In dogs, as in people, gum health can be an essential issue and have significant implications for one’s overall well-being. Unfortunately, in another human/canine parallel, dogs’ gum health can too often be neglected and misunderstood. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to monitor and take care of your dog’s gums before issues arise and to address them if they do.
How often do you take a peek inside your dog’s mouth?
Many pet owners only get a good look in their dog’s mouth when they have to pry food from the gaping maw.
And we get it.
That mouth of teeth isn’t something many of us want to get our fingers near, even with the gentlest dogs.
But did you know that the inside of your dog’s mouth is something every pet owner should familiarize themselves with?
If, by chance, you noticed that your dog’s gums seem to be turning black, you might be concerned or alarmed.
Knowing your dog’s mouth early on is essential – black spots or coloring might be perfectly normal.
Be a gum-hue gumshoe: What to look for in the color of your dogs’ gums
Healthy dogs’ gums are typically a pink shade reminiscent of chewing gum. Gums should also be moist and somewhat shiny, indicators that your dog is adequately hydrated.
Here are some other colors you might see on or near your dog’s gums, and what they might mean:
Black gums in a dog could be normal, or they could be an indicator of something serious. If your dog’s gums look black and always have, they might be a breed with darker-colored gums.
This is common among dogs with darker snouts, lips, and tongues, like chows, shar-peis, and black-mouth curs. Dogs of any breed may have black spots on their tongue and gums—all perfectly normal. If you notice the appearance of raised black spots that weren’t there before, this could be a sign of oral cancer. And if black spots are accompanied by terrible breath, it may indicate periodontal disease.
If you’re not sure what’s normal and not, ask your vet; this is good advice in general.
White or pale pink gums
Gums that appear paler than normal may indicate not getting enough blood supply.
Vets sometimes press on gums and see how quickly they return to their normal pink color for this very reason. White or very pale gums could be caused by anemia, blood loss, or a wide range of other conditions, including bloat and shock, requiring immediate veterinary attention.
Blue or purple gums
If your dog’s gums look blue or purple, that could mean they have a condition called cyanosis caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood. You may also notice the skin on other parts of your dog’s body turning bluish. This is a serious condition, so get in touch with your vet if you suspect it.
Bright or dark red gums
Redness or bleeding may indicate gum inflammation (gingivitis), an early sign of gum disease—or stomatitis, a more severe version of gingivitis that can extend to the tongue, lips, and other parts of the mouth.
A bright red color might also indicate exposure to a toxin, infection, or overheating your dog. See your vet if you see red.
Yellow and/or brown gums
If you see yellow or brown in crusty form near the gum line, you may be dealing with tartar. Yellow gums can also mean jaundice, especially if the eyes, skin, and ear flaps are yellow. Jaundice can indicate liver disease or other serious conditions. Have your vet take a look and advise you about what steps to take next.
Talk to your vet if you notice any growths on your dog’s gums, as these could be tumors or warts that might require treatment.
Why are my dog’s gums turning black?
As stated above, some dog breeds have naturally occurring black pigment in their gums, tongue, or mouth. Whether you adopted your dog as a puppy or an adult, you should have many occasions to notice the coloration of their mouth. It could be feeding them a treat, playing with a toy, or simply seeing them yawn on the sofa. During these times, you might first notice the dog’s gums turning black or black spots suddenly appearing.
When Are Black Spots and Black Gums Normal?
Dark pigmentation inside the mouth can be down to your dog’s DNA. Some breeds have dark mouths, and others have black spots or patches.
If you look in your dog’s mouth and think, “my dog’s gums are black,” you can relax if they’re a particular breed.
If you own a Chow, Shar-Pei, or a mix of either breed, the entire inside of their mouths is likely a dark, bluish color.
Why do these breeds tend to have this unique coloring in their mouths? No one knows exactly why, but it’s completely normal.
So if your dog has any Chow or Shar-Pei in their blood, don’t worry about their mouths and tongues being a blue-black hue.
Some other breeds are predisposed to having spots on the tongue, roof, insides of the chops, and gum area.
Dog breeds with black gums include Pomeranians, some retriever breeds, Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, bully breeds, Irish Setters, and Australian and German Shepherds.
