Healthy vs Unhealthy Dog Gums (And What to Look For)

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 10 min read

Healthy vs Unhealthy Dog Gums (And What to Look For)

We’ve been talking about dental health 🦷 a lot recently, and for good reason. Poor dental health contributes to your fur baby’s overall health.

But before your pup 🐶 starts having issues with their teeth, you’re likely to see problems with their gums.

In today’s post I go an inch deep and a mile wide to discuss dog gums. I’m going to talk about what healthy gums look like and we’re going to run through the gamut of visual changes in unhealthy gums.

As usual, I’ve included a great educational video📽️. If your dog 🐕has swollen gums, this video is for you. Your dog may be suffering from a condition known as Gingival Hyperplasia. While generally not considered an emergency, it could turn into one. Find out why by watching the video.

If you’re looking for more trustworthy and research-based dog parent education content, you in the right place. I’ve sprinkled some great related articles 📚throughout the post. Enjoy!

Let’s dig in. Shall we?

What Do Healthy Dog Gums Look Like?

There are three good indicators of healthy dog gums: color, texture, and smell. Since healthy gums are a sign of overall healthy dogs, it's a good idea to be familiar with your dog's gums because changing colors and patterns as well as more obvious symptoms (that I'll get into below) can be signs of gum problems.

Healthy Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Color

Let’s start with the color. Dog gums are a lot like people's gums, in that they're a vibrant pink ranging from bubblegum to salmon in coloration.

That's just an average, though!

Some dogs have darker or lighter gums, and some are even spotted or mottled with darker colors. When you know your fur baby is healthy, get a good look at their gums so you know what healthy gums look like.

Read More Dog Wellness Guides

You might even consider taking pictures if they have patterns, just so you have something to compare them to later.

Pro tip: If your dog has darker-colored gums normally, it can be hard to tell when they change colors, so a lot of the advice in the later part of this post will be difficult to apply. Instead, pull down their inner eyelid a bit and look there; the pink mucous membranes around the eye will give you a better indication of health.

meat based dog treat yummies for the tummies by Momma Knows Best_2

Texture

The second important aspect in terms of healthy gum appearance is texture. Your dog's gums should be mostly smooth. There will be little ridges around the base of the teeth, but otherwise, they'll be pretty flat.

There should be no deep redness, swelling, or lumps and bumps in unusual places, all of which can be a sign of something going wrong.

Texturally, your dog's gums are considered healthy when they're moist and slippery, just like your own gums. If they dry out, swell up, bleed, or are sticky or gooey, there's probably something wrong. Again, more on that later.

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Read More Dog Wellness Guides


Odor

Then there's the odor, or rather, lack of it. Dogs are full of all sorts of crazy smells, from the standard dog stench to weirder things like frito foot or breath that smells like fish.

A healthy mouth and gums, though, should be relatively odorless. There will always be some smells if they've just recently eaten something (especially something gross that they shouldn't have), but there shouldn't be anything truly foul going on.

Dog Brushes_by Toe Beans

How Often Should I Check My Dog’s Gums at Home?

You should check your pup’s gums once or twice a month. Have your dog face you, lift his/her lips and examine the gums and teeth. And while you are at it, take a whiff.

What Do Unhealthy Dog Gums Look Like?

Now let's talk about what unhealthy gums look like. It's easier to talk about each distinct appearance and issue, what it means, and how to treat it, so you can browse by coloration or issue.

Bright Red Gums

Danger level: Moderate to Severe

Bright Red Gums Image by Toe Beans

If your dog's gums are bright, cherry red, it might be time to worry. If they've been playing or active recently, it might be fine, but the color should fade back to pink in just a few minutes. If it lingers, bring your pup to the emergency vet.

Bright red gums can indicate a variety of problems including heatstroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, exposure to a toxin, hypertension, shock, and a few kinds of poisonings.

