If your dog isn’t eating, bleeding externally, lethargic, or otherwise “outwardly” ill, it is easy to see and take action. How many times (if at all) do dog owners look into their pooch’s mouths and see if there is any discoloration or other changes?
If your dog’s tongue is a different color from what it naturally is, it is an indication that something is wrong. A white tongue could indicate various diseases and may be a symptom of underlying health conditions.
Here’s a guide to what could be wrong with your dog if they have a white tongue and what you need to do. We also briefly look at what is a dog’s natural tongue color in case you are curious.
Why Is My Dog’s Tongue White?
There are a few reasons your dog’s tongue may be white. Some reasons are more serious than others, but every one deserves swift action.
Important! If your dog’s tongue is suddenly turning white, it could be because your dog:
- Has ingested something poisonous
- Is bleeding internally (if there is no outward bleeding)
- Is severely anemic
- Is in septic or anaphylactic shock
A dog’s tongue that suddenly turns white means one thing, no matter the reason, call your vet now. Take your dog in for an emergency appointment so they can get the help they desperately need. It’s time to save your dog – NOW!
The other reasons (and some of the above in more detail) that your pooch’s tongue is white are:
Reason 1: Shock
Shock may cause a white tongue because of lowered blood pressure. Inadequate respiration and even cardiac distress may follow.
There’s various causes that may indicate shock:
- Septic shock from an acute, recurring, or chronic bacterial infection like endocarditis, pneumonia, a surgical wound infection, a bite, or a urinary tract infection
- Anaphylactic shock from an allergy
If your dog has diabetes, cancer, adrenal disease, or any other illness that affects the gastrointestinal tract lining, it can cause shock.
Reason 2: Anemia
If your dog is anemic, it could be life-threatening if not treated as soon as possible. Anemia may be the result of malnutrition, a gastrointestinal bleed, tick-borne diseases, trauma, cancer, infectious diseases, or an immune-system disorder.
An anemic dog has the following symptoms:
- White tongue
- Pale gums
- Blood in their urine, stool, and/or vomit
Reason 3: A Chronic Condition
Chronic conditions that affect circulation like liver, cardiovascular, gastric, and respiratory diseases and leukemia can cause pale gums and a white tongue.
There’s also a chronic autoimmune disorder, called immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, that attacks your pooch’s red blood cells. This results in a pale tongue and gums.
Reason 4: Infections or Injuries
There are various injuries or infections that cause white spots to appear on your dog’s tongue. One of these is cauliflower tongue (or oral papillomatosis), which is a wart virus. The good news is that while it spreads fast, it usually resolves on its own.
White spots on your dog’s tongue may also be caused by burns, ulcers, or sores. Ulcers on a tongue is usually a sign of an underlying disease like hypothyroidism, periodontal disease, kidney disease, immune system disorders, or cancers. Sores on the tongue occur because of an injury that ulcerates when infected.
Reason 5: A White Coating
If there’s a white coating on your dog’s tongue, the actual tongue tissue is turning white. Candida yeast, also called yeast stomatitis or thrush, can cause such a white coating. However, a Candida yeast infection is quite rare in dogs. Should your dog have thrush, it’s a sign that their immune system is seriously compromised.
What to Do If My Dog’s Tongue Is White?
What you should do if your pooch’s tongue is white depends on the reason it’s white. For all of these, consulting with your vet and taking your dog for treatment is a given.
Treatment for Shock
Apart from a white tongue, your dog may also have a rapid pulse, be cold and clammy, dizzy, and weak. Symptoms worsen the longer your pooch’s brain doesn’t get sufficient oxygen so it’s imperative to call your local vet immediately.
Don’t give your dog anything to eat or drink, unless advised to do so by your vet. Keep your pooch still.
Let your dog lie on their right side and raise their lower back by putting a folded blanket underneath them to encourage blood flow from their heart to their brain. Keep your dog warm and get them to the vet as soon as possible.
Treatment for Anemia
If your dog is anemic, your vet needs to make the diagnosis by taking a blood sample. If the anemia is life-threatening, your pooch will need a blood transfusion after blood typing has been performed.
The underlying disease that causes the anemia needs to be identified and treated. Treatments, in general, can range from corticosteroids, antibiotics, surgery, vitamin K1, or anthelmintics.
If your pooch is in good health, the prognosis is generally good. However, if the anemia is caused by autoimmune diseases, cancers, severe trauma, or toxins, the prognosis, unfortunately, is not so favorable in most cases.
Treatment for a Chronic Condition
The treatment for your dog’s chronic condition will depend on the particular disease. In general, treatment may be medication, surgery, dietary changes, or changes in your home environment to make things easier for your dog.
You may also look into dog supplements, acupuncture, physical therapy, or more alternative and holistic treatment options like herbal medicine, chiropractic care, reiki, hydrotherapy, or therapeutic ultrasound therapy.
Talk to your vet about the best care for your dog to make their life as livable and pain-free as you can and help them manage their condition in a humane way while alleviating the emotional stress involved in caring for your dog.
Treatment for an Injury or Infection
If your dog has a tongue injury or infection, take them to the vet. Your vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics or topical therapy to treat the infection if there is something present or to prevent infection in case of an injury. You may need to rinse your pooch’s mouth with an oral antiseptic solution for a few days or weeks.
If there is an underlying cause of the infection, that needs to be identified and treated too.
Treatment for a White Coating
If your pooch has a white coating on their tongue, take them to the vet who will do a biopsy to confirm the presence of Candida colonies. A urine analysis or ear swab can also show the presence of yeast or Candida.
Treatment for thrush means improving your dog’s immunity. Your vet will prescribe treatment to treat the Candida and then the underlying condition, like diabetes, needs to be better controlled to prevent a white coating forming on your dog’s tongue in the future.
What Color Should a Dog’s Tongue Be?
Depending on your dog’s breed, their tongue should naturally be pink or black (or purple, blue, or gray depending on the light conditions).
Some dog breeds that have non-pink or black tongues are the:
- Shar Pei
- Chow chow
- Korean Jindo
- Tibetan mastiff
- German shepherd
- Border collie
- Australian shepherd
- Irish setter
- Golden retriever