Finding your dog’s gums turning black can be quite alarming for any pet owner. While it may look serious, black gums are not always a cause for concern.
Understanding the potential causes behind this change in pigmentation can help you determine if your pup needs a trip to the vet.
What Are Dog Gums Supposed to Look Like?
A healthy dog’s gums should be pink in color. This pink color comes from the healthy blood flow circulating throughout the capillaries under the surface of the gums.
When you lift your dog’s lips, the gums should look moist, glossy and firm – not sticky or overly wet. There should be no signs of swelling, redness, cuts, growths or ulcers.
What Does It Mean When a Dog’s Gums Turn Black?
Black pigmentation on a dog’s gums is medically referred to as melanosis. The black color change is caused by an increase in melanin.
Melanin is a pigment that gives color to the skin, hair and iris. Higher levels of melanin result in darker colors.
There are a few possible causes for increased melanin in the gums:
Some breeds naturally develop black pigmentation on their gums as they age. Pigment changes are common in:
- Chow Chows – Black gums are considered a standard feature of the breed. Puppies are born with pink gums that darken to black as they mature.
- Shar Peis – Black gums are also common in this wrinkly breed. The dark skin often extends into the dog’s mouth.
- Labrador Retrievers – Labs normally have pink gums, but some can develop “black gum disease” as they age due to genetics.
If your dog is one of these predisposed breeds, don’t panic if their gums turn black. Get them checked at their next vet visit, but it’s likely normal pigmentation.
Gingivitis or Periodontal Disease
The most common cause of black gums in dogs is inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis.
Gingivitis occurs when plaque and bacteria accumulate along the gumline. The gums become irritated and inflamed. As the condition worsens, gums may change from pink to red, purple or black in color.
Periodontal disease is an advanced form of gingivitis involving bone and tooth loss. Severe inflammation can also cause dark pigmentation of the gums.
Along with black gums, look for other signs of gum inflammation:
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Loose or lost teeth
- Pus around teeth and gums
- Pain or difficulty chewing
Gingivitis requires veterinary treatment before it progresses to advanced periodontal disease.
While less common, black gums can also signal the presence of oral melanoma. Melanoma is a cancerous tumor affecting melanin-producing cells.
Melanomas usually appear as raised, dark growths in the mouth. Additional symptoms may include:
- Swelling of the gums
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Loose teeth
Any lumps, growths or ulcers in the mouth should be checked by a vet. Early detection and removal of melanoma are key to treatment.
There are some genetic conditions that cause hyperpigmentation (increased dark pigment) throughout a dog’s body, including the gums.
- Addison’s disease – Adrenal gland dysfunction can lead to increased skin pigment.
- Cushing’s disease – Excess cortisol production by the adrenals also darkens the skin.
- Melanocortin receptor mutations – Defects in the MC1R gene affect coat and skin color.
These disorders usually cause additional symptoms beyond just black gums, like hair loss, skin darkening, vomiting or lethargy. Diagnostic testing is needed to confirm the condition.
What Should I Do if My Dog Has Black Gums?
Here are some tips if you notice your dog’s gums turning black:
- Get a veterinary oral exam – The vet will inspect for signs of gum disease and search for any lumps or growths.
- Have lab testing done – Bloodwork and urinalysis can uncover issues with the adrenal glands or other internal issues leading to pigment changes.
- Discuss your dog’s breed – Review the normal mouth pigmentation expected for your dog’s breed. Increased melanin may be typical.
- Brush daily – Regular, thorough brushing reduces plaque buildup and risk of gingivitis.
- Watch for changes – Note any additional symptoms that develop like lethargy or vomiting.
- Schedule dental cleanings – Annual teeth cleanings can prevent gingivitis and associated gum pigment changes.
- Feed a dental diet – Kibble or canned food formulated for dental health helps keep the mouth and gums healthy.
- Add dental chews – Chews like Greenies scrape away plaque and tartar as your dog nibbles.
With treatment of any underlying illness and good home oral hygiene, dark pigmented gums can return to a healthy pink color.
It’s important to not ignore black gums though, as they can sometimes be the first outward indicator of a brewing health problem. Schedule an appointment with your vet if your dog develops dark gums overnight or you notice any other accompanying symptoms.
What About Black Spots on Dog Gums?
Along with a generalized darkening of the gums, some dogs only develop small, localized black spots.
These spots can also be caused by excessive melanin. However, they may indicate:
- Early melanoma – Small oral melanomas often start as pinpoint dark freckles.
- Medications – Drugs like antimalarials and minocycline can cause pigmentation.
- Metabolic conditions – Issues like Addison’s or Cushing’s disease.
