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Why Is My Dog's Tongue White? Reasons And What To Do - PawSafe
Dog Dental

Why Is My Dog’s Tongue White? Reasons And What To Do

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why is my dogs tongue white

Suppose you check your dog’s mouth and ask, “why is my dog’s tongue white?” The short answer is that it is probably time to get your dog to the vet immediately. Discoloration in your dog’s mouth, such as in their gums or tongue, can tell you a lot about their health. And a pale or white tongue is not a good sign.

Oral health is essential for a dog’s overall health, so we always put a dental additive in their water. But if we start noticing pale or white gums in a dog, then the problem likely has nothing to do with dental disease. When you spot a white or yellow tongue in a dog, you will most likely also see some of these symptoms:

  • Lethargy or weakness;
  • Refusing to eat;
  • Panting or restlessness;
  • Vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Dilated pupils or an unfocused gaze; and
  • Weight loss.

So let’s delve into why a white or pale tongue on a dog is serious.

To understand this better, we must look at the color of a healthy dog’s tongue.

What Color Should My Dog’s Tongue Be?

A dog’s tongue should be a healthy pink, never pale. Some dogs have pigment in their gums and mouth that may lead to a black spot on their tongue. Of course, some dog breeds, like chows, are famous for their purple or black tongues. However, this is just the extra pigment in their mouth that some dogs are born with. 

It’s good to take a photo of your dog’s gums and mouth when they are healthy so that you can spot when there is any discoloration.

In short, here’s what a tongue and gum color tells you about a dog’s health:

Pink Healthy color for most dogs
Black/PurpleCommon in some breeds like Chow Chows. Many dogs may have tongues with dark spots of pigment
Pale blue, Dog is struggling to get oxygen. This is an emergency
RedHeat stroke or overheating (red gums may indicate inflammation in the first stage of dental disease)
White or pale pinkIndicates a lack of healthy red blood cells i.e., shock, anemia, leukemia, hypothermia
YellowA yellow tongue could either mean anemia or a liver issue

If a dog has no natural pigment in their mouth that makes a dark purple tongue, their tongue will always be a healthy pink. It should never be pale, white, yellow, or blue-tinged. Pale pink or white tongues imply something is stopping healthy blood from reaching the dog’s mouth. 

Bright red means too much blood is reaching the tongue, usually when the dog is overheating, possibly from inflammation. A very pale or blue-tinged tongue also means a lack of oxygen, which is also an emergency. 

So let’s look closer at the most common reasons a dog’s tongue could turn white.

4 Reasons for White Tongues in Dogs & What to do About it

There are many reasons that a dog’s tongue may turn white. Remember that each reason, such as shock or anemia, can be caused by a host of other factors that we will touch on.

1. Shock

Shock is the first reason to rule out if your dog’s tongue suddenly turns white. There are different kinds of shock, including anaphylactic shock from a severe allergic reaction or septic shock from a severe bacterial infection. Dogs hemorrhaging blood (internally or externally) may also go into shock.

When dogs go into shock, their blood pressure drops, and their organs do not receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients, leading to organ damage or failure. Shock can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:

  • trauma, 
  • severe injury, 
  • allergic reactions, 
  • blood loss, 
  • dehydration, 
  • infection, 
  • or severe pain.

Signs of Shock and What To Do:

Dogs in shock typically exhibit symptoms such as pale or white gums, fast or weak heartbeat, rapid breathing, panting or difficulty breathing, tremors or seizures, and collapse or lethargy. Shock is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Dogs generally have a 90% chance of surviving anaphylaxis if they get immediate medical attention. Dogs with septic shock also have a much better chance of survival the sooner they get to a vet, as do those losing blood.

2. Anemia

Anemia in dogs happens when they have a low level of red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. 

There are many possible causes of anemia, including:

  1. Blood loss due to injury or internal bleeding;
  2. Parasites (such as ticks and fleas) that feed on blood and reduce the number of red blood cells;
  3. Nutritional deficiencies (such as a lack of iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid);
  4. Bone marrow damage or disease that impairs the production of red blood cells;
  5. Immune-mediated diseases where the body mistakenly attacks its own red blood cells, such as Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA);
  6. Chronic kidney disease that results in the production of fewer red blood cells;
  7. Cancer or chemotherapy that affects the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells; and
  8. Poisoning due to ingesting toxic substances like rat poison or onion.

