When thinking about dogs and their cuteness, we think of wagging tails, wet doggy kisses, and funny whiskers. We rarely pay attention to tongues, but yet dogs’ tongues are amazing. Dogs use their tongue for plenty of functions from the already mentioned slobbery kisses through drinking water to cooling down.
What is more, some dogs have hanging out tongues that make them look a bit esthetically challenged, but this only adds to the cuteness.
In some dogs, only the tip of the tongue is hanging out and in others the entire tongue falls from one side of the mouth.
The esthetically challenging hanging out tongue is generally cute and funny. However, sometimes it can also be a red flag, indicating something more serious is going on.
Why is My Dog's Tongue Hanging Out in an Odd Way?
Following are several reasons why a dog's tongue may be hanging out. Some of these reasons are natural, while other may be suggestive of a medical problem. It is worth mentioning that some dog breeds normally cannot hold their tongues inside their mouths due to abnormal facial anatomy.
Reason Number 1 – Panting
Sometimes we underrate our sweating abilities. Sweating can be nasty and stinky, but it is an efficient cooling mechanism. So, imagine how hard it is for dogs to keep their body temperatures normal when they cannot sweat.
Because of their inability to sweat, dogs can only cool themselves down through panting. The mechanism is similar – evaporation. However, when we sweat our entire body surface contributes to the evaporation. When dogs pant, only the tongue contributes.
To compensate for the small evaporating surface, dogs need to pant and eliminate as much water as possible. Panting can be defined as shallow and short breathing.
Therefore, when a dog is panting it is only natural for the tongue to be hanging out. So, simply put, panting is a physiological (normal) reason for hanging tongue in dogs.
Reason Number 2 – Relaxation
A dog can sit or lay with its tongue hanging out if it feels extremely comfortable and relaxed. A tongue hanging out is the canine expression of pure relaxation.
Just imagine the following scenario – your dog was playing outside, then ate its meal, and now gets to stretch with you on the couch. Who would not be relaxed and content?
If your dog seems to fit in the described scenario, you have nothing to worry about, the hanging tongue is a sign of immense bliss.
Reason Number 3 – Tonguing
Tonguing in dogs is the canine equivalent of the Flehmen response other mammals exhibit. Tonguing is a common behavior and involves a so-called “air tasting.”
Tonguing is particularly common in males who exhibit this behavior when sniffing after a female in heat.
In most mammals, the Flehmen response is characterized with lip curling and head raising. However, dogs add another component to the behavior – sticking their tongues out in an effort to catch as much of the scent as possible.
Reason Number 4 – New Medication
Introducing new medications to your dog can result in an array of side effects and the hanging out tongue can be one of them.
If your dog’s tongue starts hanging out as soon as introduced a new medication or supplement, talk to your vet.
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Sometimes the hanging is transient and will resolve in a couple of days. However, other times, it may be disturbing and causing discomfort. In such cases, ask your vet for an alternative medication.
Reason Number 5 – Oral cancers
Sadly, the tongue is prone to developing tumors, and more often than not, they are malignant. Sometimes, the tongue can develop benign cancers known as papillomatosis (caused by the papilloma virus). They manifest in the form of warts or small but protruding bumps.
In both cases, the newly formed masses may take too much space in the mouth and literally push the tongue out.
Sometimes, the dog may willingly hold the tongue out in an effort not to touch them, especially if touching them is painful.
Reason Number 6 – Oral Inflammation and Dental Issues
Inflammatory and painful processes in the mouth are often accompanied with an unusual hanging of the tongue.
Common oral problems include – glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), stomatitis (inflammation of the soft tissues of the mouth), gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and chelitis (inflammation of the lips).
Dental problems, such as tartar build up, plaque formation, and dental fractures can all cause your dog’s tongue to stick out.
Reason Number 7– Hanging Tongue Syndrome
Hanging tongue syndrome is a condition that manifests with hanging of the tongue as a result of the dog’s lack of control over the tongue muscles.
Hanging tongue syndrome can develop as a result of congenital defects, neurological damage, or a traumatic event.
Since the tongue is constantly exposed it is very prone to injuries and cracking followed by bleeding.
The exposed tongue is also at risk of undergoing dehydration, sunburns, frostbite, and last but not least, increases the dog’s risk of contracting infections.
It goes without saying that dogs with hanging tongue syndrome cannot eat or drink properly and are incapable of grooming themselves.
A dog with hanging tongue syndrome will show the following signs and symptoms:
- Dry and swollen tongue
- Thickening of the tongue
- Cracking and bleeding on the tongue
- Bad breath
Brachycephalic and toy dog breeds are more likely to develop hanging tongue syndrome because their tongues are too long in proportion to their heads and mouths.
The treatment depends on the underlying reason and the severity of the hanging and lack of control. In milder cases, it may be enough to manage the situation by keeping the tongue moisturized and assisting the dog during feeding and drinking.
In more severe cases, the vet will recommend surgical resizing of the tongue – a procedure known as glossectomy.
What to Do if My Dog's Tongue is Hanging Out?
If your dog’s tongue is hanging out, assess the situation. If it is panting or comfortably snoozing, you have nothing to be worried about.
However, if there are other accompanying symptoms of the hanging frequency increases, you need to schedule an appointment with your trusted vet.