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Hey, it’s Ash again with yet another story. A long time ago on this blog, I told a story about a friend of mine who was looking for a shelter mutt to adopt. She did end up finding one, and her new dog, Charley, fit right in from day one. It was a great choice on her part, and I’m always happy to see shelter dogs getting a new lease on life.
But recently my friend called me with an interesting question. They were getting ready to move to a new city, and at their new home, certain dog breeds were banned. One of those was the Chow, and my friend was in a bit of a panic. “Ash,” she said, “Charley has black spots on his tongue just like a Chow! Do you think they’ll assume he’s Chow? The shelter told us he was probably a Lab mix.”
Last update on 2018-10-15 at 19:25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
It’s a common assumption to think that all dogs with spotted tongues are part Chow. It’s also pretty common for dog owners to have never come across this trait before, and to worry when they see it. Have you ever seen a puppy with a black spotted tongue? If you never met a Shar Pei or a Chow before, your first reaction may have been worry! After all, it’s not the most common characteristic in dogs to see black spots on the tongue. But rest assured, this is a simple trick of melanin, like a person with freckles, and not any medical issue to worry about.
This characteristic is often seen in Shar Peis and Chows, it’s true. In fact, many people have spread the myth that if a dog has black spots on their tongue, they must have part Chow or part Shar Pei in their blood somewhere. However, that’s not necessarily true. In fact, I’ve met quite a few Spaniels with this characteristic as well. This is sometimes disappointing to hear for owners who thought they could identify their mutt by his tongue. Unfortunately, that adorable shelter rescue might be any number of things. If you really want to know what your mixed breed dog is, you’ll probably have to try a DNA testing kit.
I’m not saying it’s not possible that Charley could be part Chow. The Chow is one of the oldest breeds we have on record, and they have always had high population numbers. It could be that many dogs are part Chow, somewhere way back in their genealogy. But what I am saying is that I wouldn’t determine a dog’s breed by the appearance of their tongue, and no self-respecting vet would either.
Here’s an interesting fact: except for the Shar Pei and the Chow, the two stereotypical breeds known for this characteristic, a large portion of these 35 breeds come from western Europe. It’s the very fact that these breeds have clearly distinct bloodlines and breeding histories that make it hard to pin down why dogs have black tongues. There’s no unifying factor among these breeds that would convince anyone that there’s a shared detail. So what that means is that we honestly have no idea why dogs’ tongues get black spots. They don’t seem to be related to any kind of survival means, they don’t seem to correlate to a specific environment, and they don’t seem to have anything to do with a dog’s typical genetics.
It seems that at the end of the day, we’ll all just have to settle for “they’re like freckles” as the best answer for why do dogs have spotted tongues. Here are 35 of the many breeds that are known for getting those spots on their tongues:
If your dog is one of these breeds, or is a mutt with one or more of these breeds in their bloodline, it’s likely that you may see some tongue spots. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t, though. Just like freckles, it’s hard to know who’s going to get them and who won’t. But they don’t impact a dog’s ability to taste or pant, so you have no reason to worry either way.
As you can see, a huge variety of popular dog breeds can develop black spots on their tongue. And while we’ve accepted that these are just pigmentation spots, many owners want to know if there is ever any reason to worry at all. If your dog has always had black spots on their tongue, the answer is no. These are just like spots on their coat, and should be seen as a unique feature of your dog and nothing more.
However, if your dog has suddenly developed black spots where there never used to be any, this could be cause for alarm. Dogs can develop melanoma or carcinoma, both of which present as spots on the skin. Additionally, within your dog’s mouth, they could develop oral cancer that appears as darker pigmented masses. If you do see new black spots developing in your dog’s mouth, you should see a vet.
Melanoma is the most common type of tumor that dogs will develop in the mouth. Many of the breeds listed above, such as the Chow, Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retrievers, and Gordon Setters, are all prone to melanoma. These tumors often have very fast rates of spreading, so it’s a good idea to get to a vet as soon as you see the signs. The common signs of melanoma include:
Melanoma is easy to treat, and more than 85% of all dogs with melanoma recover fully. Most dogs get an injectable medication, though chemotherapy is sometimes considered for serious cases of melanoma.
