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What Your Dog's Gums Can Reveal
When you take your pup to the vet, you may notice that they will always pull back the dog's lips and take a peek at his teeth and gums. While they check for obvious signs of tooth decay and gum disease, the gums can tell a lot about your dog's health.
Just like in humans, a healthy dog should generally have pink gums. Gums that are red or other colors can indicate gingivitis, anemia, lack of oxygen, or Leptospirosis. However, some dogs with black coats may have a mixture of black and pink gums.
A black lab, for example, may have black gums with pink in the background or along the gumline. This is not a cause for concern unless the black coloration is a recent or sudden change. However, if there is a sudden change, call your vet immediately, as there could be something more serious that needs to be addressed.
Why Does My Black Lab Have Black Gums?
While most dogs should have bubblegum pink gums, some breeds naturally have black or dark-colored gums. However, according to the National Canine Research Association of America (NCRAOA), the Chinese Shar-Pei and Chow Chow are the only dogs with black mouths as a breed standard.
Your black lab has black gums because of the presence of melanin in the gum tissue. Melanin is a very dark, naturally occurring pigment in the tissue of animals and humans. This is a normal pigmentation variation, especially in dogs that have black coats or black skin.
There are other breeds that have pink tongues and black gums. In addition, there are over thirty breeds that may have black or spotted-black gums, including labrador retrievers.
Other common breeds that may have black gums include:
- Saint Bernard
- Australian Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Irish Setter
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd
The color variation is normal and is no cause for concern, especially if your lab has had black gums since he was a pup.
How to Examine Gum Health in Dogs
When checking your dog's gums, you can assess the color and other features. This may be more difficult in dogs with black gums because you won't be able to see some of the signs of trouble as quickly.
However, even if your dog has black gums, you can look for areas of pink to check for signs of concern.
Healthy gums should be light pink (or black and pink) and moist to the touch. If your lab's gums feel very dry or sticky, they may be dehydrated.
If you gently press on your dog's gums, they should turn white and then turn back to their usual color within two seconds. This is known as "capillary refill time," and it's the same test you can do to yourself by pressing on your fingernail.
A delayed refill time can indicate dehydration, low blood pressure, or poor circulation.
Maintaining Healthy Gums in Dogs
There are a handful of products designed to help keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy. However, I recommend actually brushing your dogs teeth 2-3 times per week.
For this, I recommend Vet's Best Enzymatic Dog Toothpaste. It is made with all natural ingredients but is still very inexpensive. You can pick it up in a pack with a toothbrush, but I found that the toothbrush was way too small. Instead, I separately use this finger brush and it makes it so much easier.
If you've found some other solution, like dental chews, for maintaining your Lab's oral health then that's great! Just make sure your vet checkups don't reveal poor dental hygiene so you can feel confident they are doing the job. However, I'd still recommend at least a monthly brushing.
You can time it with applying flea and heartworm meds, or with your bathing schedule. That way you can still be sure they are being fully cleaned, and allow the chews to take the place of everyday brushing.
Signs of Trouble in Dogs' Gums
Gums that are dark or bright red can also indicate a problem.
Redness along the gum line can be a sign of gum disease (like gingivitis). Dark red gums all over can be a symptom of a severe problem like heat stroke or a severe infection in the bloodstream, also known as sepsis.
If your dog's gums appear blue or greyish, this is known as cyanosis. (In humans, cyanosis refers to bluing of the skin.) In humans and dogs, a lack of oxygen and the buildup of carbon dioxide in tissue causes cyanosis.
There are many conditions, some of which are very serious, that can cause cyanosis in dogs. You should always contact a vet if you observe this coloration in your lab's gums.
Dark brown gums are typically a sign that your dog may have gotten into a bottle of Tylenol (acetaminophen). Consumption of Tylenol can lead to a life-threatening condition in dogs called methemoglobinemia.
If you suspect your furry friend ate Tylenol, you should immediately contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline.
If you notice any of these conditions in your dog's gums, you should contact your veterinarian right away to ensure there's not a more severe health issue.
Other Causes for Black Gums in Dogs
If your pup wasn't born with black gums, it might be a cause for concern if he suddenly develops dark spots or splotches. If the black area is raised or swollen, it should be checked right away to rule out a tumor.
If your pup has always had black gums and develops a raised spot that appears lighter in color, white, or grey, you should have it checked out as soon as possible.
Dark spots that are black, especially if they have a purple or reddish tint, and come on suddenly could be cause for concern. This could be a sign of bruising or bleeding under the skin, and a vet should check it out.
If your dog develops dark or black gums, or if he is born with them, you should monitor them closely for any changes over time. Melanin-pigmented tissue contains melanocytes, which have the potential to mutate and become cancerous.
Melanoma is a common oral cancer in dogs, and it can spread to other organs if it's missed and not treated early enough. It can occur anywhere in the dog's mouth or gums but is typically toward the middle on the backside of the gums.
Dogs with black gums are at higher risk than other dogs to develop a rare form of melanoma (cancer) called amelanotic melanoma.
If your vet finds melanoma in your dog's mouth, it usually means surgery and chemotherapy. Any breed of dog can develop melanoma, but some breeds are more prone to the disease than others. For example, male dogs are more likely than females to develop melanoma.
Signs of Melanoma in Dogs
It's vital to catch melanoma early to have the best chances for a good outcome. Be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms, especially if your lab has black gums:
- Swelling of gums, lips, or cheek
- Difficulty eating or chewing
- Aversion to eating
- Bad breath
A black lab can have black gums and be healthy, though most dogs should have pink gums. The black color is due to melanin in the tissue, which is common in some breeds with dark coats or skin.
- No matter your dog's gum color, you should check them to learn about your dog's health.
- The gums indicate problems that could be serious, so you should contact your vet if you find anything unusual.
- Dogs with black gums are at higher risk for certain cancers, so watch for any changes that indicate a trip to the vet.