Every dog has gums surrounding their teeth, and these mucous membranes give us a lot of insight into the health of our pets. Acting primarily as a protective barrier, gums have a rich blood supply that gives them their distinctive pink color. When this color and other normal gum attributes change, such as moistness and temperature, it can mean that something is wrong and should be further examined by a veterinarian.
What Do Normal Dog Gums Look Like?
Normal gums should be a bubble gum pink color. When pressed with your index finger, the gums should lighten to a white or pale pink color and then quickly (within two seconds) return to the normal pink color when you take your finger off of the gums. The amount of time it takes for the gums to return to the normal pink color after you press on them is called the capillary refill time, or CRT. Gums should also be slippery or wet and smooth if you were to run your finger over them. They should not be sticky or dry.
Gum Problems in Dogs
- Blue Gums: If inadequate amounts of oxygen are being circulated through your dog's blood supply, its gums may turn blue or purple. This gum color is referred to medically as cyanosis. Cyanosis can be caused by a variety of issues. Pneumonia, congestive heart failure, pulmonary thromboembolism, and other respiratory problems can cause this blue gum coloration if the condition is severe, because of a decrease in oxygenated blood. These conditions are all very serious.
- Pale Pink or White Gums: If a lack of blood or hemoglobin is present in a dog, then the gums may be pale pink or even white. This is most often a sign of anemia or acute blood loss. Many underlying diseases can cause anemia, and trauma can result in severe, acute blood loss. Because the body doesn't have enough blood to circulate, the normal pink color fades. Conditions that cause anemia are very serious.
- Bright Red Gums: If your dog's gums are very red or bright pink then it may mean it is overheated, or has stomatitis or gingivitis. Dogs with heat stroke often present with bright red gums as they are panting in an attempt to cool their body temperature. Bright red gums are also a sign that there is inflammation in the gums or they are infected. Both of these periodontal problems can make the gums bleed more easily and can be painful.
- Growths on Gums: Oral tumors are commonly found on the gums of dogs. Sometimes these growths are benign or go away on their own, and other times they are cancerous or contagious. Pappilomatosis is a viral disease that is easily spread from dog to dog and results in pink, fleshy warts on the gums, along with other areas on the body. These are typically not as concerning as other types of growths or tumors. Other tumors can be cancerous and cause serious health concerns in a dog in addition to causing problems eating and pain.
- Bleeding Gums: Stomatitis, gingivitis and growths can often cause a dog's gums to be very sensitive and prone to bleeding. If your dog has bleeding gums, he should be checked out by a veterinarian to assess the underlying cause.
Preventing Gum Problems in Dogs
Depending on the underlying reason for a gum problem, it may or may not be entirely preventable.
- Blue Gums: Diseases that inhibit proper breathing and oxygenation will cause blue gums but these diseases are often unavoidable. Be sure not to smoke around your dog and get veterinary treatment as soon as possible if your dog is having trouble breathing for any reason.
- Pale pink or White Gums: Acute blood loss and diseases that cause anemia should be addressed immediately to help prevent pale or white gums from developing.
- Bright Red Gums: Keeping your dog at a normal body temperature will help prevent bright red gums that are seen in an overheated dog. But if these red gums are due to stomatitis or gingivitis, regular dental care should be performed to prevent it from occurring.
- Growths on Gums: The occurrence of warts may be able to be decreased by limiting exposure to dogs who currently have these pink warts. If the growths are cancerous or another type of mass, there is no known way to completely prevent their occurrence.
- Bleeding Gums: If the gums are bleeding due to poor dental health, regularly brushing teeth and providing proper dental care is vital to maintaining healthy gums.
Treating Gum Problems in Dogs
The treatment plans vary for gum problems in dogs. For problems involving the gums that are related to respiratory conditions, immediate oxygen therapy is often necessary in addition to medications specific to the underlying condition. For pale pink or white gums, a dog may need a blood transfusion due to anemia or blood loss. If a growth is involved, surgery may be necessary to remove them from the gums. Dental care involving cleaning, tooth extraction, medications, and sometimes even cold therapy laser treatments may be necessary to address bleeding or bright red gums. Finally, if a dog is overheated and has bright red gums, cooling it down should address this.
Hsieh, Brisa M., and Alicia K. Beets. Coughing In Small Animal Patients. Frontiers In Veterinary Science, vol 6, 2020. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fvets.2019.00513
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Epidermal and Hair Follicle Tumors. Merck Veterinary Manual
Dental Disorders of Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual