Your dog's tongue works hard as their primary sensory organ and major tool for manipulating food and water. It's filled with a complex network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. The tongues of most breeds have a deep pink or red color due to this high circulation, and they are the first place you'll see signs of impaired circulation or respiratory function. If your dog's tongue turns pale or white, consult a veterinarian immediately. It usually spells major trouble.
Changes to a dog's tongue color from low oxygen
Any condition that interferes with blood flow can cause a pale tongue. These conditions may stand alone or be related to one another. For example, anemia, shock, and severe allergic reactions all affect the circulatory and respiratory systems. Both anemia and allergic reaction can cause shock. Any condition that affects heart or lung function can cause a white or bluish tongue and gums.
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Could my dog have anemia?
Acute anemia — inadequate blood iron, with insufficient quantities of blood oxygen — can result from illness or internal or external bleeding. Edema is fluid retention in a certain area. It can decrease the amount of blood available for circulation. Either can cause a suddenly pale tongue, as can some poisonings. If your dog's tongue is white or it looks like there are white spots on the tongue, this may be an initial sign of allergic reaction.
Pale gums in dogs
Pale gums is a sign that your dog's health is suffering. Pale pink or pale white-colored gums could mean that your dog could be suffering from anemia, shock, blood clotting disorders, internal bleeding, or heart disease. Blood loss from a trauma could cause this discoloration, of course. But it could also be caused by other health conditions.
Any condition that lowers blood pressure can cause shock and lead to inadequate respiration and cardiac distress. Anaphylactic shock results from allergy. Septic shock results from acute, chronic, or recurring bacterial infection. Potential shock-inducing infections include endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining), pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and bite or surgical wound infections. Diabetes, adrenal disease, cancer, cancer treatments, and any condition that compromises the lining of the gastrointestinal tract can also cause shock.
Chronic conditions that could cause a dog's tongue to turn white
Chronic conditions develop gradually and last a long time. Those that affect circulation may cause a white or pale tongue, including leukemia; gastric diseases (especially ones with internal bleeding); and liver, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is a chronic autoimmune disorder that attacks the red blood cells, resulting in a pale tongue and gums. Chronic anemia may also result from malnutrition or illness, especially liver or gastric illnesses.
Common infections and injuries for dogs
Some infections and injuries cause white tongue spots. Oral papillomatosis, or cauliflower tongue, is a wart virus that spreads quickly and dramatically but usually goes away on its own. Burns, sores, and ulcers may present as white spots. All three require veterinary treatment. Sores may arise from injury and become ulcerated when infected with mouth flora. Tongue ulcers can be a sign of underlying illness, such as kidney disease, hypothyroidism, periodontal disease, various cancers, and immune system disorders.
What can cause a white coating on a dog's tongue?
A white coating on the tongue is distinct from the actual tissue of the tongue turning pale or white. Such coatings are usually caused by Candida yeast and are called thrush or yeast stomatitis. This infection is very rare in dogs and is usually a sign of a severely compromised immune system. It can also arise in dogs who are taking broad-spectrum antibiotics.
The bottom line
Dog owners can tell a lot abut their dog's health by the general appearance. It pays to know the normal color of your dog's tongue, gum, and skin so you can see if something changes on your dog's body. There are many different and varied conditions that can cause a dog's tongue to turn white or have a white coating. The conditions can range from an allergic reaction to potential heart failure or internal hemorrhaging. Call your DVM immediately if your dog presents with a white tongue, as it is likely a symptom linked to a serious or potentially life-threatening condition.