Splotchy Red Gums

Danger level: Moderate to Severe

Splotchy Red Gums Image by Toe Beans

Splotches on your pup's gums can be a sign of a coagulation problem. If your fur baby has splotchy gums, check their ears and belly where there isn't much or any fur and look for similar splotches. Coagulation problems are considered an emergency and need treatment ASAP.

styptic powder for dogs by Momma Knows Best_organic

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Red Along the Gumline

Danger level: Minor

Red Along the Gumline Image by Toe Beans

If your fur baby has mostly healthy pink gums but they have a line of redness along the ridges where the gums meet the teeth, this is probably gingivitis.

Gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, so if you don’t already, invest some time in an oral care routine by brushing your pup’s teeth.

So long as there are no signs of an abscess or infection, you're generally fine to keep an eye on red gums around the teeth until their next regular vet appointment.

Pale, Gray, or White Gums

Danger level: Moderate to Severe

Pale Colored Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Pale gums are often caused by anemia.

“Anemia is not a specific disease but rather is a symptom of some other disease process or condition. Anemia is a medical term referring to a reduced number of circulating red blood cells (RBCs), hemoglobin (Hb), or both.” - VCA Animal Hospitals

A wide range of diseases can lead to anemia, but so too can consuming something toxic. Consumption of garlic or onions for example can lead to anemia over several days after consumption. If you know or suspect your pup has consumed garlic or onions, contact the pet poison helpline.

Dog toys by toe beans_2

Read More Dog Wellness Guides

Trauma can also lead to pale gums. If your fur baby has been seriously injured or ran into something too hard, you'll obviously want to bring them in for a professional look ASAP.

If they don't seem obviously injured on the outside, pale gums can be a sign of internal bleeding and definitely requires immediate attention.

Yellow Gums

Danger level: Severe

Yellow Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Any time a body part goes yellow, the first thing you should think of is liver problems.

The liver is the body's natural filter and helps get rid of waste products and toxins, and when it isn't functioning right, the bile it uses will build up in the body.

If your fur baby's gums are yellow, check their lips, the whites of their eyes, and bits of their ears; it will all probably be turning somewhat yellow too.

All of this is a sign of something called icterus or jaundice, which is very dangerous. Bring your doggo into the emergency vet ASAP to get the issue looked at.

Dog wrinkle Balm_ by Momma Knows Best

Blue or Purple Gums

Danger level: Severe

Purple Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

When gums go purple (a combination of natural redness and the blue of disease) or turn blue or blue-gray entirely, you've got a severe problem on your hands. Bring your fur baby to the vet immediately.

When your pup’s gums are blue it’s called cyanosis and is an indicator of low oxygen levels in the blood. Blue gums can be caused by a variety of different problems, heart disease, heart failure, breathing problems including pneumonia and asthma, dangerous levels of hypothermia, choking, and some kinds of poisoning all cause this, and all need immediate treatment.

Sticky/Tacky and Dry

Danger level: Moderate to Severe

Sticky and Dry Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Sticky, tacky to the touch, or dry gums, can be a sign of dehydration. This can be temporary, like if they've been doing a lot of running around and playing and are panting a lot.

Always give your pup access to plenty of water (especially on hot days) and let them rest, then check again. If their gums are back to healthy, moist pink, they're fine.

It's important to note that dehydration has degrees of severity, and with each level, additional symptoms. If your pup is also vomiting, not eating or drinking, or has diarrhea, they might have more severe dehydration and will need to be seen by your vet.

Smelly Gums

Danger level: Minor to Moderate

Examining Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Smelly gums come from bacteria in the mouth and scientifically is called halitosis. It's just bad breath caused by plaque on the teeth and bacteria in the mouth.

It's usually not eminently dangerous unless it's very advanced, which falls under other categories here too. Other odors can be more dangerous, but you can check my post on doggo bad breath up above for more details.

Swollen Gums

Danger level: Minor to Severe

Swollen Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Swelling in the mouth is pretty common when it's just the gums. In fact, you've almost definitely experienced it yourself.

All sorts of dental problems, including gum disease and gingivitis, lead to swollen gums. This is also usually accompanied by localized redness in the area, as noted above.