Signs of Anemia and What To Do:

Symptoms of anemia in dogs include:

  • Pale gums, lips, or inside of the eyelids;
  • Weakness or lethargy;
  • Decreased appetite or sudden weight loss;
  • Reduced energy or activity levels;
  • Rapid or shallow breathing;
  • Increased heart rate or panting;
  • Dark or tar-like stools;
  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice);
  • Difficulty standing or walking; and
  • Nosebleeds or excessive bleeding from wounds.

Anemia in dogs is serious and life-threatening, as the causes include kidney diseases or poisoning See a vet immediately to establish the cause and start immediate treatment.

3. Hypothermia

Just like a bright red tongue can mean that all the blood is rushing to a dog’s mouth and nose when overheating, a white tongue can mean severe cold or hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s body temperature drops below normal. When a dog has hypothermia, their body’s natural mechanisms for regulating temperature are overwhelmed, and their body temperature begins to drop. 

Signs of Hypothermia in Dogs and What To Do:

Hypothermia can have various symptoms, including shivering, shallow or rapid breathing, lethargy, confusion, and even loss of consciousness. 

In extreme cases, hypothermia can be fatal. Treatment for hypothermia typically involves warming the dog up gradually, using blankets, warm water, or a heating pad, and monitoring for signs of shock or other complications. In severe cases, intravenous fluids or other medical interventions may be necessary. Prevention is critical, and it is essential to keep dogs warm and dry in cold weather, especially if they are outside for extended periods.

4. Leukemia

Since a white tongue in dogs is linked to a blood cell problem, we, unfortunately, have to include leukemia as one of the major causes. 

Leukemia is a type of cancer affecting humans and animals’ blood and bone marrow, including dogs. There are two main types of leukemia in dogs: lymphocytic leukemia and myelocytic leukemia.

Lymphocytic leukemia affects the lymphoid cells in the immune system, while myelocytic leukemia affects the myeloid cells in the bone marrow. Both types of leukemia can cause similar symptoms, such as weakness, lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and abnormal bleeding.

The primary cause of leukemia in dogs is not yet known, but genetic predisposition, exposure to toxins, and viral infections are some possible risk factors. Treatment options for leukemia in dogs may include chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, or supportive care.

Sadly, the prognosis for leukemia in dogs is generally poor, and most dogs with this condition don’t survive long-term. Therefore, pet owners are advised to be vigilant about their dog’s health and seek prompt veterinary care if any symptoms of leukemia are observed.

What Does a White Spot on My Dog’s Tongue Mean?

What does a white spot on my dog's tongue mean?

A white spot on the tongue is usually a sign of a burn, ulcer, or sore on the tongue. Keep in mind that a dog in the early stages of shock may also have white spots on the tongue prior to the tongue becoming completely white.

A dog may also develop a raised white spot on their tongue, typically with a cauliflower appearance, when they get dog warts or the canine papillomavirus.

If mouth ulcers are a recurring issue, there is probably an underlying health complication. This could mean:

  • Kidney disease;
  • Compromised immune system or immune system disorders;
  • Various cancers;
  • Severe dental disease; and
  • Hormonal issues such as diabetes or hypothyroidism.

Dog Tongue White Coating: Is It Thrush?

Humans sometimes get a white coating on their tongues from thrush, a fungal infection from Candida albicans. Thrush, or candidiasis (or yeast stomatitis), is uncommon in dogs. However, it can happen when the mucus membranes on the tongue or oral cavity are damaged, if the dog is on antibiotics, or if it is on immunosuppressive drugs. 

Symptoms do not usually involve a white coating on the tongue so much as lesions (sores), weakness, and diarrhea, so it can be hard to diagnose. But if you see a white coating on your dog’s tongue, it is most likely a yeast infection (thrush). Since thrush is so rare in dogs, it’s often also a sign of a severely compromised immune system.

Dog Pale Tongue Remedy: What to Do if Your Dog’s Tongue is Pale or White

If you’re googling “dog pale tongue not eating” or “dog pale tongue vomiting”, do not take matters into your own hands and try to fix the situation with a home remedy. A white or pale tongue is usually a sign of a serious underlying issue affecting healthy blood flow. In many cases, this symptom signals a medical emergency.

Final Thoughts

Of the many symptoms we see in sick dogs, white or pale tongues usually mean something serious. A tongue can only lose its healthy pigment if something is interfering with blood flow or if there are not enough healthy red blood cells. Even white sores or ulcers usually mean a severe issue with the immune system. Always take any tongue discoloration in dogs seriously and see a vet immediately.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.