So if your dog has black spots in its mouth, don’t worry – it has no more bearing on its temperament than if your dog has pale gums.
Signs of gum disease and periodontal disease
Generally speaking, you should pay close attention to and note any changes to your dog’s gums. And be on the lookout for unusual bad breath (despite the popularity of the expression “dog breath,” your dog’s default breath shouldn’t be noxious).
Gum disease is much more common in dogs than humans and often progresses to an advanced stage before dog owners notice. The earlier you catch problems like gingivitis, the better.
Advanced gum disease can cause painful, tougher-to-handle problems like jaw fractures and may require tooth extraction—but if you catch it early enough, your vet may be able to treat it with nothing more than a cleaning.
When Should You Be Concerned?
If you aren’t sure about black spots or gums on your dog, a vet can tell you if it’s normal or not.
Then, you can monitor your dog’s mouth for any changes that could indicate something serious.
So if your dog has some new spots or blackening of gums, what could it be?
It’s a Matter of Age
Elderly dogs can develop these spots and even show up in middle age.
It’s usually just a part of an aging dog, but the texture and size can be a red flag for something else.
A Sign of Cancer
Dogs can develop melanoma in the mouth; a big warning sign is if a black spot is raised.
Dogs can be affected, but it’s more common in males and certain breeds.
Chows, Golden Retrievers, and Spaniels can be at a higher risk for this condition.
It’s important to note that a cancerous spot might not present itself as black – it could be a pink, gray, or blue color. Regardless of the color, get to the vet ASAP if it’s raised.
Other signs to look out for include terrible breath or bleeding of the gums.
These cancers can metastasize rapidly, so early diagnosis and treatment is the best weapon against them.
They’re Not Getting Enough Oxygen
Gums that gradually darken over time indicate that your dog has an oxygenation disorder.
A broad range of things can cause such a disorder in dogs.
It could be a malformation of the respiratory system, a respiratory infection, or exposure to fungi or parasites.
While these things usually don’t put your dog in immediate danger, they can cause symptoms that will cause your dog’s health to deteriorate over time.
One of the tell-tale signs that your dog is suffering from an oxygenation disorder is gums that seemingly grow darker for no apparent reason.
A dog’s gums turning black, especially a younger dog, is something to take seriously.
Since the underlying causes are essential to treat sooner rather than later, a vet’s diagnosis is the first step to take if you’ve noticed changes in your dog’s gums.
Some things that cause these issues are out of your control, but there are ways you can protect your dog’s respiratory health.
Don’t expose them to cigarette smoke, and ensure there aren’t any harmful molds or fungi in the dog’s environment.
The good news here is that these measures will protect your health as well – it’s a win-win.
If your dog’s gum changes come on rapidly, they could be in respiratory distress and need to see a vet immediately.
They could be suffering from cyanosis, meaning there is a serious lack of oxygen in your dog’s blood.
This is considered a medical emergency, and the root issue needs to be addressed immediately.
Causes include pneumonia, congestive heart failure, shock, and some poisons.
The prognosis depends on the reason behind the decrease in oxygen in the blood, so treatments and options may vary.
This is why it’s vital to seek a diagnosis as soon as you notice the symptoms.
Some dog parents slack in dental health for their pets.
If you notice a thin line of black where their teeth meet their gums, it could be a sign of gum disease.
In short, bacteria have claimed this area of your dog’s mouth and have been given the perfect environment in which to multiply.
Early signs of gingivitis besides the darkening of the gum line include foul breath and yellowing teeth.
But left untreated, the bacteria can invade further and compromise the roots of your dog’s teeth. Tooth loss can occur in severe cases.
It gets worse:
If losing teeth isn’t bad enough, the inflamed gums can become very painful for your dog.
They might refuse food, causing a whole new set of health issues.
If your dog already has signs of gingivitis, it’ll need a professional cleaning at the vet’s office to get back on track with its oral health.
From there, regular brushing at home and periodic cleanings administered by the vet can keep their mouths in good shape.
What about diet?
Diet can also be to blame when it comes to gingivitis. Junk food and too many human treats can contribute to this condition, as well as many others.
Dog food with a poor nutrient balance and too many starchy fillers can also cause dental issues for your dog.
Some indications are that dogs with severe, recurring gingivitis can benefit from a raw food diet.
