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What does the color of a dog’s tongue mean?

A dog’s tongue can come in a variety of colors. While a pink tongue is considered normal, some dogs may have black, blue, liver, spotted or multi-colored tongues. The color of a dog’s tongue can give clues about their health, genetics and breed ancestry. Understanding what different tongue colors indicate can help dog owners monitor their pet’s wellbeing.

Normal Tongue Color

Most dogs have pink tongues. A nice bubblegum or salmon pink is considered normal and healthy. When a dog first comes out of the womb, their tongue is pink because they haven’t begun producing a lot of melanin yet. As they grow, melanin causes the tongue to turn black. However, a dog’s genetic makeup limits this pigmentation to certain areas. As a result, the main part of their tongue remains pink.

A pink tongue is ideal because it allows for easy examination of a dog’s overall health. By looking under the tongue, owners can check for signs of illness. A moist, pink tongue indicates good hydration and circulation. Paleness, sores, ulcers or discoloration can signal underlying conditions that require veterinary attention.

Black Tongue

Some dogs have black tongues due to heavy pigmentation. The Chow Chow and Chinese Shar-Pei breeds are entirely black-tongued. Certain other breeds prone to having black tongues include:

  • Schipperke
  • Havanese
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Afghan Hound
  • Gordon Setter
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Pekingese
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever

In these breeds, a black tongue is completely normal and due to genetics. It is not a sign of illness. However, owners should still monitor for any new spots, growths or color changes that may indicate problems. Black tongues can make it more difficult to spot potential mouth tumors, bleeding or other issues.

Blue Tongue

Some dogs may have a bluish or gray tint to their tongues. This can happen for a few different reasons:

  • Chow Chow ancestry – Chow Chows often have blue-black tongues. Dogs with some Chow in their lineage may inherit a partial blue tongue.
  • Blue dilution gene – This recessive gene causes diluted pigment. It can make a dog’s nose, lips, eyes and tongue appear bluish.
  • Chalky tongue – A bluish tongue combined with plaque buildup indicates this oral condition. It is common in older dogs and causes bad breath.

If a dog has had a blue tongue its whole life, it is likely due to genetics rather than a medical issue. Blue tongues in puppies or adult dogs that appear suddenly warrant further veterinary investigation.

Liver Tongue

A liver or reddish brown tongue is less common but can occur in certain breeds. The Newfoundland is known for having a brownish tongue which is a completely normal trait. Liver-colored tongues are also seen in Retrievers, Border Collies, Shepherds, Dobermans and other dogs. This tongue pigmentation comes from a variation in melanin production.

While a liver tongue is not abnormal by itself, it can sometimes indicate metabolic problems. One condition called cyanosis causes the tongue to appear bluish-brown. Cyanosis happens when blood is not oxygenated properly. Additionally, a vitamin B12 deficiency can turn the tongue brownish. So while liver tongues are often benign, any sudden color change merits a checkup.

Spotted Tongue

Tongues with spots or patches are also not uncommon in dogs. Breeds prone to spotted tongues include:

  • Dalmatians
  • English Setters
  • English Pointers
  • English Bull Terriers
  • Boston Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Great Danes

The spots are caused by the pigmentation process creating darkened areas amidst normally pink tissue. As long as the spots have been there throughout the dog’s life, it is perfectly normal.

However, reddish spots on a dog’s tongue could indicate an injury, inflammation or ulcer. And dark spots that suddenly appear may be a sign of melanoma. So while birthmarks are not worrisome, any new tongue spots need veterinary investigation.

Multicolored Tongue

Some dogs may have a tongue that is two or even three colors. Border Collies, Corgis, Aussies and other breeds can have part pink, part black tongues. Other dogs may have a pink base with blue spots. Dual-toned tongues are caused by variable melanin expression across the tongue surface.

As long as the pigmentation variations are congenital and no new areas arise, a multicolored tongue is no cause for alarm. However, rapid pigment changes could signal problems like vitiligo, infection, or a nutritional deficiency.

