When it comes to our dogs’ oral health, we typically envision a pretty set of pearly white teeth. But teeth are just part of the dental health equation. The gums provide a crucial window into a dog’s overall health.
A problem with the gums—such as pale gums in dogs—is a clue to a serious, underlying health condition. It always requires further investigation.
Let’s explore why dogs have pale gums and what you can do about it.
Dog Gum Basics
The gums are one of several structures in the mouth that support the teeth. Healthy, normal gums in dogs have a pink or salmon color. The gums are pink because of the many tiny blood vessels just under the gums’ surface.
Healthy dog gums are also shiny and moist, indicating that your pup is well-hydrated.
There are normal variations in dogs’ gum color. For example, some dogs have mottled or pigmented gums, meaning that the gums have spots of dark pigment. This is nothing to worry about.
Checking Your Dog’s Gums
As a responsible pet parent, you already know about closely monitoring your pet’s health and behavior so that you can detect when something’s not right.
Checking your dog’s gums should be included in this monitoring. Fortunately, this is easy to do and not at all uncomfortable for your dog.
Gently lift the upper lip and pull down the lower lip to observe your dog’s gum color, which should be pink or salmon in color.
Next, gently touch your dog’s gums to determine if they feel moist. Gums that feel a little sticky or tacky could indicate dehydration.
You can also perform the capillary refill test, which is a quick way to evaluate hydration status and blood flow to the gums. Gently press your index finger to your dog’s gums and lift your finger back up. The area you pressed will be white from your finger’s pressure, then return to the normal pink color in 1-2 seconds, indicating adequate hydration and a quick refill of the blood vessels.
If more than 1-2 seconds pass before your dog’s gums turn pink again, your dog may be dehydrated or have an underlying health problem that is affecting circulation.
Check your dog’s gums at least once or twice a month. However, it’s best to check the gums each time that you brush your dog’s teeth, which should be daily. Take note of any change in the gum’s feel and appearance.
Be aware that, for dogs with mottled or pigmented gums, it can be challenging to see the capillary refill test results and determine if the gums have changed color.
Pale gums in dogs range from pale pink to white. Because pale gums are usually associated with a problem with hydration or circulation, the gums will probably feel sticky and lose their shiny appearance from a lack of moisture.
Causes of Pale Gums in Dogs
Many health problems can affect a dog’s circulation and lead to pale gums. Some of the more common causes of pale gums include:
Anemia is a decreased number of red blood cells (RBCs). It is not a disease unto itself but rather a consequence of some other disease process. Dogs with anemia are often weak, tired, and have difficulty breathing. They also experience weight loss and have a faster heart rate to pump out more blood.
The kidneys produce a substance called erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates RBC production. During kidney disease, the kidneys stop working well, meaning that EPO production goes down. With less EPO, fewer RBCs are being produced, ultimately leading to pale gums.
Signs of kidney disease include excessive drinking and urination, reduced appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Chronic kidney disease can cause anemia.
Shock occurs after a traumatic event, such as being hit by a car, that causes significant external or internal bleeding. A dog’s circulation plummets, blood vessels constrict, and gums become pale.
Dogs in shock have rapid breathing, a rapid heartbeat, and reduced body temperature.
Shock is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary treatment.
Internal bleeding can result from traumatic injury or organ disease, such as stomach ulcers. Internal bleeding reduces circulation, leading to pale gums in dogs. Signs of internal bleeding include sudden collapse, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. Internal bleeding is a medical emergency and you should take your pet to the veterinary hospital immediately.
Parasites can wreak havoc by feeding on a dog’s blood and depriving dogs of vital nutrients. Fleas land on a dog’s fur and feed on the blood. A heavy flea infestation can cause significant blood loss, leading to pale gums. Symptoms of a flea infestation include intense itching and hair loss from the constant scratching.
Intestinal parasites like roundworms cause digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea. They can also cause weight loss and reduced energy and appetite.
Bloat in dogs can quickly become a life-threatening condition. When the stomach fills with gas, it can become so distended that it twists upon itself, leading to a dangerous cascade of circulation problems. Pale gums are a consequence of these circulation problems.
Dogs with bloat have distended abdomens, may heave or retch, may collapse and be severely lethargic or may be restless and uncomfortable.
Blood Clotting Disorders
The blood clotting process is complex. A blood clotting disorder, such as thrombocytopenia (a lack of platelets), disrupts this intricate process and causes abnormal bleeding. Rate bait ingestion can also disrupt this process and cause abnormal bleeding. Pale gums could result from abnormal bleeding.
Signs of blood clotting disorders include excessive bleeding and skin bruises.
