Healthy dog gums vs unhealthy: what to look for

Dog biting on a finger
(Image credit: Getty)

Healthy dog gums vs unhealthy is a valid concern for canine owners. Did you know that a dog’s mouth can provide clues as to their overall well-being, just by checking if their gums are healthy or not? It’s really important to keep an eye on your dog’s mouth by looking for the signs of healthy or unhealthy gums, as well as the appearance of their teeth. When it comes to gum disease, the sooner it is treated the better, before it causes further health implications.

There are many things we can do as dog owners to help our pets achieve healthy gums instead of unhealthy ones. For example, healthy dog gums are aided by daily tooth brushing as well as providing your dog with regular long lasting dog chews. A good quality, natural diet also plays a role in your dogs' oral hygiene and overall health, as do regular checkups with your veterinarian.

Put simply, healthy gums are soft, wet, and pink, whereas unhealthy gums are going to differ in color and texture. We’ll be diving into some more telltale signs of what to look for when you’re checking your dog’s gums and how you can keep them healthy.

Healthy dog gums vs unhealthy dog gums: how to tell the difference 

When taking a look inside your dog’s mouth you might be wondering how you can tell the difference between healthy gums and unhealthy gums. Let’s take a look at the facts.

First off, it’s worth knowing what is normal for your own dog. Checking your dog’s gums regularly will not only allow you to familiarize yourself with your dog’s mouth but also help you spot any issues early on. For example, some dogs have darker spots on their gums as part of their normal pigmentation. It’s when those normal physical attributes start to appear different that you will want to get some professional help as soon as you can. 

In terms of the physical appearance of a dog’s gums - what looks healthy and what’s unhealthy  - we’re going to run through a list to help you be able to better judge whether you need veterinary support right now for your dog.

Healthy gums

  • Color: Registered Vet Nurse, Rachel Bean says that a “Dog's gums should be a nice pink color”. Look for a soft baby pink, salmon color. If you press your finger onto the gum for a couple of seconds, as you lift your finger off you should see the gum turn from white back to the soft pink underneath.
  • Texture: Healthy gums are soft and wet. They should be smooth with no apparent growths. 

Unhealthy gums

  • Color: Unhealthy gums will not be a soft pink color. They may appear to be blue, yellow or a vibrant red.  
  • Texture: You may see growths on your dog’s gums: papillomas, warts, or masses. You could also see the gums appearing very dry and no change in color when you press your finger on them. There may be inflammation or even bleeding around the gumline.
  • Smell: If you’re starting to notice your dog’s breath becoming ‘bad’ or rancid, this is also a clear sign of infection. 

When should I be concerned about my dog’s gums? 

Vet Nurse Bean says, “It is cause for concern when the gums are either white, grey, blue, yellow or bright red.” These colors can be signals of more serious conditions such as blood loss, shock, or jaundice related to kidney disease. Like with all physical aspects of your dog’s health, if you notice any sudden appearance changes it is always worth getting in touch with your veterinarian to discuss the implications of these. 

Your dog’s behavior can also give signs as to how they’re feeling physically. If you see a significant increase in your dog licking their lips or they suddenly appear to be uncomfortable with you approaching them or touching their face, then a vet trip is recommended to rule out any pain or illness. Periodontal disease can be painful and might make your dog appear in discomfort.

Dog getting its teeth brushed

(Image credit: Getty)

How to prevent unhealthy gums  

Such a simple thing such as adding regular chewing opportunities for your dog can really help with their oral health. The process of mastication (chewing) of food can have a large impact on our dogs’ well-being. According to the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, “Adding a dental chew to the diet resulted in statistically significant reductions in plaque and calculus accumulation”.

The benefits of chewing slowly - as opposed to guzzling food - have been shown to allow better absorption of nutrients and energy from food, to aid digestion, to improve teeth and gum health, to reduce the amount of excess bacteria in the intestines. Adding a variety of foods and textures to your dog’s diet can encourage them to chew more rather than inhaling their food quickly. Chewing also has the added bonus of creating feel-good hormones for our dog - so it’s a great activity for them to engage in on a regular basis.

Caring for your dog’s teeth and gums at home is really important. Daily brushing with dog-specific toothpaste and a soft toothbrush or finger brush can help to avoid unnecessary dental procedures at the vet. Remember our dogs cannot ingest human toothpaste as it is often too high in sodium or contains xylitol which is toxic to dogs. Visit your vets for an annual checkup including a review of their oral hygiene. This ensures there’s nothing hidden beneath the gum line that you may have missed. 

Many dogs dislike having their teeth brushed. If your dog gets stressed by you trying to brush their teeth with a doggy toothbrush, then start by using a small piece of gauze over your finger to rub coconut oil around their teeth and gums. You can then build up to a finger toothbrush over time once they feel more comfortable with you touching their mouth. Keep brushing sessions short but try to perform them on a daily basis whenever possible. 

How to treat gum issues 

When you suspect that there are any issues with the health of your dog’s gums, it is important to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, "Because most dental disease occurs below the gum line, where you can’t see it, a thorough dental cleaning and evaluation [may need to be] performed under anesthesia”. Your vet may also take x-rays to further investigate the problem. Ensuring that your pet insurance plan includes dental coverage is really worthwhile to keep costs down when looking after your dog’s oral health.

Once a dental cleaning has been performed, it’s important to continue to care for your dog’s teeth afterward by resuming regular tooth brushing at home and providing appropriate chews to help keep your dog’s gums and teeth healthy. 

You can also read our five tips to prevent and treat dog gum diseases.

Rachel Bean
Rachel Bean

Rachel has been working professionally with dogs since 1994 starting as a Dogstrust Assistant Kennel Manager before persuing a career in Veterinary Medicine.

Rachel Qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 2002 and has been in practice since.

In recent years Rachel has followed her strong interests in Canine Welfare, Canine Behaviour, Owner Education, Street Dog welfare in Asia and is also one of the most prominent Canine First Aid Tutors in the UK and more recently around the world.

Caroline Wilkinson
Certified Animal Behaviorist

Caroline Wilkinson is a Certified Animal Behaviorist. She is a Full (assessed) Member of the APDT and INTODogs – as well as a Registered Training Instructor (ABTC). Caroline is also a Certified Real Dog Yoga Practitioner and an Applied Canine Zoopharmacognosist.