Why Do Dogs Have Different Colored Tongues?

A dog’s tongue color is influenced by two factors – pigmentation and circulation.


Melanin is produced by special cells called melanocytes which apply color to the skin, hair and mucous membranes. The type and amount of melanin produced genetically determines a dog’s tongue shade.

  • Eumelanin – This pigment creates black, brown or liver colors. Chow Chows have lots of eumelanin in their tongues.
  • Pheomelanin – Causes a red or yellow hue. There is very little pheomelanin on most dog tongues.
  • Lack of melanin – Results in pink since there is no pigment to mask the red blood underneath.

By influencing melanocyte activity, genetics dictates how much of these pigments will color the tongue. Purebred dogs tend to have predictable tongue colors based on their breed’s eumelanin levels. Mixed breeds may have mottled tongues with random pigmentation patterns.

Blood Circulation

A healthy tongue has good blood supply, allowing the surface to remain pink. When circulation is compromised, the tongue loses its rosy color. Poor blood flow can make the tongue appear:

  • Pale if circulation is reduced
  • Blue or purple if oxygen levels are low
  • Bright red due to inflammation or infection
  • Whitish in cases of anemia or dehydration

Checking your dog’s tongue circulation and hydration levels provides important insight into their wellbeing. Look for any variations from your pet’s normal tongue shade.

Are Certain Tongue Colors Linked to Health Problems?

While tongue color generally correlates with breed in dogs, some hues may indicate illness. Here are some concerning tongue colors and what they might signify:

Pale Tongue

If your dog normally has a bright bubblegum pink tongue, a pale tongue could signal reduced blood flow or oxygenation. Causes include:

  • Shock or low blood pressure
  • Hypothermia
  • Anemia from blood loss, malnutrition or other conditions
  • Dehydration

Dogs with light-colored tongues like Chows should see a vet if their tongue becomes extremely pale, white or patchy-looking.

Blue, Purple or Gray Tongue

A bluish discoloration usually stems from circulatory problems. Cyanosis refers to inadequate oxygenation of the blood, resulting in a blue tongue.

Causes of cyanosis include:

  • Respiratory disorders
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart defects
  • Blood clots

These serious conditions require prompt treatment to restore normal tongue color and prevent further complications.

Bright Red Tongue

The tongue may appear intensely red due to inflammation. Common causes include:

  • Gingivitis
  • Abscesses
  • Oral injuries or ulcers
  • Burns
  • Toxin exposure

A bright red tongue is often warm to the touch. Inflammation treatment involves addressing the underlying cause.

White Tongue

Patches of white on the tongue could stem from irritation, infection or plaque buildup. Causes include:

  • Dehydration
  • Candidiasis yeast overgrowth
  • Allergies
  • Chemical exposure
  • Chalky tongue due to poor oral hygiene

Treatment focuses on rehydration, controlling yeast, avoiding allergens and gently removing plaque accumulation.

What Dog Tongue Colors Are Cause for Concern?

While most tongue discoloration is harmless in dogs, some changes warrant medical assessment. See your vet promptly if you notice:

  • Sudden color change in puppies or adult dogs
  • New spots, bleaching or abnormal patches
  • White, yellow or green coating
  • Loss of tongue pliability or signs of swelling
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing due to tongue discomfort
  • Reluctance to be touched around the mouth
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bleeding, sores or ulcers on the tongue

These signs may indicate injury, infection, circulatory disorders, cancer or other health conditions requiring veterinary attention.

What Does a Blue-Black Chow Chow Tongue Mean?

Chow Chows and Chinese Shar-Peis have distinctive blue-black tongues. This is completely normal and due to heavy pigmentation in these breeds. Melanin-producing cells in the tongue produce abundant eumelanin pigment. This overlays the tongue and jowls in blue-black color.

A blue-black Chow Chow tongue is considered a breed standard. Dogs with liver brown or spotted tongues may be poor examples of the breed. Black tongues also help these dogs tolerate cold weather. The extra pigment likely provides insulation that retains body heat.