If your dog’s heart cannot pump blood properly, the gums won’t get the blood supply they need to stay healthy, leading to pale gums. Heart disease signs are numerous and include lethargy, reduced appetite, coughing, and a fluid-filled abdomen.
Heavy Metal Toxicity
Dogs aren’t exactly picky eaters, so they may eat something that contains heavy metals, such as pennies or nails. Heavy metals like zinc can reduce RBC production, leading to anemia and pale gums.
Heavy metal toxicity also causes symptoms like vomiting, reduced appetite, and lethargy.
Cancer robs the body of so much. Dogs can be affected by many types of cancer. Some types of cancer affect the bone marrow, which produces RBCs. If there’s cancer in the bone marrow, RBC production goes down, leading to anemia and pale gums.
Cancer has a broad range of symptoms that depend on the type of cancer.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Pale Gums
If your dog has pale gums and is lethargic or otherwise not themselves you should go to the vet immediately. Pale gums in dogs are abnormal and always warrant further investigation by a veterinarian.
If your dog is critically ill from shock or bloat, immediately seek veterinary care from your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital. If your dog is in shock from a traumatic injury that’s caused significant bleeding, you can perform first aid by covering the wound with a clean cloth. However, your primary goal is to get your dog treated as soon as possible.
The other causes of pale gums listed above are not necessarily life-and-death medical emergencies. However, because pale gums indicate an underlying health problem, your dog will need prompt veterinary care.
Your veterinarian will ask you many questions as they examine your dog to determine the cause of the pale gums. Come prepared with as much information as possible, including what’s listed below:
- First observation of the pale gums
- What the gums looked and felt like
- Other symptoms or changes in behavior
- History of trauma
- History of eating something that contains heavy metals (e.g., pennies)
A detailed history will give your veterinarian more clues of the underlying problem. After performing a physical exam, they will perform other diagnostic tests, including routine blood work, X-rays, and blood clotting tests.
A pet health insurance policy from a company such as Lemonade may help offset the costs of diagnostics, procedures, and medications for a condition related to pale gums. Your veterinarian may want to perform lab tests, blood work, or any number of diagnostics to determine the cause of your dog’s pale gums.
Having peace of mind with a customized pet health policy like Lemonade is worth its weight in gold. For more info, visit the Lemonade site and answer a few quick questions to get a personalized pet health insurance plan quote.
The sooner your veterinarian can determine what’s causing the pale gums, the sooner your dog can be treated and get back to good health.
Pale or White Gums mean that your dog could be suffering from anemia, shock, blood clotting disorders, internal bleeding, or heart disease.Is it bad if my dogs gums are pale? ›
Pale gums in dogs can be a sign of several different serious health conditions. Anything that causes pale gums in dogs should be considered an emergency and you should contact your vet, or out of hours your nearest Vets Now straight away.Can infection cause pale gums in dogs? ›
A heavy flea infestation can cause significant blood loss, leading to pale gums. Symptoms of a flea infestation include intense itching and hair loss from the constant scratching. Intestinal parasites like roundworms cause digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.Can stress cause pale gums in dogs? ›
Pale gums can be a sign of many different health problems, from simpler issues like stress or pain to more complex issues like trauma or cancer. Unless a dog is outwardly bleeding, it may be difficult to determine the cause, and diagnosis by a veterinarian is almost always needed.What is the cause of pale gums? ›
Pale gums are a common sign of anemia, and mild anemia can be managed at home by increasing the intake of iron. However, severe cases can be life-threatening. Speak with a doctor or dentist about pale gums as soon as possible. Receiving treatment early can reduce the risk of complications.Can dehydration cause pale gums in dogs? ›
Tacky, dry, or off-color gums can be a sign of dehydration. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, press down on their gums. In a happy, hydrated dog, the color should return immediately.Can worms cause pale gums in dogs? ›
Symptoms are usually diarrhea and weight loss. The parasites can actually suck so much blood that they cause pale gums from anemia, and black and tarry stools.Can diabetes in dogs cause pale gums? ›
Pale gums can sometimes be a sign of either diabetes or kidney disease in dogs. If your dog has pale gums along with excessive thirst and urination or if your dog is losing weight rapidly with no other explanation, these can all be signs that something is wrong with your dog's kidneys or that he has diabetes.Does low blood pressure cause pale gums in dogs? ›
Symptoms of low blood pressure include:
Lethargy. Weakness. Fainting or collapse. Pale or white gums.
However, the color of your dog's gums can give you important clues about their health. It's important to know your dog's normal gum color so you can know when the color changes and something might be wrong. Having pale or white gums is not normal for dogs.
- Have a Pet Portrait Session. ...
- Make Frozen Dog Treats. ...
- Try Scent Work. ...
- Enjoy a Picnic. ...
- Have a Puppy Party. ...
- Take a Dog Training Class. ...
- Build a Backyard Agility Course. ...
- Head to the Dog Park.
White or light pink gums are the result of a lack of blood or poor circulation – sudden blood loss, or shock are some more common causes. Bright red gums signify that your dog could be overheating or septic. In some cases, red gums could be a symptom of gum inflammation or gingivitis.Can pale gums be normal? ›
Normally the gums are light pink in color, and they can sometimes become pale. Pale gums in adults and children can be caused due to several conditions and may indicate a more serious health problem.Are pale gums healthy? ›
There is a wide range of colours that indicate healthy gums: Shades of pink are typical, and depending on your skin type, pale gums are also perfectly normal.Are pale gums an emergency? ›
Pale gums aren't always an immediate emergency, but they usually signify that something isn't quite right. Because of this, your dog will still need to go to the vet to figure out the underlying cause of this symptom, even if you determine that the problem probably isn't an emergency.What color are dog's gums when dehydrated? ›
Check their gums …. Colour – A dog's gums should be pinkish-red, smooth and moist. If they are not, they could be going into shock or showing signs of dehydration. Deep red sticky gums are an indication of dehydration and in the heat can be an early sign of heat exhaustion.Can dogs recover from anemia? ›
Recovery of Chronic Anemia in Dogs
Most often, chronic anemia may take months to years to resolve depending on its underlying cause. Older dogs that have chronic anemia due to kidney disease or diabetes may never completely recover and may slowly deteriorate over time.
In the United States, the most common foodborne parasites are protozoa such as Cryptosporidium spp., Giardia intestinalis, Cyclospora cayetanensis, and Toxoplasma gondii; roundworms such as Trichinella spp. and Anisakis spp.; and tapeworms such as Diphyllobothrium spp. and Taenia spp.What are the signs of low blood sugar in dogs? ›
Clinical signs may include altered mentation and behavior, seizures, syncope, muscle twitching/fasciculations, somnolence, exercise intolerance, muscle tremors, collapse, ataxia, weakness, and impaired vision.How do dogs know when blood sugar is low? ›
Researchers say that owing to their acute sense of smell, dogs may be able to detect changes in the composition of their owner's sweat that occur when they are becoming hypoglycemic. Another theory is that visual cues such as the owner looking disorientated or trembling may alert the dog.
Signs of low blood glucose include:
Common signs of internal bleeding include weakness, trouble breathing, pale gums, a distended abdomen, and collapse. Less common signs are vomiting, not eating, and general malaise.Can worms cause white gums? ›
Internal parasites, such as coccidia and hookworms can cause blood loss. Parasites that live in the intestines feed off of the dog's blood, causing anemia. Heartworms and other preventable parasitic infestations may result in whitened gums.What does unhealthy dog gums look like? ›
“Healthy gums should appear shrimp-colored pink,” says Dan Carmichael, DVM, DAVDC and board-certified veterinary dentist at the Animal Medical Center. “Unhealthy gums will appear red and inflamed.” Certain diseases can cause discoloration of the gums. For instance, red, inflamed gums can be a sign of gingivitis.Does white gums mean parvo? ›
Pale or white gums are a symptom of parvovirus in dogs. This is because parvovirus causes heavy internal bleeding as well as dehydration through vomiting and diarrhea. Another classic sign of parvovirus in dogs is vomiting blood, leading to further blood loss and dehydration.Do dogs gums go pale when dehydrated? ›
Sometimes, the color of a dog's gums and tongue can be a telltale sign of a dehydrated dog as well. If the gums and tongue are pale, it can be a sign that your dog needs some much-needed water. If the gums and tongue are pink, the dog is okay, but if they are dark red-pink, it can also be due to dehydration.What are the signs of heart disease in a dog? ›
- Coughing and difficulty breathing.
- Getting more tired on walks or when playing.
- Weakness and/or collapse.
- Bloating / swelling of the abdomen (belly)
- Sudden onset of back leg weakness or paralysis.
Healthy dog gums are powdery pink in 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. A sick dog's gum coloring could be blue, black, pale white, or bright red.What does a dog act like when dehydrated? ›
Loss of appetite, panting, and a dry nose are other signs of dehydration. Your dog's eyes may even become sunken or they might collapse if they enter shock, in extreme cases.What are signs of heartworms in dogs? ›
Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.
Stage 4: CHF is in its final stage. Breathing becomes difficult even when at rest. Fluid can accumulate in various parts of the body, causing swollen legs or belly, making it difficult to walk. It can even cause vomiting.