What does it mean when a dog has pale gums? What should you do it if your dog has pale gums? First, learn what your dog's gums normally look like so you can determine when they look too pale.
What Are Pale Gums in Dogs?
Pale gums in dogs are a sign of one or more underlying problems. Normal gums in a dog should have a pink color. Depending on the specific dog, this color usually ranges from a soft pink to bright pink. Normal pigmentation can cause some of the gums to appear black, so look for lighter spots on the gums or the area under the tongue to try and find the non-pigment areas. These should be pink and moist. If you press your finger on a pink area of the gums, the spot should turn white and return to pink within about a second.
If you notice that your dog's gums are pale pink or white in areas that are normally pink, this is something that should be addressed. You may also notice that the mucous membranes of the eyelids are pale. If your dog normally has a pinkish nose and/or tongue, then you may find that they appear pale as well.
Causes of Pale Gums in Dogs
There are a number of health concerns that can cause pale gums in dogs.
Diseases Causing Anemia
Pale gums are often a sign of anemia in dogs. Anemia occurs when there are not enough red blood cells circulating in the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues of the body. If there are not enough red blood cells, then the body's cells become deprived of oxygen and may die.
Anemia is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of illness. It may be caused by a condition that damages red blood cells or impedes the production of red blood cells. Examples include kidney disease, immune-mediated disorders, infectious disease, and parasite infection. Certain medications and toxins can damage blood cells or prevent their production.
The following conditions are associated with anemia: Blood Loss, Hemolysis, Decreased Red Blood Cell Production, and Shock.
If the dog is losing blood from somewhere in the body, then there is not enough blood to circulate through the body and the dog develops anemia. Blood flow to the mucous membranes decreases, causing them to have a pale appearance. This is most easily observed in the gums.
Blood loss may be caused by an external or internal injury. Trauma is a common cause of blood loss in dogs. Certain disease processes may also cause blood loss in dogs.
Dogs with bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract may be reacting to a medication or experiencing a GI illness. Obvious blood may appear in the stool or in vomit. Digested blood will make the stool appear black and tarry.
Lysis of red blood cells can also cause anemia. Hemolysis can occurs as a result of autoimmune disease (autoimmune hemolytic anemia), due to blood parasites (babesiosis), as a result of exposure to chemical or toxins (zinc, rat poison, onion, or garlic), or due to cancer.
Decreased Red Blood Cell Production
As a result of chronic diseases of the kidneys or liver, a dog may not produce adequate amounts of red blood cells. Additionally, decreased red blood cell production can be associated with poor nutrition/nutritional imbalances, autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism, exposure to chemicals or toxins, and cancer.
Shock causes a sudden drop in blood flow throughout the body, leading to organ and tissue damage. It may be caused by a disease process or trauma. Shock is a serious emergency condition and should be addressed by a veterinarian immediately.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Pale Gums
If you notice your dog has pale gums, look for other signs of illness and check for bleeding injuries. If your dog is acting otherwise normal, then you should contact your veterinarian for advice.
If your dog is exhibiting other signs along with pale gums, then you should get to your veterinarian right away. If it happens when your vet is closed, then you should contact the nearest open emergency veterinarian.
Treatment for Pale Gums in Dogs
The treatment for a dog with pale gums depends upon the underlying cause. Your vet will begin with an examination and discuss your dog's signs. Blood tests will be needed to check blood cell counts (including red blood cells) and to assess organ function. In some cases, the dog will need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment and supportive care.
If the pale gums are caused by blood loss, then the dog may need a blood transfusion to replace the lost blood.
Medications and/or surgery may be needed to treat the main cause of blood loss. In cases where the red blood cells are being destroyed or not being properly created, then long term medications may be needed.
Nwoha, Rosemary Ijeoma Ogechi. Review on Ascites in Pets. Veterinary Medicine and Phramaceuticals, 2019. doi:10.5772/intechopen.84767
Anemia in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Chervier C, Cadoré JL, Rodriguez-Piñeiro MI, Deputte BL, Chabanne L. Causes of anaemia other than acute blood loss and their clinical significance in dogs. J Small Anim Pract, 53(4):223-7, 2012. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5827.2011.01191.x
Anemia in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals.
Hemolytic Anemia in Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Shock Assessment and Treatment. World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress.