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What is a healthy tongue color for a dog?

A dog’s tongue can reveal a lot about their health. The color of a dog’s tongue can indicate conditions such as dehydration, heat stroke, or poisoning among others. Knowing what a healthy tongue color looks like for your dog is important to monitor their well-being.

What Does a Healthy Dog Tongue Look Like?

A healthy dog’s tongue is pale pink in color. Some healthy dogs may have black, blue, or red spots on their tongues and this is completely normal. These spots are caused by microscopic granules of pigment called melanin. The distribution of melanin accounts for the different colors and patterns seen on dog tongues.

It’s also common for a dog’s tongue to have a blue tint. This bluish tint is caused by their tongues having fewer layers compared to humans, allowing the bluish color of their blood to show through. A blue tinted tongue is no cause for concern in an otherwise healthy dog.

The texture of a dog’s healthy tongue is smooth and moist with no cracks or peeling. When you inspect your dog’s mouth, their tongue should also be free of any swelling, bumps, or lesions.

What Causes Unhealthy Tongue Colors in Dogs?

While a pale pink tongue is considered normal, if your dog’s tongue color changes it could indicate an underlying issue. Here are some abnormal tongue colors and what they may signify:

  • Bright Red Tongue: May indicate heat stroke, poisoning, gastrointestinal ulceration, or a mouth injury.
  • Dark Red, Purple, or Blue Tongue: Usually indicates inadequate oxygen levels or circulatory problems.
  • Pale Tongue: Can mean anemia, bleeding, or dehydration.
  • White Tongue: Is often seen with anemia but can also indicate liver or kidney disease.
  • Yellow Tongue: May indicate jaundice caused by liver disease or red blood cell destruction.
  • Black Tongue: Linked to oral melanoma, blood-clotting disorders, or oral yeast infections.

While unusual tongue colors often indicate an underlying condition, your dog’s tongue pigmentation can also be temporarily changed by recent food or drink. For example, eating canned food dyed with food coloring or drinking water with higher mineral content can temporarily stain your dog’s tongue.

How to Check Your Dog’s Tongue Color

Regularly examining your dog’s tongue color and texture is a good way to monitor their health at home between vet visits. Here are some tips for checking your dog’s tongue:

  • Lift your dog’s lips to expose their tongue and teeth.
  • Look at the top and bottom of the tongue, not just the tip.
  • Compare the color to their normal tongue pigmentation.
  • Note any color differences, spots, lesions, or abnormal texture.
  • Swipe a finger across the surface to check for stickiness, dryness, or peeling.

Try to do this exam weekly so you are familiar with any changes. Getting your dog comfortable with having their mouth handled will also make vet exams less stressful.

What is Normal Tongue Flicking and Licking in Dogs?

In addition to color and texture, a dog’s tongue behavior can also indicate their health status. It’s normal and common for dogs to flick and lick their tongues, but excessive licking can be problematic. Here’s what to look for:

  • Normal Tongue Flicking: Brief flicks in and out of the mouth are normal grooming behavior in dogs. This helps moisten their mouths and keeps their snouts clean.
  • Normal Licking: Occasional licks and swallowing helps wet their mouths. Some licking and swallowing can also indicate nausea.
  • Excessive Licking: Constant, repetitive licking is abnormal. It may indicate dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, stress, or a compulsive disorder.

If your dog is licking excessively, pay attention to what they are licking – just their lips or specific body parts? Also note if it occurs before or after eating. These details can help your vet determine the cause.

Tongue Color Changes in Puppies

Puppies are born with light pink tongues that may have blue or purple tones shortly after birth. Their tongues will become more pigmented and match adult tongue color at around 8-12 weeks old. Until a puppy’s permanent tongue pigmentation comes in, minor tongue color fluctuations are normal.

