Let’s cut to the chase. If you’re reading this because your dog’s gums are pale, yes, it is an emergency.
Now, yes, different breeds have differently colored gums. My dogs’ gums are very dark, mostly black. Other breeds have gums that are straight pink.
Become familiar with what your dog’s normal gum color is.
Pale gums are gums that are lighter than they normally would be. Gums that are any other than normal color signal a serious problem. When in doubt, check other mucus membranes.
Gum color changes
Bright or dark red gums can indicate heat stroke, fever, severe infection, poisoning, smoke inhalation, or abnormal levels of red blood cells, which can be caused by dehydration, chronically low blood oxygen levels or bone marrow disease.
Blue or purple gums indicate a lack of oxygen, which can be caused by heart failure, poisonings, or respiratory problems.
Yellow or orange gums (i.e., jaundice) are typically associated with liver disease/jaundice or red blood cell disorders.
When I see pale gums, the first thing I’m thinking is anemia.
Anemia means an insufficient amount of red blood cells. Insufficient amount of red blood cells means not enough oxygen for the cells and organs.
“You know how they say that all you need is love? Oxygen is pretty important too.House MD
Low enough supply of oxygen = game over. Without oxygen, cells start the die. The brain is most vulnerable to a lack of oxygen.
While the urgency might depend on how pale the gums are, how long would you want to wait?
How pale do the gums need to get before you’d notice? How lethargic and sick-looking would your dog have to look before you’d even look at the gums? What are the chances things would improve on their own?
What can cause anemia?
Anemia can be caused by:
- loss of red blood cells such as from trauma, clotting disorders, tumors or heavy parasite infestation …
- destruction of red blood cells such as with autoimmune disease, poisoning, certain infections or cancer …
- insufficient red blood cell production such as from severe chronic kidney or liver disease, autoimmune disease, cancer …
Pale gums can also be a sign of shock.
The most common of shock in dogs is low blood volume due to bleeding whether internal or external. However, other conditions that can lead to shock include:
- heart failure
- severe allergic reaction
- nervous system damage
- excessive fluid loss
- airway obstruction
Depending on how deeply in shock your dog is, their gums might turn pale, blue, almost white or mottled.
Naturally, you dog will not become critical without other signs such as:
- significant breathing changes
- glazed eyes
Further information: Treating shock after an injury
Check the gums
Checking gum color is one of the first things I do when my dog looks ill or lethargic as one of the measures of urgency. Pale gums mean that your dog’s life is hanging by a thread.
If I found pale gums on my dog, I am on my way to a veterinarian immediately.
What Can Your Dog’s Gums And Tongue Tell You?