Examining a pet’s gums is similar to looking at a human’s coloring. Since dogs and cats have very little exposed skin, the gums are a perfect area to examine for coloration. The animal’s skin color is representative of a few factors such as oxygenation, blood pressure and red blood cell count.
Examine the pet’s gums for the following:
- Gum Color — Your pet’s gums should be pink, though the “normal” shade varies from animal to animal so it’s important to assess your pet when he’s healthy so you’re familiar with his typical gum color. Color is indicative of many things such as circulation, red blood cell count (e.g., a cat with anemia will have very pale gums) and oxygenation (a pet who is not getting sufficient oxygen will turn pale, then grey or blue.) Excessive billirubin (due to jaundice, which can be associated with liver abnormalities and blood-related abnormalities) can cause the gums to turn yellow in color.
- Capillary Refill Time –– Press firmly on the pet’s gums for approximately five seconds. Then, release the pressure and look at the area where you applied pressure. It should be significantly lighter than the surrounding skin and it should return to normal coloration within less than one second. If the skin does not lighten when you press it or if it takes more than a second to return to normal, this is a sign of a serious problem such as abnormal blood pressure (a sign of a serious problem.)
- Hydration/dehydration — Are the pet’s gums slick and wet? A dehydrated cat’s or dog’s gums will be dry and sticky.
Unfortunately, some cats and dogs have large patches of black or dark-colored skin on their tongues, cheeks/lips, gums and this makes it extremely difficult to assess the pet’s coloring. But, in most cases, the animal will have an area of pink skin in or around the gums.
The gums should have a light, bubble gum pink to salmon color. Cats tend to have lighter gum color, whereas dogs tend to have a much greater variation in terms of gum color. This is one reason why it’s extremely important to be familiar with your pet’s coloring before a problem arises.
It’s important to remember that you should never check a pet’s gums immediately after they wake up from sleeping (or if they’ve been resting quietly for a long period of time.) The reason? Circulation slows during sleep or a long period of rest, so the pet’s gums will be paler-than-normal for a minute or two after waking. Conversely, don’t assess a pet’s gums after exertion or exercise, as the circulation will be higher than normal. You want to examine your pet’s “baseline.”
For more pet care tips, stop by PetLvr’s archives.