But it would help if you discussed this option with your dog’s vet before making any drastic dietary changes.
Also Read: 7 Types of Dog Eye Colors & Their Rarity
Preventing gum disease
As you might expect, the health of teeth and gums are closely linked. Brushing your dog’s teeth daily and having a veterinarian perform a dental checkup during an annual physical exam are two of the most important ways to protect their teeth and gums and avoid any problems. Whether you have a puppy or a full-grown dog, you can get them used to daily brushing. Just make sure to use dog-specific toothpaste and not the human stuff, which contains ingredients that are not good for our canine friends.
Another way you can help keep your dog’s gums healthy is by making sure they eat a healthy diet of fresh, whole meat and vegetables. Contrary to the enduring myth, crunchy kibble does not clean teeth or make for a healthy mouth; processed, starchy foods can end up feeding harmful bacteria in a dog’s mouth.
You pay attention to what goes into your dog’s mouth, and you can also positively impact their life by occasionally checking out how it looks there. Color us impressed with how much there is to learn from the appearance of your dog’s gums.
Keeping Track of Your Dog’s Mouth
Many of us have an inherent drive to stay away from our dog’s mouths.
Even the sweetest pets can accidentally bite fingers if you’re trying to poke a pill down their throat or take something away from them that they shouldn’t be eating.
But establishing a relationship based on trust is important for your dog’s oral health – and so is getting comfortable with your dog’s mouth.
Brush Up on Doggie Dentistry
Brushing their teeth is the best opportunity to check in on any changes in your dog’s mouth.
Some vets recommend daily brushing. But at the very least, their teeth need brushing several times a week.
What You’ll Need
Dental supplies for humans won’t do the trick. The flavors in toothpaste can be enough to make your dog hate the ritual from the start.
There are special toothbrushes for dogs. Some are designed to fit over your finger, while others resemble the one sitting on your bathroom sink.
Why do you need a particular toothpaste for your dog?
Strong toothpaste can cause a burning sensation in their mouths, putting you and the toothbrush on their bad list immediately.
Plus, some of the cleaning agents in our toothpaste would harm a dog if they were ingested.
They can’t exactly be taught to swish and spit as we do.
A huge no-no is using any toothpaste containing xylitol, which can be fatal in some cases.
Dog toothpaste is safe to swallow and flavored to be more enticing for your pup.
Brushing the Pearly Fangs
If you’ve just adopted a dog or a puppy, start teaching them early on that regular brushing is a fact of life.
They might resist at first, but you can use positive reinforcement.
And yes, you can “bribe” them with rewards so they associate brushing time with a tasty snack or their favorite toy.
Some dogs are good sports about having their teeth brushed. Others can turn into little furry monsters the moment they see the toothbrush.
If your dog is difficult when it’s time to brush, you’ll need to acclimate them to the process slowly.
It’ll save stress, nipped fingers, and broken trust if you let them adjust over time rather than forcing it upon them.
Start by getting your dog used to having your hands around their mouths.
Gently pet the outsides of their mouths, and work your way to massaging their gums.
We’re giving you the go-ahead to stick your fingers in your dog’s mouth.
Massaging your dog’s gums is an easy way to help them get used to an object in their mouth.
Start with doing it in ten-second increments and increase to about a minute.
Remember to reward often – each positive response to this process warrants positive reinforcement.
A coveted toy or treat on hand is perfect for teaching them some positive association with teeth brushing.
Once they’re comfortable with you massaging their gums, you can add toothpaste to the equation. Please put it on your finger, and let them sniff it.
It would help if you rewarded them as soon as they decide to taste it on their own.
Massage their gums with toothpaste a few times to let them get used to the taste.
Finally, you can introduce the toothbrush. Again, apply the paste and let them sniff and taste it before brushing.
You can slowly decrease the time between showing them the brush and giving them their reward until the reward comes after brushing is done.
It might sound counterintuitive to feed them a treat right after brushing their teeth, but it won’t negate the brushing unless it’s something sugary.
A Note for Special Cases
This ritual is no big deal for some people, but dogs with behavioral issues can cause some speed bumps in the process.
Luckily, dogs are great about letting you know they’ve had enough if they growl or show their teeth when being pet, back off and give them a break.
