My Dog Keeps Sticking Their Tongue Out
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A dog's tongue is a muscle which performs various functions. As with any muscle, it works thanks to exercise. However, some of us may think our dog is exercising their tongue too much. Dogs stick their tongue out for various reasons and it is rarely arbitrary. Much of the time this is normal, especially if we consider the morphology of the dog. At the same time, there are some instances when a dog may stick their tongue out more than usual. You may have wondered if they are thirsty or too hot, but some may worry it is a sign of illness.
At AnimalWised, we explain why my dog keeps sticking their tongue out. We provide the reasons healthy dogs perform this behavior and when it might be a sign the dog is unhealthy.
Why do dogs stick out their tongues?
To help us understand why our dog is sticking out their tongue all the time, we need to understand a part of the dog's physiology known as anatomical dead space of the airways. The dead space is a section of their airways where gas exchange does not take place. The air occupying this space doe snot reach the alveoli. This dead space is especially important for canines.
Dogs lack sweat glands in their skin, except on their paw pads. Such a lack of sweat glands means they do not lose much heat via the evaporation of sweat, meaning they need to find other ways to regulate their body temperature.
Physiological cause: thermoregulation
The best way for a dog to lower their body temperature when hot is to pant, i.e. accelerated shallow breathing. When a dog pants their mouth is open and their tongue is sticking out. The reason their tongue is out is because it allows an increase of moisture evaporation from the upper respiratory tract and the elimination of body heat. This is because ventilation of the dead space is easier with the mouth open and tongue out.
To help with the evaporation of moisture to regulate temperature, an increase of salivation and vasodilation of the oral and respiratory tract mucosa. Although it may seem like your dog's respiration increases during panting, it is important to distinguish panting form hyperventilation. The air that is mobilized by this by this mechanism only circulates in the dead space, not in the lungs.
In short, panting is a physiological response in dogs that can be triggered by an increase in environmental temperature, physical exercise or intense emotions.
Pathological reasons dogs stick out their tongues
When panting does not have an obvious physiological cause like the ones we have discussed above, there may be an underlying disease that is causing it.
- Heat stroke: a serious increase in body temperature occurs due to excessive ambient temperature or very high humidity. With a humidity of 80%, the panting mechanism loses its effectiveness, since evaporation in the respiratory tract is hindered. In these cases, we can observe excessive and persistent panting, with the dog sticking their tongue out as if they were thirsty. Take a look at our related article to understand the progression of heat stroke in dogs.
- Fever: when the fever enters the decline phase (lowering), mechanisms are put in place aimed at lowering body temperature, including panting.
- Pain: any process that is causing pain or discomfort in your dog can cause panting.
- Obesity: being overweight can cause abnormal panting in your dog for various reasons. Excessive weight requires greater physical effort and can cause joint pain. In addition, excess adipose tissue favors an increase in body temperature.
- Laryngeal paralysis (congenital or acquired): this is a neurogenic alteration of the dorsal cricoarytenoid muscle that prevents the cartilages of the larynx from opening properly when breathing in to allow air to pass. One of the first signs that will appear with this pathology will be excessive panting.
- Breed predisposition: brachycephalic dog breeds such as the English and French Bulldog, Pug, Pekingese, Boston Terrier or Shih-Tzu are predisposed to suffer from Brachycephalic Syndrome. The conformation of the airways of breeds with an excessively short snout prevents proper ventilation through the nostrils. In turn, this forces these animals to breathe through the mouth. The Labrador and Golden Retrievers are not brachycephalic, but they have a breed predisposition to suffer from acquired laryngeal paralysis.
- Cushing syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism): panting is a symptom of this condition even in situations of rest. Although the specific cause is unknown, it appears that it may be related to weight gain, muscle weakness, diaphragmatic pressure caused by hepatomegaly and the direct effect of glucocorticoids.
- Anemia: red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. In anemic animals, there is a lack of oxygen in the tissues (tissue hypoxia), which stimulates panting and an increase in respiratory rate to try to compensate for the oxygen deficit.
Why does my puppy keep sticking out their tongue?
If your puppy sticks out their tongue a lot and you don't know why, these are the possible causes:
- Anxiety, stress, fear and phobias: puppies tend to have a particularly nervous and impulsive character. It is common for panting to appear in new situations which cause insecurity. This is heightened if there puppy has had a poor socialization period.
- Congenital laryngeal paralysis: mainly in breeds such as Bouvier de Flanders, Siberian Husky, Bull Terrier or Dalmatian.
In addition, any of the causes mentioned in the previous section may cause panting in a puppy. It will be especially important to prevent heat stroke in puppies, as their thermoregulation system is less efficient than in adult dogs.
What to do if my dog sticks his tongue out a lot?
First of all we need to consider whether the dog sticking out their tongue is part of their normal breathing mechanism. There is a difference between a dog sticking out their tongue a lot all of a sudden and a behavior they have carried out all their lives. If your dog is a brachycephalic breed or a breed with a predisposition to panting, then we need to determine if the problem is pathological.
If you are ever in doubt as to why the dog is sticking their tongue out excessively, you should take them to a veterinarian. They will achieve the diagnosis and administer the correct corresponding treatment. Such treatments are likely to include:
- Heat stroke: the most important thing is to prevent it from occurring by avoiding direct exposure to the sun during the hottest hours of the day, providing fresh water and giving access to shaded areas. Under no circumstances should you leave your dog inside a car in summer, as it is one of the main causes of heat stroke in dogs. It requires immediate veterinary attention to avoid the development of disseminated intravascular coagulation, circulatory shock, multi-organ failure and death of the dog.
- Fever or pain: in both cases it will be necessary to determine the cause that is producing them in order to treat them.
- Obesity: providing a diet appropriate to the age, breed and physiological state of our dog, as well as ensuring a regular exercise pattern, will be the keys to avoid becoming overweight.
- Laryngeal paralysis: whether the pathology is congenital or acquired, the treatment is surgical.
- Breed predisposition: the maintenance of breed standards that respect animal welfare above physical appearance should be the basis of responsible animal husbandry. Therefore, animals with anatomical defects that have a direct impact on the health and well-being of the animal should not be selected as breeders.
- Cushing syndrome: it will be treated with trilostane (if it is a pituitary Cushing) or by adrenalectomy (if it is an adrenal Cushing).
- Anemia: the treatment will vary depending on the type of anemia that the animal presents.
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 Keeps Sticking Their Tongue Out, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
- Cunningham, J. G., & Klein, B. G. (1999). Thermoregulation. Veterinary Physiology (pp. 639-650). Elsevier Saunders.
- García, A. (2018). Control and regulation of body temperature. Veterinary Physiology (pp. 1015-1027). Editorial Tebar Flores
- Nelson, R. W., & Couto, C. G. (2010). Small animal internal medicine . Elsevier