Unless you're dealing with a broken tooth, a bad abscess, or another severe dental injury, you're generally fine to just keep an eye on this and bring it up at your next vet appointment. More severe injuries to the jaw or teeth might demand a more immediate trip to the vet, though.

The main risk here is if the swelling is more than just the gums. If the tongue and cheeks or other parts of the mouth are swollen, it can be something more like an allergic reaction, which can obstruct breathing and cause other problems. Call your vet, evaluate how bad it is, and follow their instructions.

Dry dog shampoo woman holding stinky dog by toe beans

Bleeding Gums

Danger level: Minor to Severe

Bleeding Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

A little bit of bleeding in the mouth is really common. The mouth has a ton of capillaries and not a lot of protection, so it's pretty easy to injure.

With dogs, particularly if they have gum disease, the gums are likely to bleed when they're poked with anything slightly sharp, and even something like hard kibble can get caught or scrape a swollen bit of gum and cause some bleeding.

Playing with toys and fetching those exciting sticks can also rub already irritated gums causing them to bleed.

Dog Grooming Books by Toe Beans

Generally, this will be very little bleeding and will stop right away. It can sometimes look like a lot if you have a drooly doggo because a little bit of blood can tint a lot of drool, but that's still nothing to be immediately worried about.

If your pup has gingivitis that has reached the point of bleeding gums, have a chat with your veterinarian as it’s likely time for a good dental cleaning.

Any more significant amount of blood in the mouth is likely due to injury or thrown up blood, which is a veterinary emergency.

Overgrown Gums

Danger level: Moderate

Overgrown Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Overgrown gums may look distressing, but it's often not actually all that dangerous, at least not right away. The condition is known as gingival hyperplasia and the cause is not fully understood.

Some dogs have genetic issues that cause unchecked growth of the gums, slowly over time. It is also linked to some medications and resolves after discontinuation.

Check out this educational video about gingival hyperplasia. The video explains what gingival hyperplasia is and provides a dog parent’s perspective after their dog had the surgery to repair.

Gingival Hyperplasia in Dogs | 2:06 Min Video | by Hometown Animal Hospital & All Pets Dental

Receding Gums

Danger level: Minor to Moderate

Receding Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

Receding gums is a sign of gum disease, usually the advanced gum disease known as periodontal disease, but they can also be caused by stomatitis.

It’s a sign that more focus on oral health is necessary for your fur baby, but it's not always an urgent problem.

The main risk is that receding gums can lead to tooth loss and gum infection that can spread to the bone, and weaken the jaw, cause bone diseases, and otherwise cause more systemic problems.

Usually, aggressive oral care will be required and not a true emergency vet trip, but you should call your vet to get the next available appointment.

Lumpy or Bumpy Gums

Danger level: Minor to Severe

Lumpy Dog Gums Image by Toe Beans

There are all kinds of lumps and bumps that can show up on the gums and in the mouth. These range from hard to soft, small to large, static to growing, and much more.

The problem here is that with so many causes, it's impossible to generalize.

These lumps can be small irritations and bumps that go away on their own, warts that need a little treatment, cysts that are completely harmless, or just weird oddities that don't mean anything.

On the other hand, they could be infected abscesses that require immediate treatment or cancerous tumors that have much worse repercussions.

Lumps are a big part of why it's important to keep an eye out on every part of your fur baby, to catch and monitor these issues early.

Closing Thoughts

Your dog’s gums can be a good indicator of your dog’s overall health. As discussed throughout this post, many different health issues and conditions can be spotted and caught early with a quick and periodic home gum inspection.

Checking your dog’s gums regularly at home is one of the lowest hanging fruit at every pet parent’s disposal to help their dogs stay heathy and live happy and fulfilled lives. It doesn’t take much, and it goes a long way.

If you notice changes in your pup’s gums it never hurts to give your vet a call to ask for advice.

Is this something your pup should be seen for immediately? Can it wait until their next appointment? Always remember to include details about the onset and any other symptoms your pup might have so your vet can give more informed advice.

Do you have any non-medically-urgent questions about your fur baby's gums? If so, I'd be more than happy to help you out however I can! Just leave me a comment down below, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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