsies may be required if your veterinarian suspects cancer or other types of diseases that can lead to internal bleeding.
Other gum colors and what they mean
Your dog’s gums should always be somewhat pink. If your dog’s gums are noticeably any other colors, you should take them to the vet. Here are some other possible conditions that might be making your dog’s gums change colors. If your dog’s gums are:
- Yellow. Jaundiced gums can be a sign of a particular type of anemia. It could also signify liver disease or a bile duct obstruction.
- Blue/purple. Blueberry-colored gums can be a sign of cyanosis, meaning your dog can’t get enough oxygen in their red blood cells. This condition is caused by a problem with either the circulatory or respiratory system. Cyanosis requires immediate medical attention to determine the underlying cause.
- Cherry red. While your dog’s gums can be a salmon pink color, cherry red could be a sign of heatstroke, sepsis , or gum irritation from gingivitis or periodontal disease. If it’s accompanied by behavioral changes, it could also indicate carbon monoxide poisoning.
👉 Black or brown-colored gums can be common for some breeds and breed mixes, including chow chows, Shar-Pei, and others. Knowing the baseline color of your dog’s gums can help you more easily notice any changes.
Treatment of pale gums in dogs
The treatment of your dog’s pale gums generally depends on the cause. If your dog normally has lighter-colored gums, pale gums can be normal. However, the sudden development of pale gums could point to a deeper issue at hand — either something fairly routine, like anemia, or one that could require emergency medical attention like cancer or internal bleeding.
Identifying pale gums in dogs and their underlying causes are often two first steps toward getting your furry friend well again. That means that any time you notice a change in the coloration of your dog’s gums, it’s time to visit your veterinarian. They can help you to address the problem as quickly as possible, keeping your furry friend healthy and safe.
Frequently asked questions
Are pale gums a medical emergency in dogs?
In many cases, yes! Pale gums often signify serious underlying health issues that will require immediate medical attention.
How do you know if your dog’s gums are unhealthy?
If you suspect your dog might have unhealthy gums, try the gum test. Hold your index finger to their gums for two seconds and then release. Their gums should turn white for a couple of seconds and then go back to normal. If the color in their gums doesn’t return to normal (typically pink), take your dog to the vet, as pale or discolored gums can be an indicator of a serious health problem. You can also check for irritation around the gum line that could show signs of gum disease.
Do white gums mean dehydration in dogs?
White gums can indicate dehydration in dogs, especially if their surrounding oral (or mouth) area is dry to the touch. However, if their gums feel slimy or sticky beyond what you’d normally expect with saliva, it could be a sign of a serious medical condition.
What color are dog’s gums when sick?
Your dog can have a variety of gum coloration when they are sick. The better thing to watch for is any sort of rapid change. Some breeds naturally exhibit colored or spotted gums, and others have pink gums. Any rapid changes in color, such as significant darkening or lightening, could indicate sickness.
Does anemia in dogs cause pale gums?
Yes, anemia can cause pale gums in dogs. If you notice pale dog gums, seek veterinary support right away. A doctor can successfully diagnose and treat your furry friend, giving you both the peace of mind you deserve.