A wet nose means a healthy dog, right? Well, not quite! Despite what many pet owners believe, a dog's nose should not be seen as a benchmark of their overall health.
When you take your pet to the vet, you might notice that, as part of their routine check, your vet will check their gums. That's because your dog's gums can provide a lot more insight into their overall health than their nose ever can.
Rich in blood supply, the gum membrane is usually that lovely bubblegum-pink colour that we're all used to. But keep in mind that each dog is unique, which means their "healthy" gum colour might not be consistent across breeds and individuals. So, as a dog owner, it's a good idea to become familiar with the usual colour of your dog's gums. This way, if anything changes, you'll notice.
So, why not do this right now? Go on, check your dog's gums.
You want to look out for the three main attributes, which include the colour of the gum, the capillary refill time, and the overall moisture of their gums.
Let's take a look at these in more detail.
As we've already touched on, your dog's gums should usually be a bubblegum pink colour. However, each dog is unique, so you may notice that your dog has a few darker patches, or pigmented spots on the gum, which may make it a little harder to analyse. If that's the case, the best way to check your dog's health is to look into their eyes instead.
To check the colour of the gums, gently lift your dog's upper lip; if your dog is healthy, use their current gum colour as your baseline. Any changes could be an indication that something is wrong.
Capillary Refill Time
Gently apply some pressure to your dog's gum and count how long it takes for it to return to that healthy pink colour; this is referred to as the capillary refill time (CTR). When you apply pressure to your dog's gum in this way, blood is forced out of the vessel, so, when you release the pressure, you allow the blood to flow back in.
It should take no longer than two seconds for the gums to return to their natural colour. But once again, if there are dark spots on your dog's gums, this will not be possible. If you realise that the CTR time is less than a second, this could also be an indication that something is wrong.
By touching your dog's gum, you will also be able to tell if they are hydrated or not. Typically, a dog's gum should be very slick and wet when you run your fingers over it. If you feel your dog's gum is sticky or dry, this could be an indication that something is amiss.
If your dog's gum appears to be dry, pale and bloodless, you should take them to the vet immediately.
But What Does This All Mean?
Now that you have a better idea of what to look out for, let's take a look at what the different colours of your dog's gum could mean:
Blue Gums: If your dog's gums look blue, this could mean that there is not enough oxygen circulating in your dog's blood supply. However, this can also be an indication of things such as pneumonia, heart failure, pulmonary thrombosis and other respiratory-related issues.
Pale pink/white gums: A pale gum could be a sign that there is a lack of blood in that area or lack of haemoglobin's. A pale gum could also be a sign of anaemia or blood loss, blood clotting, kidney disease, shock, bloat, hypothermia, or even poisoning.
Bright cherry red: A bright red gum could be a sign that your dog has been exposed to toxins, is overheating, has high blood pressure, or is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Slightly red: This could be an indication that there is a slight irritation in your dog's gums, such as gingivitis. This could also be irritation from chewing on a new toy or even a gum infection.
Yellow: If your dog's gums are yellow, this could be an indication of anaemia, liver issues, and even destruction of the white blood cells.
Growths on the gums: If you see small growths on your dog's gums, it could indicate an oral tumour, which is common in dogs. Sometimes these growths are benign, and some might disappear over time. However, some growths can be cancerous, and these can cause serious health issues further down the line. There are viral diseases such as papillomatosis, which can spread between dogs and cause fleshy warts to form on your dog's gum.
Bleeding Gums: If you see that your dog's gums are bleeding, you should take them to the vet. A bleeding gum can indicate issues such as stomatitis, gingivitis, and growths that cause sensitive gums.
Treating Gum Problems
Treating gum problems will all depend on the diagnosis. If your dog is struggling with respiratory conditions, standard treatment would be oxygen therapy, whilst a pale pink gum could indicate your dog needs a blood transfusion. The best thing would be to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible to get them the help they need.
Preventing Gum Problems
Similar to the treatment, not all problems are preventable. However, some may be very manageable. Prevention is always better than cure, so here are some precautions you can take to avoid certain conditions from arising in the first place.
Blue gums: There isn't much that you can do for dogs that suffer from a breathing condition or lack of oxygen. However, if you're looking to prevent more severe issues down the line, avoid smoking around your dog.
Red: If you sense that your dog is overheating, try and help them reduce their body temperature. When taking them for a walk, something like the Rosewood Chillax Cooling Collar, for instance, is a great option! If you notice that your dog is struggling to cool down, place a fan close to their bed to get some fresh air flowing while they relax.
Bleeding gums: A bleeding gum could indicate poor oral hygiene, so be sure to brush your dog's teeth at least once a week. If you're not sure how to do this, here's a video to help.
Remember, prevention is always better than cure, so try your best to take these measures to ensure your dog doesn't develop health issues in future. Understanding how to tell if your dog is sick will mean the difference between a quick treatment or potentially overlooking what could be a life-threatening condition.
Please note that this blog is not meant to diagnose your pet, and is for educational purposes only. If you believe your dog might be sick, take them to the vet immediately.