As long as your Chow Chow’s bluish tongue remains the same throughout life, it indicates good health. See your vet if any areas suddenly turn pink, white or red as this could signify circulatory disorders.

Are Black Spots on a Dog’s Tongue Dangerous?

Dark spots on a dog’s tongue are usually harmless. Some common causes of tongue spots include:

  • Melanin pigmentation – Congenital dark spots caused by melanocyte activity. Common in breeds like Chow Chows, Dalmatians, English Setters and others.
  • Blood blisters – Hematomas caused by trauma. These temporary bruises tend to disappear as they heal.
  • Melanomas – Dark patches that could indicate oral cancer. More prevalent in older dogs and certain breeds.

While most tongue spots are benign, any new or rapidly growing spots need veterinary assessment. Red flag symptoms include:

  • Sudden spot development in puppies or adult dogs
  • Areas that keep increasing in size
  • Ulceration or bleeding in the mouth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Foul breath
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw
  • Significant weight or appetite changes

See a vet immediately if your dog displays any signs of illness along with new tongue spots. Prompt diagnosis and treatment greatly improve the prognosis if oral melanoma is detected.

Why Are My Dog’s Tongue Spots Getting Bigger?

If your dog has always had tongue spots, gradual enlargement as they age is usually not worrisome. However, a sudden increase in the size of dark patches on your dog’s tongue could signal health problems.

Here are some possible reasons for enlarged tongue spots:

  • Trauma – Injuries can rupture capillaries that create temporary hematomas or blood blisters. These bruises appear as black spots but typically heal within a week or two.
  • Hyperpigmentation – Harmless melanin deposits may expand and darken slowly over time.
  • Oral melanoma – A serious mouth cancer that progresses rapidly if untreated. Spots grow steadily larger within weeks to months.
  • Chemical burns – Dark stains left on the tongue by caustic toxins. Additional symptoms like drooling or pawing at the mouth typically accompany chemical burns.

The most concerning cause of growing tongue spots is oral melanoma. See your vet promptly if you notice any enlargement of dark patches to diagnose and treat appropriately.

Can Dogs Have Speckled Tongues?

Many dogs normally have speckled or spotted tongues. Breeds prone to tongue speckling include:

  • Dalmatians
  • English Setters
  • English Pointers
  • English Bulldogs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Great Danes
  • Boxers
  • Australian Cattle Dogs

Speckles or spots appear when there are concentrated areas of melanin pigment amidst larger areas of normal pink tissue. These dark patches are irregularly shaped and can range in size from tiny dots to large blotches.

Tongue spots are benign as long as they have been present since puppyhood and remain unchanged. See your vet if any new spots pop up or existing ones seem to be growing larger.

What Does It Mean When a Dog’s Tongue Turns Black?

A dog’s tongue turning from pink to black could have several possible causes:

  • Maturation – Puppies are often born with pink tongues that darken with age as melanin pigment develops.
  • Chow Chow ancestry – Some dogs inherit black tongue genes from Chow lineage even if it’s far back in their history.
  • Hyperpigmentation – Harmless but excessive melanin production that can cause a black tongue.
  • Melanoma – Aggressive mouth cancer often causes pigment changes. Tongue color may change gradually from pink to spotted to solid black.

If your dog’s tongue has been becoming progressively darker over several weeks or months, see your vet. Getting an oral exam and biopsy of abnormal areas is important to test for melanoma, especially in older dogs.

Why Did My Dog’s Tongue Just Turn Black?

A sudden change in your dog’s tongue color is not normal and may signal a medical problem. Some reasons your dog’s tongue might turn black quickly include:

  • Trauma – Injuries that cause bleeding can leave a black, bruised area after blood clots.
  • Burns – Chemicals, electrical cords or other caustics turn tissues black immediately when burned.
  • Frostbite – Freezing damage causes blistering and blackened tissue.
  • Oral melanoma – Aggressive mouth cancer can sometimes spread rapidly.

See your vet as soon as possible if your dog’s tongue exhibits any unusual pigment changes