Why are my dog’s gums red?

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Why are my dog’s gums red?

A dog’s gums are more than just keeping your dog’s pearly whites in place. Their appearance provides a peek into your pet’s health and well-being at any given time. Your dog’s gums are also prime indicators for the presence of dental disease. Keep reading to learn what is normal for your dog’s gums and when you should be worried.

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What do normal gums look like?

Normal, healthy gums have a light pink hue. They should be slightly moist and shiny. Your dog’s gums are important indicators of several issues that may be present. For example, dehydration causes a dog’s gums to feel tacky or dry.

When you press lightly on the gums, they will normally turn pale but will return to their normal light pink color within two seconds. This is referred to as “capillary refill time” or “CRT”. A CRT that’s more than 2 seconds may indicate dehydration, poor circulation, or abnormally low blood pressure.

Normal Variations in the Color of Your Dog’s Gums

Sometimes, it’s normal for certain dog breeds to have dark-colored gums. A classic example is the Chow Chow. Their black gums are brought about by the abundance of melanin (a dark pigment) in their mouths.

It may also be normal for some dogs to have gums with a mixture of pink and black. Any dog with a black hair coat or skin may tend to have dark-colored gums. Chances are, this color variation is normal, especially if it’s been present since puppyhood.

Abnormal Gum Colors

There are several abnormal variations in the color of the gums. Depending on the issue that’s present, the gums may turn pale, bright red, blue, muddy-brown, yellow, or even splotchy. This article will tackle the possible reasons why a dog’s gums may turn red.

Being aware of these abnormal color variations of the gums, and what they could mean, can help you decide if there’s an immediate need to have your dog examined by your vet.

Common Causes of Red Gums

Red gums in dogs can mean several important issues. It could be a red flag for gingivitis, heatstroke, sepsis, toxicity, or increased destruction of platelets.

1. Gingivitis

Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) causes a dog’s gums to become very bright red. It’s the first and only reversible stage of periodontal disease.

Gingivitis may be caused by a bacterial infection from the plaque that has accumulated in the teeth and is usually a result of poor oral hygiene. Bacteria can enter into the gingival sulcus, the small space between the teeth and gums, where they can trigger an inflammatory reaction. The reaction between the bad bacteria and the body’s immune system leads to the release of enzymes that break down the gum tissue and cause inflammation.

Without appropriate treatment, the bacterial infection can spread to surrounding tissues that support the teeth and eventually pave the way for tooth loss. It can also increase the potential for heart, kidney, and liver disease when bad bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream and reach vital organs of the body.

While gingivitis in dogs is primarily associated with bacterial infection, a poor diet can also be an important predisposing factor. Some dogs, such as toy breeds, are more prone to gum disease because of their crowded teeth.

Signs of Gingivitis

The gums of dogs with gingivitis appear red and swollen along the gum line, where the gum meets the teeth. The inflamed gums tend to bleed when teeth are brushed. Bad breath (halitosis) is also typically present. In advanced cases of gingivitis, receding gums, loose teeth, and pain may also be present. There is also an excessive buildup of plaque and tartar.

How to Prevent Gingivitis in Dogs

Observing a good home dental routine is the best way to protect your dog from gingivitis. Daily brushing of your dog’s teeth is highly recommended to prevent plaque buildup and to remove bad bacteria.

Ideally, tooth brushing should be introduced as early as possible, making sure that these sessions are positive experiences for your pet. Always use toothpaste that’s specially formulated for dogs. Your toothpaste may contain ingredients that can upset your dog’s stomach or even be toxic.

Even if your dog’s teeth and gums appear white and healthy, your pet will need professional dental cleaning at least once a year.

How Gingivitis is Treated

Gingivitis is the only stage in periodontal disease that can be reversed. Treatment starts with professional teeth cleaning to remove plaque and tartar deposits and to polish the teeth. Without plaque and tartar, there won’t be spots that will favor bacterial colonization and multiplication.

Professional teeth cleaning generally requires a dog to be placed under general anesthesia for the procedure. This will ensure that the dog won’t feel any pain and will be under less stress. It will also be safer for the veterinary team to do their job when the dog is under anesthesia.

2. Heat Stroke

A dog with very red or bright pink gums may be suffering from hyperthermia or heat stroke. It’s characterized by a body temperature that is higher than 103° F (39.4°C) which is accompanied by other symptoms such as dry or sticky gums, excessive panting, lethargy, increased heart rate, disorientation, vomiting and/or diarrhea, collapse, seizure, or coma.

The bright red color of the gums is a result of the body trying to keep its core temperature down (cooler) by increasing the flow of blood to the dog’s extremities.

Heatstroke is often caused by exposure to excessive heat from the environment. Without prompt medical intervention, the body’s major organs will shut down and the dog may die when the critical body temperature is reached at about 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C).

3. Bruising/Petechiation

If your dog’s normally pinkish gums suddenly have bright red splotches or appear to be purple, this may indicate petechiation (bruising). Signs of bruising on the gums may indicate a defect with the normal clotting mechanism of the body.

A very common cause is toxicity after ingesting rat poison. Certain rat poisons contain ingredients that interfere with the body’s clotting factors which can eventually lead to bruising and other toxicity symptoms.

Sometimes, a dog may suffer from immune-mediated thrombocytopenia in which the body’s immune system attacks its own platelets, causing platelet loss or destruction.

4. Sepsis

A dog suffering from sepsis or a blood-borne infection may also have bright, brick red gums.

Read more:

My Dog Has A Broken Tooth. What Should I Do?

Tooth Root Abscesses in Dogs

My Dog Has A Broken Tooth. What Should I Do?

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Published: 3/18/2022

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