When a dog opens his mouth, many pet owners are surprised to find that he has unusually colored gums. Instead of the healthy-looking pink flesh above the teeth, gums can be grayish, yellowish or even black. Does this mean the dog is unwell, or has some severe dental hygiene issue to be concerned about?  Not necessarily. Learn below what you can discover about the condition of your dog’s gums simply by their color, and what this means for your pet.

Capillary Refill Test

First of all, we would like to note that some breeds are born with black, or pink-and-black gums, which is perfectly normal for that specific breed. If you are consistently brushing your dog’s teeth, and giving him dentally-safe toys and dog chews that are designed to promote health gums, tongue and teeth, then your pooch is probably fine. However, other gum colors can indicate serious health concerns.

Conduct a basic capillary refill test on your dog. While he is lying down, pry open the dog’s mouth with your fingers.  Hold your index finger down firmly over the dog’s gum for a few seconds, then when you remove your finger, the gum should be white (free of blood cells). In less than two seconds, the space should come back to a normal healthy pink/salmon color.  If it takes longer than a few seconds to fill up, or is not pink, you should see to hydrating your dog immediately, and should call your vet to determine your dog’s condition and health.

Here is what the pigment of a pup’s gums could mean

Bluish/Purplish (or dark gray) gums:  This generally indicates that the dog is not getting sufficient oxygen and that he may have respiratory issues such as asthma or pneumonia, etc. He also might have a low body temperature, low blood pressure or heart disease.

Yellow gums: When there is a toxin buildup in the body due to a damaged or failing liver, the gums will have almost a yellowish tint to them. A dog with yellow gums might also be anemia (iron deficient) or have a low count of red blood cells.

Bright Red gums: This can indicate inflamed or infected gums, overheating heightened blood pressure, or toxin exposure (via poison ingestion of carbon monoxide). Moderately red gums usually signify gingivitis, scratched or agitated skin, or a topical infection of some kind.

Pale Pink/Grayish gums: If your dog’s gums are very pale pink, gray or white, the situation is much more serious. The dog could have internal bleeding, heart failure, poisoning, shock, kidney failure or blood clotting and should see a medical professional right away.