Squamos cell carcinoma is a type of tumor that is less common in dogs. Only 5% of all oral tumors in dogs turn out to be carcinoma. They are slower to spread but harder to treat, and are often found in breeds like Basset Hounds, Collies, and Keeshonds. The signs of carcinoma include raised ulcers and nodules in the mouth – they often look like warts in the mouth. They could be pigmented or not. Other signs include similar symptoms as melanoma. Treatment for carcinoma includes surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Unless diagnosed early, the chance of curing carcinoma is pretty slim. About one year after most carcinoma treatments, 85% of dogs who underwent treatment have passed away.
The chance that a random black spot in my dog’s mouth could be carcinoma convinces me to check up on their oral health very frequently.
If you read the section above and thought to yourself “Now I’m supposed to be watching my dog’s tongue for spots?”, you are not alone. I wouldn’t want to try to wrestle Janice and Leroy into letting me check out their tongues for just that. But there’s one easy way to get a quick peek at the tongue from time to time, that happens to be very important for a dog’s health.
Brushing your dog’s teeth and caring for their oral health is a huge part of having a healthy pet. Poor oral health can cause anything from painful gums to oral cancer. Most dogs need regular bushing at least weekly. The earlier you can start training them to sit for this, the better. You don’t have to have anything fancy to get started. A simple C.E.T. Pet Toothbrush. is more than enough.
It is very important that you don’t use your own toothpaste for your dog. Fluoride is poisonous for dogs, so they don’t need to share your Crest. Instead, find a pet toothpaste that works for dogs. You can usually find flavors they’ll like, such as CET Poultry Toothpaste.
You may also want to incorporate a dental rinse into your oral health care routine, to help wash away particles and get to the nook and crannies you couldn’t.
Be sure to feed your dog dry, crunchy food. Soft food encourages plaque buildup, because there are no abrasive food particles to brush away plaque naturally. You should also consider giving your dog chew toys or synthetic bones. These help the teeth and gums stay strong. Rawhide chews are another popular option for this part of oral healthcare in dogs. Just remember that chewing on chew toys is not enough! Dogs need their teeth brushed to get the best oral healthcare.
In addition to a regular brushing routine, it’s usually a good idea to set your dogs up for an annual oral health check up with your vet. They may suggest a professional cleaning to knock off the crust at the gum line, for example. At this time, they’ll also watch for any new spots on the tongue that could be more than just pigmentation.
The best way to ensure that your dog allows you to keep up with their oral health is to start as young as possible. A puppy who learns to sit for teeth brushing time will become an adult dog who allows you to do what you need to do to keep them healthy. And you also need to get started very young for another reason: inspecting for black spots. If you don’t know if a spot has been there all the dog’s life or not, you’ll be at a slight disadvantage. Take advantage of the puppy stage by becoming very familiar with your dog’s characteristics. You’ll notice potentially dangerous changes much faster in the future.
Last update on 2018-10-15 at 19:25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
In the end, Charley didn’t turn out to be part Chow. His DNA results said that he was a Labrador and Setter mix, and his family was able to move with no problem at all. He still gets to hang out with his cute spotted tongue out no problem at all.
Spotted tongues are typically just a variation on the cuteness factor of dogs, like freckles in humans. If a puppy has had black spots all their life, these are just a design feature, and don’t mean anything else. In fact, we don’t even really know why dogs have these, and the wide range of dogs that are prone to them doesn’t help us narrow down what may cause this characteristic.
However, if a dog who has never had a black spot suddenly develops one, it’s time to see a vet. Some very serious medical conditions could be the cause behind suddenly developing black spots on the tongue.
The best way to ensure that your dog doesn’t have any medical conditions is to give them regular oral health care. We’ve talked about brushing your dog’s teeth on this blog many times before, but it bears repeating. Oral health is no laughing matter in dogs, and by keeping a close eye on their mouth, you could help your dog have a much longer and happier life.