Tongue Twister: What Your Dog's Mouth Can Tell You About Its Health

Posted on: 12 February 2015

You can't make your dog stick its tongue out and say "Ahhh," but you can tell a lot about how your pet is feeling based on its mouth. A dog's mouth is home to all sorts of bacteria, (much of it is species specific, so even if you are in the habit of letting your dog lick you, you're probably okay...). So remember that after you carefully inspect your dog's mouth for signs of a health issue, you should wash your hands.

Surveying the Overall Picture

First, check your dog's entire mouth with an eye for anything out of the ordinary. Are there any cuts, bruises or missing teeth? These can indicate a recent physical trauma, such as a fight or abuse, like a kick.

If you see signs of physical issues, check the rest of your dog for cuts, abrasions and sore spots. The mouth can be a first sign that there are other injuries that may need attention. Small wounds can become infected and lead to abscesses and other, more serious, problems.

You are also looking for signs of tumors or growths inside the mouth and on the tongue. Dogs are susceptible to what's called squamous cell carcinoma which is likely to show up in the mouth.

Getting in the Gums

How are your dog's teeth? Plaques that build up on the teeth can form tartar, a thick grayish-yellow hard substance that is difficult to remove. The problem with tarter is that it can build up against the gums and trap bacteria, while not allowing saliva to wash away food bits or other foreign materials.

Periodontal or gum disease can start, which causes problems with the soft tissues and eventually the teeth themselves. Gum disease also makes your dog more susceptible to infection around the jawline, which can travel to the teeth roots and even on to the bloodstream and internal organs, shortening your pet's lifespan.

To avoid tarter formation and the gum disease that it can cause, have your dog's teeth cleaned on a regular basis. Your veterinarian can remove tarter before it builds up. The worse the problems are, the more likely your pet will need to be put under anesthesia for a thorough cleaning.

Checking the Tongue

Your pet's tongue can give you some clues to its overall and immediate well-being. Dogs with overheating problems will have darker-than-normal tongue and gums, so if you suspect that your canine is getting overly warm, check the mouth. Make sure you provide water and shade for a pet that's likely to be too warm.

A discolored tongue or gums can indicate other problems as well, such as problems with circulation that could point to heart disease or other organ issues.

If you spot something out of the ordinary, a veterinarian can quickly check and rule out issues. But if you do find a medical concern, it can be treated more easily if caught before it can advance. Get regular checkups and call your vet if you find something abnormal with your pet's mouth.