- Fungal infection – A dark fungus infection in the mouth.
- Yeast overgrowth – An oral yeast infection that triggers gum pigmentation.
- Pigment cell overgrowth – Benign tumors like melanocytomas.
Isolated black spots warrant a veterinary visit to determine the underlying cause and best treatment approach. Catching oral melanoma early makes it more treatable.
Is Black Pigment in Dog Gums Dangerous?
The level of concern depends on the cause and your individual dog.
For breeds prone to developing black gums, increased melanin is typically harmless on its own. But gum disease needs to be ruled out.
Black gums due to gum inflammation indicate gingivitis or advanced periodontal disease. Serious health complications can occur if left untreated.
Oral melanoma signalled by black gums is a true health threat. While not always malignant, melanoma requires monitoring and removal.
For other systemic diseases leading to darkened gums, managing the underlying condition is key to restoring gum health.
So while the black color itself may not be dangerous, it often points to an issue needing veterinary attention. Don’t ignore a sudden color change in your dog’s gums.
Are My Dog’s Gums Black or Purple?
Dark gum color can range from black to purple to blue. The hue may depend on the underlying cause.
- Blackish-purple gums often stem from bruising, gingivitis or melanoma.
- Blue-black gums point more toward gum irritation and low oxygen levels.
- Deep black gums could signal oral melanoma.
Your vet can assess the shade of pigmentation and what it signifies about your dog’s health. Gum color can provide helpful clues.
But remember – a breed like Chow Chows will develop solid black pigmentation as a normal feature. So don’t make assumptions until consulting with your veterinarian.
When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog’s Gum Color?
Some signs that darkened gums need quick veterinary attention include:
🚩 If your dog’s gums are normally pink but suddenly turn black overnight.
🚩 If the black color coincides with swelling, bleeding, pain or bad breath.
🚩 If you notice redness, ulcers, growths or loose teeth along with black gums.
🚩 If your dog is having trouble eating or seems lethargic due to mouth discomfort.
🚩 If your dog’s eye color or skin pigment changes in tandem with gum color.
🚩 If your dog is straining to pee, vomiting or seems unwell beyond just the gum issue.
🚩 If your dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior linked to mouth pain.
Catching developing health issues early, like gingivitis, periodontal disease or melanoma, improves outcomes. It’s always best to err on the side of caution with any abnormal gum color.
FAQs About Black Gums in Dogs
Why do dogs’ gums turn black as they age?
Aging dogs may develop black pigmented gums due to:
- Genetic predisposition – Certain breeds are prone to melanin changes.
- Gum disease progression – Long-term gingivitis leads to blackening gums.
- Hormone changes – Altered cortisol or adrenal hormones affect pigment.
- Oral melanoma – Cancerous melanin-producing cells multiply.
Annual senior wellness exams help identify any troubling gum color changes early.
Can puppies have black gums?
Puppies of predisposed breeds like Chows can be born with black-pigmented gums. The dark color is present from birth.
Otherwise, black gums in puppies are abnormal. Pink, healthy gums are expected. Veterinary assessment is recommended if a puppy’s gums are dark.
Are grey gums in dogs bad?
Grey gums in dogs may indicate a circulatory or oxygenation issue. Greyish or bluish gums are a warning sign of:
- Anemia or blood loss – Pale gums from inadequate RBCs.
- Poisoning – Toxins can affect oxygen transport.
- Heart disease – Poor heart function prevents normal blood flow.
- Bloat – Pressure on blood return from the stomach.
- Respiratory distress- Lack of oxygen to the gums.
Grey gums warrant an immediate trip to the veterinarian to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.
When should I take my dog to vet for black gums?
See your vet promptly if your dog’s gums suddenly change from pink to black. Even if your dog has a breed predisposed to black pigment, a veterinary visit can confirm it’s not related to oral disease.
You should also schedule an appointment if you notice:
- Swelling, redness, pain or bleeding from gums
- Halitosis or loose teeth
- Difficulty eating
- Lethargy and illness
- Pigment changes in other skin or coat
Do not delay having your dog seen when any abnormal gum color develops.
The Bottom Line
Black pigmentation in a dog’s gums can seem alarming at first glance. But while it’s not normal, it’s not always problematic either. The underlying cause is what’s important.
For predisposed breeds, black gums may be expected as part of their natural coloring. Oral melanoma, gingivitis and other disease must be ruled out though.
Watch for any change in gum color, especially if accompanied by swelling or pain. When in doubt, do not hesitate to have your veterinarian examine your dog’s mouth.
With thorough dental care and maintaining your dog’s overall health, you can help keep those gums looking happy and pink!