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Why Did My Dog's Gums Turn Black?

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Why Did My Dog's Gums Turn Black?

Many dogs are known for having the peculiar feature of black pigment in their mouth and often this is just normal pigment that the dog was born with, but what about when a dog's gums turn black? What can cause this? Normally, a dog's gums are pink except in certain breeds particularly the chow chow or Chinese sharpei, which are known for featuring bluish/black tongues and black, spotted, or mottled gums. If you noticed that your dog's gums have turned black, read on to discover some possible explanations, but see your vet immediately if your dog appears ill, has trouble breathing or the black gum area appears raised!

 Normal pigmentation seen in a dog. Notice how the blackened areas are not raised and how the gums are nice and pink.

Normal pigmentation seen in a dog. Notice how the blackened areas are not raised and how the gums are nice and pink.

Normal Pigmentation

As mentioned, it's not unusual for some dogs to have black areas in their mouth and in most of these cases, it's totally normal pigmentation. Black gums can therefore be something dogs can be genetically predisposed to have as it happens in some breeds, explains veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin.

Dog owners who report noticing their dog has black gums may have never really looked carefully in their dog's mouth or may have not looked at the gums for a while.

It could be that the last time they checked their dog was a puppy and now the dog has matured to the point where the gums are now black. The black color is due to melanin.

If this is the case, and your dog is happy and healthy, chances are you're dealing with just normal pigmentation that you never noticed before. Many dog have black in their mouth, but most of them retain a pink tongue (or partially spotted) unless the dog in question is a Chinese shar-pei or chow chow.

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More concerning is the presence of black gums in a dog whose gums were previously another color or in a dog who is not feeling well. So if your dog's gums were pink yesterday, and now they appear suddenly black, or your dog seems to appear ill, then this can be concerning.

A Matter of Aging

Gray muzzles need good dental care

Gray muzzles need good dental care

If the color change has appeared in an older dog, this color change may just be a matter of aging. As dogs age, it's not unusual for some color changes to happen and gums may turn from pink to black and this can also happen on their tongue, explains veterinarian Dr. Beth. 

Hyperpigmentation, is the medical term used to depict patches of skin that become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin.

It's important though to note whether the color change is localized to just an area or if it affects all the gums. If it's localized to a certain area, it's important to note whether the area is smooth or bumpy. If there appears to be a bump or mass in the area, this could be indicative of a tumor or cancer.

It's therefore important bringing the change to the vet's attention just to play it safe. Any type of changes in a senior dog are something you don't want to blow off as nothing.

"That is normal pigmentation that some dogs develop as they age...It is very normal in some dogs, like us getting age spots or grey hair. As long as they're not raised at all you're fine, but if you notice any raised area it's time to have a veterinarian examine her." ~Dr. Altman, veterinarian

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A Sign of Cancer

Any new raised area accompanied by color change as opposed to the rest of the color of the gums is something that warrants investigation by the vet.

The main concern here is the presence of cancer. In particular, melanoma which is not uncommon to occur in the dog's mouth. In this case, we are talking about the presence of a raised, black lesion rather than just a quiet pigment change that affects the dog's gums.

It's unfortunate, but oral melanoma is the most common malignant tumor affecting the mouth of dogs. Affected dogs typically show signs of bad breath, chewing problems, bleeding from the mouth or presence of a mass that presents as pigmented, however, in some cases the mass may appear fleshy-colored and non-pigmented, explains Dr. Gerald Post, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in internal medicine. If you notice a pigmented area in your dog's mouth that wasn't there before, see your veterinarian.

"If you feel there is any raised black areas or black growths you should have this assessed by your vet. Melanoma is a possibility if this is the case." ~Dr. Peter, veterinarian

Poor Oxygenation

Black gums in the same dog as above a couple of months later. This dog developed

Black gums in the same dog as above a couple of months later.

The color of a dog's gums can be an indicator of the dog's circulation. When the gums are receiving enough oxygen, they are a nice, bubble gum pink. Gums that assume a bluish/black tint can be a sign of poor oxygenation.

In this case, the color change is a very sudden development and it's often accompanied by other worrisome signs such as trouble breathing.

If you notice any difficulty breathing on top of the black gums, then get your dog to the vet ASAP. Your dog may be suffering from heart or lung disease or some red blood cell disorder, explains veterinarian Dr. Peter, so see your veterinarian immediately.

The picture of this dog with dark gums is the same one as pictured above. This is a picture taken just a couple of months later. This dog developed the black gums almost overnight and was suffering from poor oxygenation due to a red blood cell disorder. Notice the pale gums and pale tongue as well.

And What About a Black Gumline?

If the gums around a dog's teeth are black rather than the whole gums, there are chances that this could be a sign of gum disease. If your dogs gums are bleeding, regressing and there is a bad odor, it could be that the darkness to the gums around the teeth is caused by a case of gingivitis or bacterial infection that is taking place along the gum border, explains veterinarian Dr. Bruce.

In such a case, it's a good idea to have the vet check the area out and see what's going on. Your dog may need a dental cleaning to remove any tartar.

References:

DVM360: Oral melanoma: Improving dogs' survival

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