Your veterinarian routinely checks your dog’s gums during each physical examination, but what are they communicating? Gum color can be used to gauge your pet’s overall health. Although they can’t always pinpoint the exact health issue troubling your four-legged friend, they can give clues.
A healthy dog generally has wet, pink gums. If you press your finger down on them, you’ll notice the area will turn white and then quickly return to pink as if the spot had never existed. This is known as a capillary refill test and it demonstrates how well your pet’s tissues are being oxygenated. When your pet is ill or in shock, his or her gums will appear a different color. It will also take longer (more than two seconds) for the gums to return to their normal color after pressing your finger onto them.
The following colors can indicate medical concerns that require veterinary attention:
• Blue or Purple (cyanotic) – Your pet isn’t getting enough oxygen. This is an indication of low blood pressure that may be caused by breathing issues such as asthma, choking or pneumonia. It can also indicate hypothermia or heart disease in some cases.
• Pale Pink or Whitish – Although this could simply mean your dog’s feeling a bit chilly, pale pink or whitish gums can also signal hypothermia, shock, internal bleeding, a blood clotting disorder or heart problems. Other possibilities include kidney disease, anemia, poisoning from a heavy metal or rat poison, or cancer.
• Yellow (icteric) – Jaundice gums signal a problem with the liver. They can also be caused by anemia if red blood cells are being destroyed at a high rate.
• Bright Red – This can indicate high blood pressure. Bright red gums could also accompany heat stroke or poisoning from carbon monoxide or other toxins.
• Slightly Red – Vigorously chewing on a bone, toy, or stick can cause slight irritation to the gums and isn’t a major concern. However, if chewing wasn’t involved, slightly red gums could be an indicator of an infection or gingivitis.
• Dry or Sticky – If you notice your pet’s gums are unusually dry or sticky –encourage drinking. This is an indicator of dehydration.
For dogs with black gums, the above still apply – just look at the color of the inner eyelid by gently pulling the eyelid down.
Become familiar with the normal color and condition of your dog’s gums. If a change in color occurs, it most often indicates a problem requiring medical attention.