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The Fascinating Tongue of the Chow Chow

Chow Chow

What's more fascinating than a chow chow's tongue? Many of us already know that the tongue of the chow chow dog breed is of a distinct blue-black color. There are only a few animals on this planet with blue tongues. Among dogs, the chow chow and the shar-pei are the only two breeds known for featuring solid black-blue tongues.

In the rest of animal kingdom, giraffes are known for having a black, blue or purple tongue with a pink base, which according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, is supposedly meant to protect a giraffe's tongue from sunburns as they nibble on leaves.

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Then, there's the blue-tongued skink, a lizard from Australia, which has a blue tongue meant to scare away predators along with a hissing sound, according to the American Museum of Natural History, and finally, there are polar bears who are also known to sport a blue-black tongue which matches the color of their skin, which we don't normally get to see as it's covered in an immaculate white coat.

Luigi Borromeo - Bokeh the Chow

Luigi Borromeo - Bokeh the Chow

A Unique Feature

According to the American Kennel Club, the Chinese shar-pei and the chow chow are the only two dog breeds known to have a blue-black tongue.

In the chow chow breed, the standard calls for a tongue with the top surface and edges being solid blue-black, the darker the better.

The presence of a blue-black tongue in this breed is such a unique and critical identifying characteristic, that, should the tongue have its top surface or edges tinted in red or pink or have one or more spots of red or pink, it's considered a disqualifying fault.

"Edges of the lips black, tissues of the mouth mostly black, gums preferably black. A solid black mouth is ideal. The top surface and edges of the tongue a solid blue-black, the darker the better. Disqualifying Fault - The top surface or edges of the tongue red or pink or with one or more spots of red or pink" ~American Kennel Club

Naturally Born Pink

chow chow puppy

While the distinctive blue-black tongue of the chow is a distinguishing feature, what many might not know is that it isn't present at birth.

Chow chow puppies are actually born with a pink tongue just as any other dog! Indeed, just like Dalmatian puppies gain their spots later on, chow chow tongues gain their distinctive blue-black colors at around 8 to 10 weeks of age, explain Kathy Welsh; Anna Wallace; Vicki DeGruy with theThe Chow Chow Club, Inc.Welfare Committee.

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This color change occurs about the time the puppies leave the breeder to go to their new homes. Just in time for those new puppies owners to admire!

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Did you know? Interestingly, other than the blue tongue, the chow chow has unique teeth. According to the Chow Chow Breed Council of the United Kingdom, chow chow pups initially have 44 teeth rather than the regular 42 teeth all other dogs have. As the puppy teeth fall out though, chows end up having 42 teeth like any other dog.

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A dog with black-spotted tongue by torbakhopper

Exceptions to Rules

Just because a chow chow doesn't have a solid black tongue though doesn't necessarily make him less chow, it might just mean he's not cut for the show ring, but he still has the potential to make a great pet quality companion if raised in the right home.

Some chows may have small spots or splashes of pink on their tongues. Sometimes, pink spots may occur after an injury in the mouth or the color may dilute as the dog ages, especially in chows with diluted coat colors.

In the same way, just because a dog has some black on his tongue, doesn't necessarily mean he's part chow or part shar-pei (see picture on the right). There are actually severaldog breeds with black in their mouths.

Legend Has It...

Why chow chow have blue-black tongues in the first place still remains a mystery. There apparently is no genetic explanation for this difference yet, but several interesting legends and fables have been passed down for generations. According to one chow chow blue tongue legend, the Creator was painting the sky blue and as he was painting, a few droplets of blue paint spilled down. A dog started licking the paint, and soon, the chow chow's blue tongue was born, explains Susy Flory in the book: "Dog Tales: Inspirational Stories of Humor, Adventure, and Devotion."

For further reading:

Why do some dogs look like bears?

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