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Why does my dog have black gums?

The color of your dog’s gums lets you know whether they are healthy or not. While your dog’s mouth isn’t a place you may want to explore or see, it is important to know what color your dog’s gums normally are. If the gums have changed color, then there might be something wrong with your pooch. 

If your dog has black gums, why are they black? What does it mean? 

You’ll find out everything you need to know about black gums in dogs and what you need to do right here. 

Why Does My Dog Have Black Gums?

There are a few reasons your dog could have black gums. Some causes aren’t anything to worry about, while others are more serious and require a visit to your local vet.  

Reason 1: They Are Born With Black Gums 

Some dog breeds naturally have black gums. These breeds have a natural black pigment called melanin in their mucus membranes that cause their gums to be black, mottled, or spotted. The black gums may look blue or purple because various tones are a possibility, and it depends on the light in which you look at your dog’s dark gums. 

Their tongues may also be black or bluish. These breeds also typically have darker lips and snouts. 

So when you first get your puppy or adult dog, check their gums so you’ll be able to tell if there are any color changes later. Look inside your pooch’s mouth when they yawn, when they play with a toy, or when you feed them a treat. 

Dog Breeds That Naturally Have Black Gums 

These are most of the dog breeds that may naturally have black gums or black spots in their mouth: 

  • Akita 
  • Airedale terrier 
  • Australian shepherd 
  • Black Russian terrier 
  • Chow chow
  • Dalmatian 
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German shepherd 
  • Golden retriever 
  • Irish setter 
  • Komondor 
  • Labrador retriever  
  • Mastiff breeds 
  • Newfoundland 
  • Pit bull breeds 
  • Portuguese water dog 
  • Pumi
  • Rottweiler
  • Shar Pei 

Reason 2: Periodontal Disease 

If you see black spots on your dog’s gums, then it could be a sign of gum disease or periodontal disease. Gum disease is one of the most common diseases in dogs. Studies found that nearly 90% of dogs under 2 years of age have had some kind of gum disease. 

Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria damage your dog’s gums, bones, and more. Genetics like those in brachycephalic dog breeds, malocclusion (a maligned bite), and poor dental hygiene all contribute to this disease. This is why preventative dental care is so essential. 

Most of the time, periodontal disease is only diagnosed and treated at later stages. Stage 1 of gum disease is gingivitis, which is when your dog’s gums are inflamed. Other symptoms include bleeding gums when you brush your dog’s teeth or they chew their food, a smelly breath, and discoloration of their gums. 

The symptoms of periodontal disease gets worse from stage 2 to stage 4, with the last stage (which is number 4) being the most severe. Your dog will have rotting teeth, loose teeth, and missing teeth at this stage.        

Reason 3: Gum Inflammation

While gum inflammation, also called gingivitis, is part of periodontal or gum disease, it is worth noting it on its own here. When your pooch has gingivitis, you’ll see a black line on their gums just above or below their teeth.

Your dog’s gums will be inflamed, and there might be other color or textural changes to their mouth too (even if these are just at the beginning stage). You might see lots of plaque buildup, stained teeth, swollen gums, and possibly loose teeth. 

Reason 4: Oral Cancer 

Oral cancer could be another reason why your dog’s gums turn black or black spots appear. However, not all oral cancers are characterized by discoloration. 

The most common types of oral cancers found in dogs are squamous cell carcinoma, fibrosarcoma, and melanoma. The cause of these cancers is difficult to determine because various environmental and genetic factors could be at play. 

There are some dog breeds that have a higher risk of developing oral cancer, and these dog breeds are German shepherds, chows, miniature poodles, Weimaraners, and boxers.   

The symptoms of oral cancers can be lumps or swelling of the gums or roof of your dog’s mouth, pigmented gums (darker in color than usual or black), bad breath, bleeding gums, oral pain, swollen face or jaw, weight loss, lack of appetite, loose teeth, and trouble chewing.  

Reason 5: Oxygen Deprivation 

Your dog may also have dark purple or blue gums that actually look black due to a lack of oxygen in their blood. There are several reasons why they may lack sufficient oxygen, but the main reason is congestive heart failure. 

When the heart is placed under strain, it struggles to pump enough oxygen, leading to cellular death as cells become starved for oxygen. This results in the bruising or purple-bluish color that looks black. 

Reason 6: Acanthosis Nigricans 

Acanthosis nigricans is a skin disease that isn’t well documented in dogs. The disease is characterized by a dark pigmentation that affects the dog’s skin, including their gums. 

You’ll typically see that your dog’s skin will darken in friction areas like their groin and armpits. The skin becomes raised and hairless, and it thickens to feel leathery. Your dog will be itchy in these patches of skin. The darkened areas can also be inflamed and painful. Greasy and bad-smelling areas on these patches can occur. 

One type of acanthosis nigricans is heredity and most commonly found in Dachshunds.  

The second type of this disease is caused by an underlying condition like obesity, mange, hypothyroidism, a bacterial infection, a yeast infection, or allergic dermatitis. 

Why Would My Dog’s Gums Become Black Suddenly?

There are a few reasons why your dog’s gums may suddenly turn black. These include illness and oxygen deprivation, poisoning, and let’s not forget … they may have eaten something that stained their gums (like when my dog ate my licorice sweets or found a bottle of black food coloring). 

To ensure your dog stays healthy, check their gums frequently to ensure their gums don’t suddenly turn black or any other unhealthy or abnormal color. 

Should My Dog’s Gums Be Black?

Unless you have a dog breed whose gums are naturally black, then no, your dog’s gums should not be black or have black spots. If you see that your dog’s gums have discolored – changed to black or another color – it is recommended to contact your vet and take your dog for a check-up. Your vet can diagnose what is wrong with your pooch and prescribe the right treatment. 

What to Do About My Dog’s Black Gums?

What action you need to take when your dog has black gums depends on the symptoms you see that cause the gums to discolor. 

If your pooch has natural black gums and no other symptoms like bad breath, bleeding gums, and more, then you know your dog’s mouth is healthy. Continue practicing good oral hygiene and take your dog for regular check ups at the vet. 

If you see other symptoms or your dog’s gums are naturally black, then what you do depends on those symptoms:

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): 

Stage 2: 

  • Also a professional dental cleaning session under general anesthesia, including deep cleaning of abnormal periodontal pockets and application of antibiotic gel 

Stage 3: 

  • 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 loose teeth 

Stage 4: 

  • 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 a 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 that the vet will prescribe. 

The vet will also discuss what you can do at home to help your dog. This could include regularly brushing and rinsing with special toothpastes or formulas, as well as chew 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 the cancer cells. 

Treatment for Oxygen Deprivation 

If your dog has been diagnosed with oxygen deprivation due to congestive heart failure, their 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 the pulmonary pressure. Once the heart beats normally, your dog’s heart will be able to pump oxygen to the cells again. 

Treatment for Acanthosis Nigricans 

The hereditary type of acanthosis nigricans isn’t curable. If the disease is caught in the early stages, your vet can prescribe treatment to help your dog better manage the condition and stop its progression. If the skin disease isn’t caught early, or it progresses further, then more aggressive therapy is required. 

In the second type of this skin disease, where it is caused because of 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.