Have you been Googling “My dog’s gums are pale” wondering if this is perfectly normal or a cause for concern? Well, you have a reason to pay close attention to your canine friend. Dogs’ gums and eyelids have mucous membranes and its color can tell you a lot about the basic health of your pooch. In particular, bright red and pale gums in dogs are often a sign of ill health, especially anemia. Read on to find out more.
What Should Dog’s Gums Look Like?
The “normal” look of gums vary from one dog to another. For most breeds of dogs, however, the gums are pale-pink to pink in color. As a general guideline, imagine the salmon-pink you see with most bubble gums. The tiny blood vessels (capillaries) within the mucous membrane give the gums – and the eyelids – their characteristic color.
Since gum and eyelid color is an important sign of ill-health in dogs, it is advisable to keep a mental image of your dog’s natural shade of pink. To check this, hold your dog’s upper lip gently and raise it up a bit while your dog is resting. The gum should be pink-colored, not pale, black, dark red, or bluish.
You will also want to perform a capillary test to check the wellbeing of your pooch. To do this, press the gum gently with the tips of your finger, then release. If healthy, your dog’s gum will momentarily appear white or pale, then bounce back to pink within a couple seconds.
The color of the gums may not be applicable to dogs with naturally black patches or dark gums, say Chow Chow and Shar Pei breeds for example. For this dog breeds, Christine Zink, DVM, a veterinarian and the author of Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete, Dog Health and Nutrition for Dummies, you should instead check the eyelid color if you suspect all is not well with your dog. Pale than normal tongue can also indicate a health problem, indicates Walker Valley Veterinary Hospital.
What Causes Pale Gums in Dogs
You just found that your dog has pale gums and can’t wait to learn what the underlying cause is? Well, as already mentioned, the blood in the capillaries located inside the mucous membrane are responsible for the normal color of gums. Pale gums in dogs are therefore common indicative of a change in the blood system.
Anemia is the leading reason for white gums in dogs.
What Causes Anemia in Dogs?
Anemia is a medical condition marked by a reduction in red blood cells count in the blood or decreased blood volume. As a result, there is an inadequate supply of oxygen to various body tissues and organs. Red blood cells are normally produced gradually in the bone marrow, under the control of the kidneys – through the release of a hormone known as erythropoietin.
Anemia, and thus pale gums in dogs, can occur as a result of the following factors:
- Blood loss (internal or external bleeding): Several underlying factors can cause this including trauma, parasites (ticks, fleas, tapeworms etc.), gastrointestinal tract ulcers, surgery e.g. spaying, tumors, and bleeding disorders. According to Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian at NYC Veterinary Specialists, internal bleeding is seen more commonly in elderly, large-breed dogs.
- Destruction of red blood cells: The most common cause of red blood cell disintegration is an immune-mediated disease but other factors such as infections, toxins, and congenital defect in the red blood cells can as well to blame. When the body’s immune system turns against and destroys its own RBCs, the term hemolytic anemia is used.
- Poor production of red blood cells: New red blood cells are naturally produced constantly to replace the worn out cells. This may, however, fail for reasons such as kidney disease, iron deficiencies, and bone marrow disease are involved.
Other Symptoms of Anemia in Dogs
As the most common cause of pale gums in dogs – which is also the most noticeable symptom of anemia – you will want to check out for other signs and symptoms of anemia which include:
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Pale tongue or inside of ears.
- Loss of appetite. It is also possible that your dog is not eating normally
- Fast breathing and heart rate, even when resting
- Heart murmur – some severe cases f anemia in dogs exhibit murmuring of the heart as one of the symptoms
- Loss of consciousness
- Exercise intolerance
- Blood in feces
The right treatment for anemia and the associated pale gums in dogs will vary depending on the underlying cause as well as the severity of the condition. If your dog’s gums are pale, it is best to take her to the vet without hesitation.
Anemia is potentially life-threatening and some common underlying causes can be too. Some cancers, for instance, have been associated with internal bleeding which can culminate in white gums. On a positive note, though, most cases of anemia are effectively cured.
Your veterinarian will help to rule these causes out through appropriate tests and recommend a treatment course accordingly. Some severe cases of anemia in dogs necessitate blood transfusion and/or fluid therapy. As for pets that are experiencing difficulty breathing or impeded heart rate, oxygen therapy may be a suitable option.
The term hypoglycemia is a condition in which blood sugar falls below the normal level. It appears more frequently in small dog breeds. These dogs tend to have low appetites and often do a bad job at maintaining their blood sugar balance.
Late feeding, skipped meals, small (inadequate) meals, extreme cold (leading to low body temperature), stress, and poor quality diet can all contribute to hypoglycemia. According to pets4homes, low blood sugar levels can cause white gums alongside other symptoms such as shaking, confusion, delayed response, and aggression.
Feeding your dog will suffice as a treatment for pale gums in dogs if low blood sugar level is to blame. Secondary factors such as cold, stress, etc. also need to be looked into.
Other reasons for White Gums in Dogs and Lethargy
The following may also serve as answers to the question, ‘what does it mean when a dog’s gums are pale?”
- Shock – Sudden white gums in dogs may also be a sign of shock. This is an emergency condition characterized by loss of blood pressure along with perfusion – passage of fluid through the circulatory system into tissues or organs. According to veterinary.ie, shock can, for example, happen after a trauma such as a car accident. It is advisable to seek the urgent attention of a vet for any case of pale gums, regardless of the suspected cause.
- Liver shunt – A condition is known as liver shunt can also cause permanent pallor appearance in puppies, says pets4homes. With liver shunt, the body’s circulatory system bypasses the liver, as a result of hampering its detoxification function. The gums may then manifest the resultant toxins buildup through a color change.
- Dehydration – Dehydration can as well cause a drop in blood pressure in the extremities, which then shows up as pale gums in dogs.
- Dummies.com: What Your Dog’s Gum Color Tells You
- PetCareRx: Anemia In Dogs: Symptoms To Look Out For
- Pets4homes.co.uk: What White Gums In Dogs Means
- Thedogdaily.com: Signs of Illness in Your Dog
- VCA Hospitals: Anemia in Dogs
- Veterinary.ie: How To Recognise If Your Dog Is Healthy
- Vetico.com.au: Anaemia (Anemia)
- Walker Valley Veterinary Hospital: How to Check Vital Signs