Dogs use their tongues for lots of things. They use them for eating and drinking, to cool themselves down, and for licking anything that comes into view. But what does it mean when a dog seems to have trouble keeping its tongue in its mouth? Should you be worried? Ultimately, it depends. In some dogs, a hanging tongue might be nothing more than a harmless, cute little trait. In others, it could be a sign of a health problem. If you’re concerned about your dog sticking its tongue out, here’s what you need to know. Some dogs stick just the tip of their tongue out. Others let the entire thing hang out of their mouth. Either way, here’s why they might be doing it.
Humans sweat, dogs pant. If it’s hot and your dog is sticking its tongue out, grimacing, and breathing heavily, it’s likely that they’re trying to cool down. Although panting itself is harmless, overheating and dehydration aren’t. Move your dog into a cooler, shaded area, and make sure they have access to clean water. This will help lower their body temperature and keep their hydration levels up.
Dogs can get as easily excited as we do. Confronted with something exciting, they often pant and stick their tongue out. The response is similar to how we sweat more when we experience emotional extremes. If your dog only sticks its tongue out when something exciting or stressful is happening (a friend visiting, a visit to the doggy park, a new treat to try, etc), it’s likely to be a perfectly natural, normal response and nothing to be worried about. However, it pays to be mindful if it only happens in certain situations (meeting a new dog, for example), and if it seems to be accompanied by signs of stress, rather than excitement. If your dog experiences stress around even the friendliest of dogs, you might need to consider introducing behavioral modification techniques to help manage their response.
When dogs go into a state of deep relaxation, their whole bodies can go limp and floppy, including their tongues. If your dog’s tongue only emerges while they’re in the middle of a satisfying belly rub, it’s likely to be a sign of sheer contentment.
They Have Hanging Tongue Syndrome
Hanging Tongue Syndrome is exactly what it says on the label: the tongue hangs out of the dog’s mouth. Any breed can develop the syndrome, but it’s particularly common among brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, in which breeding standards have led to abnormalities of the jaw bone and a tongue that’s too large for the mouth. Dogs with overbites and underbites are also prone to developing the condition in later life.
As puppytip.com notes, Hanging Tongue Syndrome is usually the result of genetics and isn’t symptomatic of any greater health problem. However, it can occasionally come about as a result of severe dental disease. If the lower teeth fall out or are extracted, the tongue loses its natural support and may ‘pop’ out of the mouth and hang to either the side or the front of the mouth. It can also occasionally be a symptom of a neurological problem, in which case you’re likely to notice other out-of-character behaviors.
While Hanging Tongue Syndrome is rarely indicative of a health problem, it can cause certain problems you need to watch out for. The number one issue that can arise from the syndrome is a dried out tongue. Ensure your dog has constant access to fresh water and check their tongue regularly for signs of swelling, bleeding, or cracking. If you notice any changes in the color of either the tongue or the gums, consult a vet as soon as possible – it could be a sign of an infection or even frostbite, both of which are common in dogs with Hanging Tongue Syndrome.
They’re Reacting to Medication
As Dogtime.com notes, the introduction of a new medication might be the reason behind a dog’s tongue sticking out. If your dog is exhibiting the symptom, either in isolation or in accompaniment with other physical changes, and has recently been prescribed a new course of treatment, you might have your answer. Let your vet know as soon as possible about the issue: they may need to adjust the dosage or switch to a different type of medication.
They Have Oral Cancer Or Other Masses
As wagwalking.com notes, the tongue is a prime target for oral tumors, many of which are malignant and require urgent treatment. Oral cancers can lead to the tongue sticking out from the mouth, as can papillomatosis, which are small bumps and warts caused by the papilloma virus.
They Have Severe Dental Disease
Dental disease is incredibly common in dogs. According to vcahospitals.com, over 80% of dogs over the age of three have active dental disease. In most cases, it’s symptomless. However, certain oral conditions such as glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), stomatitis (inflammation of the soft mouth tissues), and cheilitis (inflammation of the lips) can lead to symptoms such as the tongue sticking out. Other oral problems that can lead to the issue are caused by bacterial infections, viral infections, exposure to toxins, ingestion of foreign bodies, nutritional disorders, metabolic dysfunction, and immune diseases.
What To Do if Your Dog’s Tongue is Sticking Out
Most of the time, a dog who sticks its tongue out is nothing to worry about. If it’s an occasional habit with a definite cause (eg, excitement, heat, or relaxation) and if it’s not accompanied by any other symptoms, then it’s likely to be perfectly harmless.
However, as the issue can occasionally have a more insidious root cause, it’s wise to book an examination with a vet as soon as possible. Your vet will conduct a thorough examination of the dog’s mouth to check for any signs of growths or masses (you can check your dog’s mouth to an initial degree at home, but a vet will be able to spot any warning signs or issues to a greater extent). They’ll also be able to determine if any metabolic, immune-mediated, neurological, or nutritional disorders are causing the problem. Once the problem has been identified, they’ll determine the appropriate treatment and regimen.