A dog’s tongue can serve many purposes and is one of their most essential body parts. They use it to show affection, eat food, lap up water, swallow, and most importantly, as a heat regulator to cool themselves down. So when dogs, primarily breeds like the pug, exhibit unusual behavior patterns with their tongue, it may be worth investigating. Pugs have a higher likelihood of keeping their tongue out, but why?
Brachycephalic breeds like the pug tend to have a genetic predisposition whereby their “scrunched faces” may cause their tongues to be too large for their oral cavity. While they have completely functional tongues, an abnormal jawbone may not be able to support it and thereby dislodge the tongue.
While it may seem cute when our pugs have their tongue stuck out, we should also be wary of some potentially damaging health implications. Dental diseases and trauma to the tongue can be the eventual result of a hanging tongue. Thankfully, that’s not always the case, but there are many important factors to consider to ensure that your pug lives a healthy and happy life.
Hanging Tongue Syndrome
When dogs have protruding tongues, where it seems like they’re unable to pull their tongues back in their mouths, it is often referred to as “hanging tongue syndrome” (Pellegrini, 2011). While not exclusive to brachycephalic breeds like the pug, it is more common. Genetics play a significant role here as a pug’s flat face usually means less room for their tongue to fit in their oral cavity. A misaligned jaw, like an underbite or overbite, may cause your pug to eventually develop this condition as they age.
Another common reason that may contribute to the “hanging tongue syndrome” is denture problems. Severe dental diseases can cause rotting and tooth decay, which may result in a dog’s lower canine teeth needing to be extracted. This usually means that the tongue won’t have anything to rest against, so it will tend to fall outside the mouth and hang. It is essential to care for your pug’s dental hygiene by implementing a regiment that includes brushing their teeth and giving them dental treats and toys.
Sometimes, the onset of new medications can cause your pug’s tongue to stick out. It could be a chemical reaction or extreme drowsiness that’s causing the “hanging tongue syndrome”. If there is a direct correlation between the medication and your dog’s tongue suddenly hanging out, it might mean that a different prescription is needed. Consult with your vet and record timestamps of any unusual behavior during this time.
Health Implications For a Protruding Tongue
A protruding tongue is thankfully going to be worry-free for most pugs as long as they’re able to use it normally to eat and drink water. However, the main concern is that their tongue can get incredibly dry. This can lead to infections, so you’d want to keep an eye out for any swelling, damage, or discoloration of their tongue and gums. If any of these signs show up, take your pup to the vet immediately for treatment. To help prevent this from occurring, it is advised that you keep them well-hydrated with access to plenty of water.
Heatstroke can be a factor to keep in mind if a pug suffers from the “hanging tongue syndrome”. That’s because dogs don’t have sweat glands and need to pant in order to cool down. If a pug doesn’t have full functionality of their tongue, whereby they don’t have the ability to retract it back into their mouth, they can certainly overheat. If this is the case, I would suggest limiting their physical activity, keeping them indoors when it’s hot outside, and ensuring that they are always adequately hydrated. Immediately seek help from a vet if you notice any signs of heat exhaustion, including hyperventilation, dehydration, excessive drooling, and fevers.
If there is a sudden onset of a hanging tongue, and you notice problems with your pug eating and drinking, it can be related to some sort of neurological disorder. Your pug could be experiencing a nerve dysfunction as a result of trauma to their head, tongue, or jaw. Unfortunately, it might mean they won’t ever be able to use their tongue normally again. A significant loss in their simple motor functions should be a cause for concern, and you should seek a professional diagnosis from your vet immediately.
Treatment and Recovery of Hanging Tongue Syndrome
Depending on the scale of the damage and how functional the tongue is, treatment and recovery methods will vary. In many cases, using olive oil or water as a moisturizer several times a day for the tongue will help prevent it from dehydrating. The weather will play a more significant factor if it’s continuously exposed, so you’d want to regularly check that your pug’s tongue does not get sunburnt or frostbitten. If it’s cracked or swollen, pain relief drugs may be prescribed by your vet. And if an infection is developed, then antifungal or antibiotics will be prescribed.
Dogs with a neurologically damaged tongue that’s lost its motor functions may need a change in their food so that it’s soft and easy to swallow. This can help prevent further damage to the tongue during feeding time. If the damaged tongue is so significant and negatively impacting the surrounding areas, portions of the tongue may need to be surgically removed to improve their overall wellbeing.
No Cause For Concerns: Let a Pug’s Tongue Hang Out
The “hanging tongue syndrome” should not be confused for panting. Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat to cool down. Instead, their tongue is used to regulate heat in their body. For example, during and after some form of physical activity, a dog will pant by taking in quick shallow breaths with their tongue sticking out. This evaporates the moisture on their tongue, thus cooling their tongue that in turn cooling the blood flow through the tongue and the respiratory system (LeadER, 2018). Panting is very common for brachycephalic breeds like the pug due to their well-documented breathing issues. It is crucial to reduce their physical activity, situate your pug in a cool place, and provide them with cool air if they’re excessively panting.
Other times, your pug may have their tongue out because they’re in a super blissful state of relaxation. You may notice them chilling like this after playing with the kids or perhaps after eating their lunch. This is when they’re quite happy to sit back and people watch, and so much so that it’ll probably end up in them having a nap. During sleep, your pug’s tongue can also protrude. Again, there’s nothing to be concerned about as they’re most likely so relaxed and loose that their tongue will fall out of their mouth. Usually, when they wake up or change position, things will be back to normal, thus confirming that there isn’t a problem for you to worry about.
Why do dogs stick their tongue out in the car? Sticking their heads and tongues out of a car window is believed to allow dogs to detect and take in more scent.
Why does my dog keep flicking his tongue in and out? Usually, constant licking can be associated with canine obsessive compulsive disorder. It is a self-soothing technique that dogs use to help destress and calm down in uncomfortable situations.
What does it mean when a dog licks you? When a dog licks you, it is most commonly viewed as a sign of affection. However, it could also signal that they want your attention or can taste something on you (food, lotion, sweat).