Signs of abnormal tongue color in puppies include:

  • Tongue color that darkens or changes suddenly
  • Tongue spots that rapidly enlarge
  • White, yellow, or blue tones appearing for more than a day
  • Loss of tongue pigment before 12 weeks old

These signs can indicate anemia, congenital defects, or underlying health conditions in young puppies. Schedule a vet visit if you notice any unusual puppy tongue colors persisting beyond 24 hours.

When to See the Vet

Use the following checklist to determine if your dog’s tongue symptoms need veterinary attention:

Symptom Monitor at Home See the Vet
Pale pink color If no other symptoms If accompanied by lethargy or weakness
Bright red tongue If eating/drinking normally If not eating or signs of pain/discomfort
Discolored spots If already present at adoption If spots appear suddenly or grow rapidly
Dry, sticky texture If mild with no oral lesions If severe, worsening, or oral lesions present
Excessive licking If mild bout resolves in 1-2 days If persistent, compulsive, or paired with body licking

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if your dog’s tongue color, texture, or behavior lingers or worsens. Rapid color changes, sores, or difficulty eating also warrant a prompt vet visit.

Tongue Color Changes in Older Dogs

As dogs age, it’s common for their tongues to gradually fade and lose some pigment. Older dogs also have an increased risk for systemic diseases that can cause tongue discoloration. Any abnormal tongue color changes in senior dogs should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Some age-related tongue color changes in older dogs include:

  • Pale or pink appearance from fading pigment
  • Yellow or yellow spots linked to liver or kidney disease
  • White from anemia, cancer, or other chronic illness
  • Dryness and sensitivity from reduced saliva production

Have your veterinarian examine your senior dog’s mouth at their wellness visits. Report any tongue color changes or excessive licking right away, as these symptoms warrant a prompt medical investigation in older dogs.

Common Tongue Conditions in Dogs

If your dog has abnormal tongue colors or textures, some common conditions to be aware of include:

  • Glossitis: Inflammation of the tongue which causes redness.
  • Stomatitis: Painful inflammation of the mouth lining.
  • Oral Papilloma: Benign wart-like growths on the tongue.
  • Mouth Cancer: May first appear as an abnormal mass or non-healing ulcer.
  • Foreign Body: Splinters, grass awns, or foxtails stuck in the tongue.
  • Common Causes of Dog Tongue Discoloration

Here are some common health issues that can lead to tongue color changes in dogs:

Condition Tongue Color(s)
Dehydration Pale pink or white
Anemia Very pale, pink or white
Oral injury or ulcer Bright red
Gingivitis or stomatitis Red, inflamed
Jaundice Yellow
Hypothyroidism Pale, swelling
Oral melanoma Black, enlarged
Bleeding disorder Red spots or patches

Schedule an exam with your veterinarian if your dog develops any abnormal tongue colors that persist more than 1-2 days. This will help identify any underlying disease and start treatment early.

Tips to Keep Your Dog’s Tongue Healthy

To help keep your dog’s tongue in optimal health between vet visits, follow these tips:

  • Provide fresh, clean drinking water at all times
  • Choose a high quality dog food
  • Brush teeth daily to prevent tartar buildup
  • Avoid human toothpaste, which can upset dog stomachs
  • Inspect the tongue and mouth weekly
  • Watch for increased licking or changes in eating habits
  • Have your vet examine your dog’s mouth at annual exams
  • Follow up on your vet’s dental care recommendations

With attentive home care and veterinary guidance, you can help keep your dog’s tongue healthy and get ahead of any emerging health issues. Alert your vet to any tongue changes, and continue providing your dog with plenty of fresh water, nutritious food, and daily toothbrushing.


Your dog’s tongue appearance and behavior can provide insight into their health status. It’s important to regularly check your dog’s tongue color and texture so you are familiar with their normal pigmentation. Contact your veterinarian promptly about any abnormal tongue colors, especially if paired with lethargy or difficulty eating. With attentive home monitoring and veterinary guidance, you can keep your pup’s tongue healthy and catch signs of disease early.