How Do I Check My Dog’s Gums?

Is your dog sick? Learn how to check your dog's gums! (Mary Van Der Byl Photo)
Is your dog sick? Learn how to check your dog's gums! (Mary Van Der Byl Photo)

Are you wondering “Is my dog sick?” If so, there’s a few things you’ll want to check on your dog – his temperature, his capillary refill time and his gum color. But do you know how to properly check your dog’s gums? It’s simple to lift up your dog’s lip and look at his gums, but do you really know what you’re looking for?

What to Look For When You Examine a Dog’s Gums

When you’re checking your dog’s gums, you’re going to look at three things:

  • Gum Color – Are the dog’s gums pink? Or are the gums pale or discolored?
  • Gum Surface – Are the dog’s gums slick and wet? Or are they dry and sticky?
  • Capillary Refill Time – How long does it take for the capillaries to refill with blood when you press on the dog’s gums with your finger?

How to Check a Dog’s Gum Color

So you’ll want to begin by checking the color of the dog’s gums. Normally, a dog’s gums should be pink; the precise shade of pink can vary from a light pink to a salmon color. It’s important to check your dog’s gums when he’s healthy so you know what’s “normal” for your dog as there is some natural variation in gum color.

A sick dog’s gums will be pale and white in color. The dog’s gums may also be discolored. This can indicate several different conditions or medical problems. Other abnormal gum colors include yellow (indicates jaundice), brick red (indicates heat stroke) or blue (indicates cyanosis).

If your dog’s gums are pale or discolored, this is a sign of a serious problem. A visit to the veterinarian will be required as soon as possible.

Do not check a dog’s gums after he’s exercised or just after the dog’s woken up; the dog’s gums will be pinker after exercise and paler after sleep.

How to Check a Dog’s Gum Surface

Checking the dog’s gums are a great way to determine if a dog is dehydrated. A dehydrated dog is usually a sick dog, as sick dogs tend to refuse food and water. The exception would be if the dog was unable to drink (i.e. the dog knocked over his water bowl and was without water for the entire day.)

A healthy dog’s gums will be wet and slick to the touch. A sick dog’s gums will be dry and sticky.

How to Check Capillary Refill Time By Checking the Dog’s Gums

Capillary refill time is a good indicator of blood pressure. A dog’s blood pressure may be abnormal due to shock, serious illness, dehydration, heart problems or other serious health problems.

To check capillary refill time, take your finger and apply pressure to the dog’s gums for about 3 seconds. When you remove your finger, the place where you applied pressure will appear pale.

Normally, it will take 1.5 seconds for a dog’s gums to pinken and return to after pressure is applied.

If a dog has low blood pressure, it will take longer than 1.5 seconds for the spot to return to normal. In extreme cases, you will apply pressure to the dog’s gums and you will see no change. This is a sign of a very serious problem that warrants an immediate trip to the veterinary clinic.

If a dog has elevated blood pressure, it will take less than 1.5 seconds for the gums to return to normal. This too is cause for serious concern.

A dog’s gums can tell you a great deal about his health. For more tips on how to handle a situation with a sick or injured dog, check out How to Handle Pet Emergencies.

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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