Most dogs aren’t aggressive with their owners regarding teeth brushing.
Dogs with more severe aggression problems might need cleanings done at the vet’s under sedation – and some behavioral training with a professional trainer.
Don’t Forget to Inspect Their Mouth
A huge benefit of brushing your dog’s teeth is it provides a perfect opportunity to look for unusual spots or coloring.
Regular brushing means you’ll become very familiar with your dog’s mouth, and you’ll notice quickly if anything changes.
Treatment for Periodontal Disease
If your dog has periodontal disease, you need to take your dog to the vet. Diagnosis for this dental disease includes your vet checking the space between your dog’s teeth and gums and seeing if there are any abnormalities. X-rays may also be taken, but your pooch needs to be anesthetized for this procedure.
Once your dog has been formally diagnosed with gum disease, treatment varies according to the stage of the disease:
Stage 1 (Gingivitis):
- Professional dental cleaning is done under anesthesia
- Brush your dog’s teeth every day
- Also, a professional dental cleaning session under general anesthesia, including deep cleaning of abnormal periodontal pockets and application of antibiotic gel
- Depending on the state of your dog’s teeth, your vet may do advanced restorative procedures
- Your vet will create a thorough home dental care plan with you
- Or your vet may extract any rotting or lose teeth
- Your dog’s teeth at this stage are diseased and can’t be saved, so the vet will extract rotten teeth that cause pain and infection.
Not treating periodontal disease leads to further health complications such as organ damage, oral cancers, eye issues, oronasal fistulas, tooth abscesses, and jaw fractures.
Treatment for Gum Inflammation
If you suspect your dog has gingivitis, take them to your vet for a proper diagnosis. Once your vet confirms that gingivitis is the cause for the start of black gums, they will do professional teeth cleaning to polish your dog’s teeth and remove tartar deposits. This helps prevent bacteria from colonizing and multiplying on your dog’s teeth.
If the gum inflammation is severe, the vet may remove parts of the gum tissue, and if there is a bacterial infection, you’ll have to give your dog an antibiotic the vet will prescribe.
The vet will also discuss what you can do at home to help your dog. This could include regular brushing and rinsing with special toothpaste or formulas and chewing toys and treats to help remove plaque.
Treatment for Oral Cancer
Once your dog has been diagnosed with oral cancer, the most successful treatment is generally surgery. Chemotherapy in the form of immunotherapy or radiation therapy may also be recommended because these can help kill cancer cells.
Treatment for Oxygen Deprivation
If your dog has been diagnosed with oxygen deprivation due to congestive heart failure, its lungs may fill with fluid, which strains the heart. The black gums are due to oxygen deficiency, and treatment will improve blood oxygen levels, which returns the gums to their normal color.
Treatment involves IV medications such as bronchodilators, giving them antihistamines, antibiotic injections, and diuretics to help reduce pulmonary pressure. Once the heart beats normally, your dog’s heart can pump oxygen to the cells again.
Treatment for Acanthosis Nigricans
The hereditary type of acanthosis nigricans isn’t curable. If the disease is caught early, your vet can prescribe treatment to help your dog manage the condition and stop its progression. If the skin disease isn’t caught early or progresses further, more aggressive therapy is required.
In the second type of this skin disease, caused by an underlying condition, the vet needs to treat the cause first, and the acanthosis nigricans symptoms will disappear.
Treatments may include shampoo therapy, topical ointments, oral vitamin E, or antibiotic therapy. Weight loss treatment will be recommended if your dog is overweight and has acanthosis nigricans.
Make Their Mouths Your Business
Good oral health in your dog sets the stage for overall health.
Keeping an eye on their mouths is one of the best habits you can form for them.
Don’t wait until you see your dog scratching at their mouth, for example, to let you know there may be a problem
There are some conditions and symptoms to look out for, and some cases when the vet needs to have a look inside your dog’s mouth.
But black spots on a dog’s gums are often out of your control and no cause for panic.
Their breed will determine if they naturally come by these spots or black gums on dogs.
Your dog’s gums are an essential part of its health. To prevent ill health and gum disease, keep your dog’s diet healthy and their teeth clean.
The biggest takeaway here? Regular brushing is the best way to ensure you’ll notice anything unusual on their gums.