My Dog Has a Purple Tongue

By MarĂ­a Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. Updated: October 10, 2019
My Dog Has a Purple Tongue

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In human's we associate lips or a tongue turning purple with extreme cold. However, whenever there are some dog breeds which naturally have purple or purplish tongues, it can be difficult to determine whether the dog's tongue color is a symptom of a problem or simply their natural hue. A dog's mouth, including their teeth, gums and tongue are actually good indicators for a dog's general health, even if there aren't any obvious behavioral signs of a problem. This is especially so when a dog's usually pink colored tongue has turned blue.

At AnimalWised we look at what might be the problem if your dog has a purple tongue. This will range from having no issues at all to being a symptom of something which requires immediate veterinary treatment. To do this we look at the symptoms, causes and treatment of a blue tongue in dogs.

You may also be interested in: My Dog's Tongue Is Turning Black

Dog tongue color chart

As we state in the introduction, a dog's tongue color can say a lot about a dog's overall health. This is because they all have mucus membranes which are a good indicator of the state of the dog's blood circulation. If the dog doesn't naturally have a purple tongue or blue tongue, then it should be some shade of pink with few exceptions. This is why we can look at the following dog tongue color chart to help us know the state of an individual dog¡s health:

  • Pink tongue: this is the most common color, since a healthy dog presents both gums and tongue with a pink color. In some breeds, we can find black or blue spots. This is usually due to some genetic history of their parents crossing with blue tongue dogs.
  • Pale or white tongue: occasionally, there are health changes that we will see reflected in this color. Thus, if dogs have pale gums, they are likely to suffer from anemia, leukemia, poisoning, some internal bleeding or even a disease caused by parasites such as ticks. In any case, a white tongue in dogs usually indicates a decrease in the number of red blood cells in our dog. It is essential to immediately take a dog with a white tongue to the veterinarian.
  • Red tongue: a red tongue in dogs may also be accompanied by swelling or black spots. It is usually a manifestation of melanoma in dogs, a type of cancer. As the disease progresses the dog's tongue will grow further due to the accumulation of cancer cells.
  • Purple tongue: unless your furry friend is a blue-tongue breed, a purple tongue in dogs is usually related to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia). The coloration caused by hypoxia is known as cyanosis. Heart or respiratory disease are usually the cause of hypoxia, again making it imperative you take the dog to a veterinarian. In severe cases when the dog has collapsed, the tongue and gums can turn from purple to grey. They may also be cold to the touch.

One of the rare instances where change in a dog's tongue color is benign is when they have eaten something which has caused it. For example, if your dog has eaten some beetroot, then they a purple will be nothing to worry about. However, if they have eaten something potentially toxic, this is a different case. If you observe your dog's tongue color has changed, then it is best to take the dog to the veterinarian.

Dogs with a purple tongue

There are a few breeds of dog which possess a naturally purple tongue. The tongue may vary in shade with some appearing very blue or others dark enough to appear black. The most famous dog with a blue tongue is perhaps the Chow Chow, although many Shar Pei dogs may also have this color in their mouths.

The Chow Chow has various legends ascribed to the reason for this unique tongue and gum color. However, as with all physical characteristics, the actual reasons are genetic. A mutation has lead to the color difference, something which is passed on for various reasons. This is why it is possible to see mongrel or mixed-breed dogs with a blue tongue.

When your dog has a purple tongue, but they are not a purple tongue dog breed, then we need to be very careful. Physical trauma can lead to patches of bluish purple on a dog's tongue due to bruising, something which is usually accompanied by swelling. A swollen tongue can be a serious asphyxiation hazard, so we need to be careful.

As we have said before, a blue tongue may also be due to a lack of oxygen circulated by blood. For whatever reason, when a dog is unable to breather properly they will not be able to get enough oxygen and a purple tongue can result. This is known as hypoxia and severe cases can result in a blue or purple tongue and mucus membranes. Immediate veterinary attention is required.

My Dog Has a Purple Tongue - Dogs with a purple tongue

Causes of purple tongue in dogs

Although a lack of oxygen can be the case when your dog has a purple tongue, the reason a dog is unable to breathe will vary. The acuteness of the symptom will depend on the severity of the underlying cause. Some may be passing issues which will relieve themselves naturally. Others will need immediate medical attention. The most frequent causes of a purple tongue in dogs are:

  • Tiredness in cold water: even dogs accustomed to swimming can suffer due to fatigue and be short of breath. Drowning or being trapped in an icy lake can generate a bluish tongue.
  • Foreign body: choking can lead to a lack of oxygen, something more common due to the presence of a foreign body that gets lodged in the throat. The dog will be restless, gasping for air, keep the neck extended or, eventually, will fall unconscious.
  • Smoke inhalation: as with humans, asphyxiation can lead to a lack of oxygen. Smoke from a fire can lead to asphyxiation, but this doesn't mean a house is burning down. If a dog is trapped in a ventilation system, this can starve them of oxygen and cause their tongue to go purple.
  • Pneumothorax: a less common cause of a dog with a purple tongue is a pneumothorax, which is caused by an abnormal collection of air in the chest. This can be caused by various issues, even blunt force trauma. If we know our dog has been in an accident and their tongue starts to turn purple, seek veterinary help immediately.
  • Poisoning: some poisonings also result in hypoxia and a purple tongue in dogs (cyanosis), as do laryngeal edema or anaphylactic shock.
  • Pleural effusion: this causes respiratory problems and can lead to a purple tongue. It is caused by the accumulation of fluid or blood in the chest. It has multiple causes, such as heart, liver or kidney problems, as well as tumors, pneumonia, trauma, etc.

Black tongue in dogs

Heat stroke is another emergency that can change the color of the mucous membranes in an affected dog. It is produced by a high elevation in body temperature. In the most severe cases, a black or dark grey tongue can be observed in dogs. In this state, the dog is already in a state of shock and it will be difficult to save him.

Lingual strangulation causing purple tongue in dogs

In addition to the previous reasons why your dog has a purple tongue, we can also see something called a lingual strangulation. Essentially, this is cutting off the oxygen to the tongue. This is most often caused by the dog trying to swallow a long piece of material such as string. As the dog tries to swallow the material, it wraps around the tongue and cuts off blood and, therefore, oxygen supply. A lingual strangulation is an emergency as it will eventually lead to the death of the tissue.

Fortunately, a lingual strangulation is very rare. Still, when a dog eats anything they shouldn't it provides a choking hazard, something a purple tongue can still indicate. Even if the material is swallowed, it can lodge itself in the digestive system and provide other life threatening problems such as bloat. Even if the damage isn't acute, some sort of gastrointestinal problem is likely.

My Dog Has a Purple Tongue - Lingual strangulation causing purple tongue in dogs

Treatment of purple tongue in dogs

There are few reasons a dog has a purple tongue which is not a veterinary emergency, apart from dogs which naturally have a purple or blue tongue. This is the same if it has turned blue or, especially, black or grey. Taking the dog to the nearest clinic is essential. If your dog can't breathe and you are far from a veterinarian, you will need to start CPR. If the dog does not have a heart beat, they will have suffocated to death.

If you are unsure of how to administer first aid on dogs, you should speak to your veterinarian. They will be able to detail exactly what you need to do and may even have some relevant research materials to help.

Now you know the reasons your dog may have a purple tongue, you may want to look into other reasons your dog will have respiratory trouble. Our article on dog breathing difficulties might bring you some help, but always go to a veterinarian when unsure.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Has a Purple Tongue, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • Carlson and Giffin. 2002. Practical canine veterinary manual. Madrid. Editorial el Drac.

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