When you really think about it, dogs’ tongues are pretty incredible. They use them to eat, drink, and to cool down their body.
Some dogs have the odd habit of sticking their tongues out all of the time. It can sometimes be just the tip, or other times they have the entire tongue hanging out the side of their mouths. So why do dogs stick their tongue out?
The reason why your dog sticks their tongue out is likely harmless. It could be panting, over-excitement, or simply because they are relaxed. However, in some uncommon cases it can be a sign of an underlying health condition.
Let’s look at some of the most common reasons as to why dogs stick their tongues out, and when it should be a cause for concern.
Why Do Dogs Stick Their Tongues Out?
There are several reasons why a dog may stick its tongue out when they are awake. Some of these reasons are the same for dogs that sleep with their tongues out, but several are different.
The most common reason why dogs stick their tongue out is to pant. See, when humans get warm we sweat, but when dogs get too hot, they begin to pant. This is their body’s natural response to cooling itself down.
When they pant, dogs produce short, shallow breaths which evaporate the water from their tongues, inside their mouths, and their upper respiratory tracts. The evaporation of the water gives dogs the ability to regulate their body temperature and cool themselves down.
If your dog is panting a lot, make sure they’re in a cool place, and limit their physical activity until it’s cooler. Also, make sure they’re getting plenty of water as they need to remain hydrated.
If your dog continues to pant after they have appeared to cool down, you may need to take them to the vet, just to get them checked over.
Another common “no stress” reason as to why dogs stick their tongues out is that they’re just incredibly relaxed. If your dog likes to leave their tongue hanging out of their mouth for long periods of time (but not permanently) it’s likely that they’re experiencing pure relaxation.
Often, after dogs have eaten a delicious meal, had an exceptional play time, or they’re just laying down next to you, they might let their tongue out for a bit. If their tongue is not permanently stuck out, then it’s not likely a cause for concern.
Excitement or Stress
This is sort of related to panting. When humans sweat, it’s usually because we’re too hot, excited or we’re under stress. If your dog has their tongue hanging out, and they’re breathing heavily when it’s not because they’re too hot, it could be because they’re excited or stressed out.
If your dog pants and sticks their tongue out when you’re approaching them with a treat or toy, or you’ve just come home for the day, they’re probably just excited. This is pretty normal behavior, and shouldn’t be a cause for your concern.
However, it is worth being cautious if your dog is panting around another dog or animal, and it seems to be out of fear, rather than excitement.
You might be able to differentiate between excitement and fear based on the sounds your dog is making, and the way they’re standing. Wait until your dog has calmed down before you physically comfort them to prevent any form of aggression.
If your dog is taking medication – especially if it’s a new medication – sticking their tongue out could be a side effect. It’s always worth consulting with your vet to see if their dosage needs to be adjusted, or if they need to change their medication.
This is a colloquial term used to describe a common dog behavior. Tonguing involves using the tongue to “taste the air” as a response to sniffing after a female.
This is also common behavior amongst other mammals, and usually involves them curling their lips and raising their heads when performing this action. Whilst tonguing, the tongue may not even leave the mouth.
Hanging Tongue Syndrome
Hanging Tongue Syndrome is pretty self-explanatory, as it literally means that your dog’s tongue will always or almost always hang out of their mouth for no apparent reason.
This condition is more common with smaller and brachycephalic (“smooshed” faced) dog breeds, such as pugs, which are prone to Hanging Tongue Syndrome because of their genetics.
For some small dog breeds, their tongues may literally be too big to fit in their oral cavity, or breeding may have led them to have an abnormal jaw bone which can’t properly support their tongue.
No matter what the size of a dog, a dog with an overbite or underbite might also have Hanging Tongue Syndrome. It can also be developed later on in life as a dog ages. However, this condition is usually a result of genetics and isn’t generally a sign of a greater health problem.
You do have to be careful though, as this condition may have been developed as a result of severe dental disease. If a dog is suffering with a form of dental disease, their lower teeth are probably rotting, which will mean that the diseased teeth will need to be extracted, and can even fall out by themselves.
Without their lower teeth, dogs don’t have support for their tongues, so it will hang out of their mouths in some way.
If your dog develops Hanging Mouth Syndrome, it’s worth going to the vet to get it checked out, as some oral cancers and masses can cause the tongue to hang out.
If your dog suddenly develops Hanging Tongue Syndrome, and there’s no clear reason as to why, then this can be a cause for concern. If you notice any other odd behaviors, this could be a sign of a neurological problem.
It’s always worth going to the vet so that they can check out your dog properly, and rule out any major health conditions.
Problems Associated with Hanging Tongue Syndrome
One of the main issues associated with Hanging Tongue Syndrome is that your dog’s tongue can become incredibly dried out.
It’s a pretty similar feeling to having severely chapped lips and having no lip balm to help soothe and hydrate them. Now imagine having this feeling on the tip of your tongue, all of the time – this is how a dog with this condition might feel.
If your dog has Hanging Tongue Syndrome, it’s important that you keep an eye out for any swelling, bleeding or cracking on their tongue. If you notice any of these things, seek help from your vet as soon as you can.
It’s also important that a dog with this condition has access to plenty of water. You also need to make sure their tongue and gums stay the same color, as dogs with this syndrome are prone to infections, and may even develop frostbite in colder climates.
What to Do if Your Dog is Sticking Their Tongue Out
As we noted earlier, there are a lot of common and unconcerning reasons why your dog may be sticking their tongue out. For example, if your dog is panting, then it’s perfectly normal for them to have their tongue hanging out of their mouth.
However, if you notice that your dog is excessively panting, and there is no obvious reason as to why, then they should be examined. There’s only so much that you will be able to tell for yourself at home, so you will need to seek the professional advice of a veterinarian – especially if your dog is in pain.
Vet examinations are particularly important as they’ll be able to look for any growth and masses inside your dog’s mouth, note any missing teeth, and will be able to see if their gums are inflamed or infected.
It’s always better to treat any of these concerns sooner rather than later, and your vet will be able to provide you with the right diagnosis and treatment. Also, catching any serious health problems early on will save your pet a lot of pain and discomfort.
There isn’t really anything you can do to prevent your dog from sticking out their tongue if it is a genetic or breed-related condition. However, if you do notice that the cause is panting, you may need to adjust your dog’s play and exercise routines.
Make sure they get sufficient rest, and that they do not become overheated. It’s also worth being more mindful of where you take your dog. Monitor what’s going in their mouth to prevent inflammation from toxic plants or chemicals.
When it comes to oral cancers, there’s little you can do to prevent them from occurring, except from taking your dog for regular veterinary checks and appointments.