For most dogs, gums are generally bubble-gum pink when they are in good health. Red, swollen gums are an automatic tip-off to something being amiss. Black gums in a dog can be a bit more confusing and indicate anything from advanced disease to a perfectly healthy mouth, depending on your pet.
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Check the breed
Even if your pet is a mutt, his genetics are likely responsible for his dark gums if he's healthy and doesn't have other signs of gum disease. Chows, for example, are considered to be more desirable as a breed when their gums are black, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). Canines of the black mouth cur and shar-pei breeds also should have darkly pigmented mouths according to official standards.
Dark pigmentation isn't necessarily spread evenly throughout the mouth. It's not unusual for dogs of almost any breed to have distinct black spots on their tongue and gums, according to the AKC. The texture is more important than color. If the spot is raised or otherwise appears different than the surrounding gum tissue, it could be a sign of trouble.
Understand canine gum disease
Foul breath, along with raised black spots, are two indications that your dog's black gums aren't a matter of genetics. Some diseases and conditions can cause your dog's dental tissues to turn dark.
A black spot right along the gum line could be the furcation — the space between the tooth roots — being exposed in canine gum disease. A dog's tooth furcation is closer to the surface of the gums than a human's, according to MSPCA-Angell. Exposed furcation is easily mistaken for the dog having a cavity in the tooth. The condition can lead to tooth loss.
Raised black spots along the gum line are often a sign of oral cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer in dogs, according to the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. Canine acanthomatous ameloblastoma is a slow-growing type of cancer that's the most common oral cancer in dogs. Early removal is critical as the disease spreads beyond the gum tissue into surrounding bones and teeth.
It's not easy to tell if a dog's raised black spots along the gum line are fast- or slow-growing. As soon as you notice a black raised area, get your dog into the veterinarian. One or more biopsies of the spot will let the vet know your dog's condition.
Know when to call the vet
The best way to know if your dog's black gums are healthy is to develop a regular dental hygiene routine with your pet from the time they first come to live with you, according to the AKC. This helps you be familiar with the normal coloration of her gums and determine when any sensitivity or abnormal coloration is developing that requires seeing a vet.
If you catch a glimpse of a black coloration in your dog's mouth while playing or feeding a treat, do a gum examination on him when he's calm. Put your hand over his muzzle and gently lift his lips with your fingers to reveal the gumline.
Note whether any dark spots on your dog's dental tissues are raised, swollen or lumpy in appearance. While you're looking, note any brown or yellow crust along the gumline and whether the gums look inflamed. A dog's breath that smells bad can be an indication of an abscess or other gum disease.
Here are some other indications that your dog needs a trip to the vet, according to the AKC:
- Bleeding gums
- Unusual or excessive drooling
- Avoiding crunchy or hard food, which is usually a sign of mouth pain
- Unusual chewing or eating habits
- Missing tooth or teeth
- Subdued behavior
If you haven't developed a dental care routine with your dog, she might be uncooperative, especially if she has pain. Hurting or aggressive dogs may snap or bite. Call your vet and schedule an appointment to have your dog professionally examined instead of risking harm to yourself.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- American Kennel Club: Official Standard of the Chow Chow
- United Kennel Club: Black Mouth Cur Breed Standards
- American Kennel Club: Official Standard of the Chinese Shar-Pei
- American Kennel Club: What Are Those Black Spots on a Dog's Tongue, Anyway?
- MSPCA-Angell: How to Tell if Your Dog has Dental Disease
- Texas Veterinary Medical Association TexVetPets: Three Common Signs of Oral Cancer
- American Kennel Club: Dental Examinations Can Prevent Tooth and Gum Pain
- American Kennel Club: Preventing Periodontal Disease in Dogs