What Healthy Dog Gums Look Like
The gum tissue, also known as the oral mucosa or mucous membranes, is the soft tissue lining in the mouth that covers the roof of the mouth and is between the teeth and lips. The gums are connected to the underlying bone tissue.
Gum color will often provide insight into the health or wellbeing of a dog. The pink color in gum color, similar to the pink in skin color, is a result of blood flow to pale or almost colorless tissues. Blood flow can be altered by conditions that result from shock, blood loss, anemia, or other bleeding abnormalities. Dental issues can result in a deeper red inflamed appearance to the gums that are most commonly around the teeth.
In normal healthy dogs, the gum color can be either pink or pigmented, depending on the breed and pigmentation of your dog. It is easier to assess for gum color abnormalities in dogs that are not pigmented. Breeds that are known for normal black pigmented gums include the Chow and the Chinese Shar-Pei.
In a dog with unpigmented gums, the normal gum color is a normal healthy pink, sometimes referred to as “bubblegum pink”. The gums should be smooth, moist, and shiny with no evidence of excessive redness, discharge, or odor. They should not be painful.
In a pigmented dog, his normal pigmentation color is that color of pigment. Having pigmented gums is not a bad or dangerous thing. The pigmentation blocks some of the ability to evaluate for signs of shock or anemia (low red blood cell counts). To evaluate mucous membrane color, you can look at the conjunctiva of the eye as an alternative.
Some dogs will have both unpigmented and pigmented gums. In these cases, to assess the gum color, please look at the unpigmented sections (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Dog with both areas of gum pigmentation and normal unpigmented gum tissue.
It is ideal to look in your dog’s mouth periodically providing that you can do so safely. Daily monitoring is best when you brush your dog’s teeth. Many pet owners wonder about their dogs teeth such as when they came in and how many teeth they have. These articles may be of interest to you:
- Dog Teeth: What You Need to Know About Dog Teeth
- How Many Teeth Do Dogs Have?
- Do Dogs Have Baby Teeth?
What Unhealthy Dog Gums Look Like
As mentioned above, unhealthy gums can vary depending on your dog’s natural pigmentation. Unhealthy gums can look like any of the following:
- Pale – Pale gums or mucous membranes can indicate blood loss or “shock”. The possible causes for either blood loss or shock are life-threatening and should be evaluated immediately.
- Bleeding – Bleeding gums can be caused by local problems or systemic problems. Local problems may include trauma to the mouth, infections, foreign material such as a bone, stick, or plastic being lodged in the tissue. Bleeding can also occur from systemic diseases such as bleeding abnormalities from immune-mediated problems or toxins. Bleeding can appear as fresh blood or as small pinpoint hemorrhages, also known as petechiae. All signs of bleeding are abnormal. Learn more about bleeding disorders in dogs.
- Inflammation – Inflamed gums are a common sign of dental disease, most commonly periodontal disease which is also frequently referred to as the silent killer. Infected gum tissue is often red, swollen, and inflamed. Other causes of inflammation can be from local infections, chemical burns, trauma, infectious diseases, and more.
- Infections – Gum infections can occur and results from underlying systemic disease or from local infections from bad teeth.
- Ulcers – Some dogs will have ulcers on the gums due to chemical burns, trauma, and/or infections. One common cause of oral ulcerations is from exposure to liquid potpourri. Learn more about Potpourri Exposure and Toxicity. Some infections can also be caused by underlying infectious diseases. An ulcer will look like a raw open abrasion that is often irregular with an uneven red surface. It may also have an odor.
- Odor – Smelling gums or an odor from the mouth can be a sign of dental disease or infections. Foreign objects such as stick or bones can also become lodged in the mouth resulting in a foul odor. Bad breath can also be caused by systemic disease such as diabetes or kidney disease.
How To Keep Them Healthy
The best way to keep your dog’s gum tissue healthy is to feed a high-quality dog food formulated to meet the AAFCO standards. Provide good dental care that consists of daily brushing and periodical dental cleanings by your veterinarian. Learn more about dental cleaning in this article: Dog Teeth Cleaning: Who Should Do It?