My Dog Has Pale Gums - Causes and Treatment
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Some clinical symptoms of disease are more obvious than others. For example, bleeding is a visceral sign that something is wrong, even if it can be due to a wide range of issues. Other symptoms may be more subtle, but this does not make them any less important. In fact, some of the most serious pathologies can have few observable signs or even be completely asymptomatic. Discoloration of the gums is a clinical symptom in dogs that cannot be ignored. When your dog's gums are white or a pale discoloration, you will need to ensure you determine the cause.
At AnimalWised, we stress that only a veterinarian is qualified to diagnose the reason my dog has pale gums. However, we look at the common causes and treatments of white gums in dogs so you can have an idea of what to expect.
The color of healthy gums in dogs
Certain symptoms are more localized than others. If your dog has a small cut on their paw, it doesn't likely mean they have a systemic disease. However, if this wound was to become infected and their blood poisoned, it would affect their entire organism and threaten their wellbeing. In these cases, we can see more generalized symptoms.
Gum discoloration in dogs is a generalized symptom which has many possible causes. The type of gum discoloration is important as not all processes will result in the same effects on the mucous membranes of the dog's oral cavity. Not all dogs will have the same color of healthy gums. Most will have a pink coloration, but some breeds have darker gums. This is the case with the Chow Chow which is known for a blue tongue and dark gums.
When gum discoloration occurs, the specific changes can point to certain causes. While there is some overlap, the following are the different types of gum discoloration in dogs and their significance:
- Yellowish: also known as jaundice in dogs, this coloration usually appears when there are liver problems. We may also see yellowing of the dog's skin and eyes in advance cases.
- Red: it is important to determine the difference between healthy pink and unhealthy bright red gums. Red gums can be due to overheating, as well as the initial stages of septicemia, poisoning and shock. If we see inflammation of the gums and bleeding, it is possible an oral problem such as stomatitis in dogs.
- Gray: this tone is present in serious shock and collapse of the dog's systems. It will not present on its own, but you will see other symptoms and the dog may even lose consciousness.
- Stippling: these are red or purple dots known as petechiae which are small hemorrhages that can occur in liver failure, trauma and infections, among other causes.
- Bluish: occurs when there is a lack of oxygen and is a condition known as cyanosis. We need to ensure the dog does not have naturally purplish or black gums.
- White or place: we will explain the frequent causes of pale gums in dogs in the following sections.
The color of a dog's gums can tell us a lot about their circulation. There is a common test which we can do on human skin where we press the skin and see how long it takes it to return to its normal color. This duration is known as capillary refill time (CRT), but it is something we cannot do on most dog skin due to the presence of their fur. For this reason, we can press the dog's gums to test their capillary refill time.
If the CRT of dogs is longer than 2 seconds, it implies a circulation problem. If it is longer than 3 seconds, the dog may be entering state of shock. Learn more with our article on the meaning of pale mucus membranes in dogs.
Why does my dog have white gums?
Gum color is largely due to quality of a dog's blood. The paleness that canine gums can present is usually caused by anemia. When an insufficient amount of red blood cells are present in the blood, the gums can appear pale or even white when their levels are sufficiently low. This will not need to be seen with a capillary refill test. The dog's gums will be visibly white or pale without having to touch them.
Discoloration in the dog's gums can also see the animal is in a state of shock. In these cases, there will be other concurrent symptoms which will worsen as the state of shock develops. These can include nausea, walking in circles and eventually a loss of consciousness. In sufficiently severe cases, it can become lethal.
Learn more with our article on anaphylactic shock in dogs which details a type of shock provoked by allergic reaction.
Pale gums in dogs due to anemia
We have seen that anemia is the main reason why a dog has pale gums. Although all anemia refers to a low red blood cell count, there are different types of anemia in dogs. The main causes of anemia are the following:
- Loss of blood: an internal or external hemorrhage can be behind the paleness of the mucous membranes. Sometimes this loss is small. but extends over time in a chronic pattern. This is the case with gastrointestinal ulcers as they develop over time. Similar problems can occur with both external and internal parasites in dogs, especially in puppies or immunosuppressed dogs. Different types of tumors in dogs can also cause bleeding.
- Hemolytic anemia: occurs when red blood cells are destroyed at a faster rate than usual. This destruction can be caused by immune-mediated problems in which the body attacks its own cells, but it can also be congenital or caused by infections. Such infections include babesiosis or leptospirosis. At rupture, the blood cell is divided into its components, bile and hemoglobin. In the most serious cases, this is capable of coloring the urine brown and the mucous membranes yellow. Sometimes the reaction to some medications is behind hemolytic anemia in dogs or neonatal isoerythrolysis in newborn puppies.
- Inadequate production of red blood cells: the formation of red blood cells can be disturbed in chronic diseases, such as those with the kidneys or liver. Likewise, the loss of iron due to chronic bleeding from gastrointestinal ulcers or severe infestations of blood-sucking parasites is another cause. Some drugs and tumors can also affect this production.
Learn more about how vital organs can affect the dog's organism with our article on the most common liver diseases in dogs.
What to do when your dog has pale gums
There are situations of serious risk to the life of the dog in which it goes into shock. One of the signs that occurs in these dogs is cold white or very pale gums. Some of the pathologies with risk of shock are acute abdominal torsion/dilation of the stomach or peritonitis. We may be first detect these problems if we feel the dog's belly is hard.
Various bacterial, viral and fungal infections can also cause a dog to have pale gums. These infections cause a reaction in the dog's immune system and can affect their entire organism. When the blood becomes infected, it spreads to the rest of the body, leading to potential organ failure and other irreversible processes.
In most cases, when the dog is in a significant state of shock, paleness of the mucous membranes will not be the most observable symptom. They will have other symptoms which can infer that the dog is in serious trouble and may be dying if they do not receive immediate treatment. They will need to see a veterinarian immediately.
When the dog's gums are pale, but they are acting normal it may not mean they have a veterinary emergency, but it cannot be ignored. They may have anemia, organ failure or various pathological processes which will threaten their health. Prompt intervention can help prevent irreversible damage to their organism, so they should also be taken to the veterinarian immediately.
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 Pale Gums - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Cardiovascular diseases category.