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All of Your Dog Tongue Questions Answered

Last week we talked all about cat tongues. Now it’s time to celebrate those awesomely adorable dog tongues.

Besides helping dogs eat and drink, dog tongues provide dog parents everywhere with a constant source of amusement. You need only look at the 25,000 Instagram #DogTongue posts or my own pup Fiona’s always-out tongue (below and on Instagram at #FionaTheTacoDog) to see why.

But did you know dog’s tongues are also amazing? Scientists at Virginia Tech found dog tongues can hit liquids with up to 8 times the force of gravity. For comparison, cat tongues only hit water at one or two times the force of gravity.

This fascination with the curious tongue leads to lots of questions from dog parents, so we combed through the PetCoach archives to answer some of the most common — as well as to celebrate some of the more unexpected functions the dog tongue performs.

What your dog’s tongue does

1. Saying, “I’m Stressed”: Does your dog sometimes lick its lips or flick its tongue in and out in the air? Those flicks of the tongue can actually indicate uncertainty or stress, according to PetCoach’s team. Check out more ways Fido tries to communicate with you.

2. Dental hygiene: Just like our own mouths, your dog’s mouth needs regular attention. Preventing plaque build-up by regular brushing minimizes the chances of gum disease, bad breath and tooth infections. However, it takes time to make the process of brushing your dog’s teeth properly enjoyable — and maybe even fun — for both of you. (Check out simple tips for brushing your dog’s teeth.) But thanks to your pup’s tongue, you don’t have to worry as much about the inner side of your dog’s teeth. “The inside of the teeth are kept much cleaner by your dog’s tongue,” notes PetCoach’s article “How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth Properly.” Just don’t forget that Fido needs regular dental screenings with your vet at his regular checkup to catch things like cavities and tartar before they become bigger problems.

3. Attention-seeking: It’s hard to ignore our puppies when they are showering our faces with slobbery kisses. We get love — and sometimes annoyed — and they get the attention they wanted. “Canine attention-seeking behavior often incorporates the tongue,” points out PetCoach veterinary technician, Debi Matlack. “Dogs often lick you to get your attention or as a simple greeting. As in, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m cute. Pet me.’” Sometimes, however, the licking may be a sign of something a bit more sinister, like an obsessive-compulsive tendency. Check out some other reasons dogs might start licking too much.

4. Regulating body temperature: Us lucky humans sweat at almost every place on our bodies. Fido doesn’t, though. Dogs have very few sweat glands, mostly in their paws, and rely on their tongues for body temp regulation. That’s why we get that exhausted half smile and the panting tongue falling out of their mouths after a good walk or game of fetch.

Overall, tongues can indicate a lot about your dog’s inner health (to a qualified professional). As you learn in pet first aid and CPR training, signs like white gums and tongue and other color or texture variations can spell trouble — yet another reason why regular checkups with the vet are essential, even when Fido seems to feel fine.

Which bring us to those doggy tongue FAQs

Here are a few of our favs. Do you have one to add? Ask in the module below.

Why do dogs’ tongues stick out?

Lots of reasons! The most common reason is panting from being hot, like we talked about earlier. But if you ever see those dogs, or maybe you’re the parent of one, who constantly has its tongue out or whose tongue doesn’t quite fit in their mouth, the dog may have hanging tongue syndrome. “These dogs have functional tongues, but because of genetics, the tongue may be too large for the oral cavity, an abnormal jaw bone doesn’t support the tongue or missing teeth allow the tongue to slip out through the gap,” says Dr. Kevin Wilson of Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital. Essentially, hanging tongue syndrome may be caused by things such as a malformed or misaligned snout, including overbites or a too-long tongue.

Should dog tongues be pink?

Not necessarily. Tongues can have other pigmentation, like black spots. However, if you notice changes in your dog’s tongue, like color, shape or texture, it’s time to take a trip to the vet. Only a professional can tell you if you’re looking at a taste bud or something more serious, like a tumor.

Wait, so dogs have taste buds?

Yes! Just fewer than us and they work a little differently. They have 1,706 while we have 9,000.

Do dogs taste the same way we do?

Dr. Jennifer Ladd over at PetCoach says, “Yes, in fact they do. [The tongues] are a bit different from ours in regards to the proportion of types of taste buds, but in general they are just like ours.” And the subtle differences are fascinating.

Humans may have 7,294 more taste buds, but the dog’s tongue can do something ours can’t — detect water. “Dogs also have taste buds that are tuned for water, which is something they share with cats and other carnivores, but is not found in humans,” writes Stanley Coren in his article, “How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?” for Psychology Today. Psychologists believe this developed as a survival tactic to ensure the dog’s body keeps optimal fluid levels or that it has enough water to help digest the last meal it ate. “It certainly appears that when these special water taste buds are active, dogs seem to get an extra pleasure out of drinking water, and will drink copious amounts of it,” Coren notes.

Humans and dogs both share taste buds for sweet, sour and bitter tastes. But another difference is humans have taste buds designed to detect salt and dogs don’t. Because dogs were mostly carnivores in the wild, there was enough salt in their meaty diet, so they never developed the taste receptors for salt.

Can dogs having seizures actually swallow their tongues?

Nope! If you go to a mirror and check out the bottom of your tongue, you’ll see a piece that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. It’s called the lingual frenulum, and your dog has it too. This little piece ensures your dog’s tongue — and yours — doesn’t roll into the throat. Like all medical emergencies, seizures are scary. Learn more about seizures in dogs and debunk the myths around them.

Whew! That was a lot of information. Still have a question about dog tongues? Ask PetCoach using the widget below.

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