Dogs make for loyal, lovable companions. They also have some quirks of personality that can look odd to the untrained human eye. One of these is sleeping with their tongue out.
Odd as it seems, there are various reasons for this bizarre behavior. So, why do dogs sleep with their tongues out? Let’s take a look.
Why Do Dogs Sleep With Their Tongues Out?
Here are the most common reasons behind the peculiar canine habit.
You’ve probably seen your dog pant on a hot day. That’s because dogs regulate their body temperature through their tongue and paw pads.
Dogs that sleep with their tongue out may be perfectly healthy if a bit overheated. It’s normal to find your dog sleeping with their tongue out on a hot summer evening, especially if they are brachycephalic.
Flat-faced or Brachycephalic dogs are notorious for their squashed noses. They give breeds like Pugs their distinctive look, but it can make breathing hard. To compensate, many of these dogs resort to mouth-breathing. The result is that sometimes they appear to sleep with their tongue hanging out of their mouth.
Brachycephalic dogs include:
- Shih Tzus
- English Bulldogs
Many of these dogs have tongues that are longer than their mouths. Consequently, their tongues always seem to be hanging out of their mouth.
Another reason why dogs sleep with their tongues out is that they feel relaxed. It signals that they trust you and feel safe in their environment.
It can also indicate your dog is enjoying a dream. Other indications of a doggy dream include:
- Muscles twitching
- Leg spasms
These can look worrisome to dog owners, but unless they come with signs of active distress, chances are your dog is reveling in finally catching a phantom squirrel.
Stress or Anxiety
Conversely, dogs who sleep with their tongues out might be stressed or anxious. So, how do you tell a dreaming dog from a nervous one if you only have their tongue to go on?
Scientifically speaking, you can’t. In these situations, context is everything. Just as dogs can dream, they can also have nightmares. Signs of canine nightmares include:
- Tense jaw
- Growling/ low-pitched barking
- Sweaty paws
If you suspect your dog is having a nightmare and not a pleasant dream, the best thing to do is wake them up slowly, as you would with a human.
But if you suspect stress or anxiety is behind your dog’s inclination to sleep with their tongue out, keep an eye out for other classic anxiety symptoms.
Dogs can experience separation anxiety like humans, especially after losing a loved one. For instance, a dog that belonged to a bonded pair and now sleeps alone may develop separation anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Whining when you leave or return from work
- Excessive barking
- Inappropriate elimination
- Destructive behavior
There are ways to treat canine anxiety after they’ve lost their companion, but the vital thing to understand is that it’s not necessarily as simple as bringing home a new dog. In the best-case scenario, the new dog alleviates the separation anxiety.
In the worst-case scenario, the resident dog passes some of their anxiety on to their companion. As with humans, allowing time to grieve and emotionally process a change is essential.
Another explanation for dogs whose tongues poke out between their teeth while they sleep is that they may have an underlying illness.
Because dogs have sweat glands in their tongues, it may indicate heatstroke and an effort by your dog to cool down. Leaving their tongue lolling allows saliva to evaporate, and as their tongue cools, so does your dog’s body.
If you suspect your dog ate something ill-advised and is showing symptoms of poisoning, your first point of contact should be the vet. Because toxicity varies depending on the size and shape of the dog, poisonings vets diagnose on a case-by-case basis.
Sometimes the reason for your dog’s decision to sleep with their tongue hanging out is as simple as tooth problems. Typically, these are associated with senior dogs because they can lose teeth as they age.
But dental trouble isn’t age-specific. The other dog type in a position to lose teeth is a teething puppy. If a milk tooth falls out before the adult tooth fully grows in, it leaves a space in the mouth. An inquisitive puppy may poke their tongue into that space and leave them looking as though they fell asleep with their tongue hanging out of their mouth.
It’s also possible that your adult dog is experiencing tooth problems. Dogs with elongated mouths, like Dachshunds, can be susceptible to tooth trouble, and if something is bothering them, they may try to self-soothe by licking, thereby falling asleep with their tongue out.
Hanging Tongue Syndrome
As discussed, some breeds have tongues that don’t ever fit in their mouths. Some dogs are born this way, and others develop Hanging Tongue Syndrome due to a jaw or mouth injury that heals atypically.
It’s natural to worry that Hanging Tongue Syndrome may jeopardize your dog’s health. And while it does present some complications, they are manageable.
Dry or Cracked Tongue
The most obvious problem for dogs with Hanging Tongue Syndrome is that their tongues quickly become dry or cracked. Earlier, we talked about how saliva evaporating off your dog’s tongue could cool them down.
That’s true. But most dogs can put their tongue back in their mouth, enabling them to replenish their saliva and keeping their tongues moist. Dogs with Hanging Tongue Syndrome can’t do that, leading to a cracked or dry tongue.
Cracked tongues quickly become a source of bacteria and infection. That makes it imperative that you ensure your dog stays well hydrated.
If your dog is a reluctant drinker, you can also try:
- Ice cubes
- Rubbing olive oil on their tongue
- Frozen chicken broth
Many dogs succumb to this last one, especially when you freeze it around a favorite toy such as a Kong. The catch is that you have to tolerate thawing broth accumulating on the floor.
Keep in mind that while olive oil makes a good lubricant, it can work as a canine laxative in large quantities. So, use it sparingly.
Another thing to watch for is sunburn since dogs with Hanging Tongue Syndrome can’t protect their tongue from the sun.
Equally, their tongue can quickly develop frostbite in cold weather.
Non-toxic dog sunscreens exist and are designed with dogs’ propensity to lick foreign substances in mind. Rubbing some on the tongue can be safe in small quantities and even manage sunburn, but it won’t help with frostbite.
You also need to remember that because dogs’ body temperature partially depends on tongue temperature, a tongue that is too hot or too cold can significantly affect your dog.
Is There a Cure for Hanging Tongue Syndrome?
Occasionally, a vet may recommend surgically shortening your dog’s tongue to combat Hanging Tongue Syndrome.
However, this is extreme, and many vets prefer to manage the syndrome in other ways. The best thing you can do for your dog is ensure they stay hydrated and monitor them in inclement weather, whether hot and humid or uncomfortably cold.
You should also watch for signs of:
- Altered texture
- Different size/ Inflammation
- Change of color
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to call the vet.
But Hanging Tongue Syndrome isn’t normative. So, if you notice your dog sleeping with their tongue hanging out, there’s no reason to panic. Learn what is usual for them, and consult an expert if you notice sudden changes.
Most of the reasons why dogs sleep with their tongues out are not serious. But there are some instances where you should intervene, particularly if you suspect your dog is experiencing stress or anxiety, or if their tongue shows physical changes suggesting symptoms of disease or syndrome.
As always, consult with your vet for any medical issues you may suspect your dog is having.