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Dog mouth open showing gums

The essentials

  • Pale gums can be a sign something is seriously wrong with your dog — Scary conditions such as anemia, shock, severe dehydration, and cancer can cause pale gums.
  • Your dog’s gums should normally be pink, but it depends on the dog — If your dog’s gums are any other color, that could be a warning sign that they might have underlying health problems.
  • Check your dog’s gums — 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 if they’re healthy.

Causes of pale gums in dogs

If your dog’s gums appear pale or slimy to the touch, 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. Your dog could be anemic, which means they don’t have enough circulating red blood cells. Poor circulation results in pale gums and other possible symptoms such as lethargy, or lack of appetite. Anemia in itself is not a disease; typically an anemic dog will have another illness that’s causing their condition such as an autoimmune or chronic disease such as kidney failure, internal bleeding, metal poisoning, parasites, or cancer. Heavy blood loss can also cause anemia without any other illness present.

Bloat. This occurs when trapped gas causes your dog’s stomach to become distended. A swollen stomach can cut off blood supply to vital organs very quickly, so if you suspect bloat, you should take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Your dog’s stomach can turn, and if that’s the case, surgery will be required.

Internal bleeding. Like anemia, internal bleeding is a symptom of something else going on. Cancerous tumors, trauma, or ingesting poison are all possible reasons for internal bleeding to occur.

Kidney disease. 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 ingesting toxic chemicals such as chocolate or ibuprofen. If your veterinarian catches this disease early, your pet stands a better chance of recovery.

Heart disease. 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. Some are genetic in origin and others have environmental factors, such as eating rat poison.

Dehydration. Severe dehydration can cause pale gums. As we go into 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, along with brachycephalic dog breeds.

Shock. 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.

👉 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.

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:

  • YellowJaundiced 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 their 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. While not a life-threatening emergency, you should make an appointment with your vet for professional teeth cleaning to slow the progression. If this disease is ignored, it can lead to more serious problems such as tooth loss and even heart disease.

👉  Keep in mind some dog breeds have different color variations for their gums. For example, some dogs have pink gums with black spots. Some dogs, such as Pomeranians, have black gums. You know your dog best, so it’s up to you to decide if your dog’s gums look noticeably different than they usually do.

How to check your dog’s gums

You should check your dog’s gums periodically as part of a good health routine. Here are some steps to check your pup’s gums:

  1. 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 salmon color.
  2. 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 it refers to how long it should take the blood vessels to refill with blood after being temporarily blocked.
  3. Examine the eyes — If you are unable to check your dog’s gums, examine the eyes instead. Gently pull the eyelid down and look at the color of the tissue. It should be white and clear.

Treatment of pale gums in dogs

Your veterinarian will need to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s pale gums to give them proper treatment. They will complete a thorough physical exam and run a few tests to determine the cause of the problem. A detailed history will give the vet more clues about the underlying health problem. Your vet will ask you questions to identify the cause behind pale gums. These may want to know:

  • 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 metal (such as coins)

Frequently asked questions

Are pale gums a medical emergency?

Absolutely! Pale gums signify serious underlying health issues that will require immediate medical attention.

What should you do if your pet 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. Watch them closely for symptoms such as increased heart rate or respiratory trouble that could mean your pet is going into shock.

Does dehydration cause pale gums?

Yes, dehydration can cause pale gums. If your dog’s gums are slimy or sticky, this could also be a sign of a serious health condition.

What color are a sick dog’s gums?

Any color other than normal could indicate your dog is sick. Healthy dogs will typically have pink gums, but this can vary by breed. Some breeds such as Pomeranians normally have black gums.

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 because 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.