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10 Facts About Your Dog’s Tongue

Written by Anna Hollisey


close up of dog tongue

Here are all the things you always (or never) wondered about your dog’s tongue, ranked from least to most surprising… How many of these do you already know?

#10 Why Do Dogs Pant?

Okay, you probably know the answer to this. But if dogs pant to cool down, why don’t humans do the same?

Because humans can sweat, but dogs can’t: they’re covered in fur, so there’s no surface for evaporation. Instead of sweating, they use their tongue and paws to get rid of body heat. That’s why your dog’s tongue hangs out on a hot day: it is releasing heat to the air as a way of maintaining body temperature. You will probably also notice that your dog’s tongue feels warm: it stays at a higher temperature than the rest of their body, which is also to help them to stay cool.

#9 Is Your Dog’s Tongue Antiseptic?

This is a common misconception. Don’t let your dog lick your wounds. Their mouth contains more bacteria than a human’s.

While saliva can have antibacterial properties, it’s also inadvisable to let dogs lick their own wounds. Although it’s a natural response for them, they won’t know when it’s time to stop (… for example, if they are preventing the wound from healing, or causing further irritation). That’s why we put the lampshade collar on our dogs after operations. 

#8 Can I Catch a Cold From My Dog?

A doggy kiss can be lovely. Just maybe not on the mouth.

While the common cold isn’t transmittable via our pets, some viruses are: recent research showed that our dogs have been carrying the COVID-19 virus. A survey of more than 1,000 dogs in New Zealand revealed that 53% were carrying coronavirus. Similar surveys in Europe and North America revealed rates of 30-50%. 

However, researchers suggest that dog-ownership actually reduces our chances of catching COVID-19 – improving owner immunity as we are continually exposed to the virus. 

#7 Why Don’t Dogs Self-Groom Like Cats?

They’re not just untidy. Dogs’ tongues are not equipped for self-grooming. Cat tongues are lined with barbs (which makes them feel like sandpaper) – perfect for grooming out the dead fur. Dog tongues are smooth for handling food, which is obviously far more crucial to their day-to-day lives.

#6 Can You Tell A Healthy Dog From Their Tongue?

For some conditions, yes! Your dog’s tongue is a great check-point for their health. A healthy tongue is usually pink, moist and plump. 

If your dog’s tongue is hanging out all the time and they’re not panting, it could be an attempt to cool and relieve a dental infection. You can also detect dehydration via the tongue. A pale or darkened tongue color is a sign that the dog is seriously dehydrated.

#5 Ever Wondered How Dogs Drink Water?

If we were handed bowls of water, we wouldn’t have the skills to get it into our mouths. Dogs have perfected a special technique. Their tongues become ladles!

When your dog drinks, they curve their tongue to create a ‘bowl’ which they dip beneath the water surface and then bring to the back of their throat. It happens so quickly, you might not be able to see this super-skill in action! 

We used to believe that dogs and cats drink differently (… how else can we explain our dogs’ dribble?). But experts now believe that cats drink in a similar way. They curl their tongues, but they don’t dunk them right under the water; instead they take smaller sips as they pull up a little water each time.

#4 What Color Should A Tongue Be?

Pink, right? Wrong. Some dog breeds have showy, black or blue tongues. The Chow Chow can have the most vivid colored tongue. Wondering why?

Chows are so ancient that they appear in historic artifacts, and there was a story to go with those blue tongues. The Chinese speculated that Chows were walking on Earth when it was created. When the stars were put into the sky, tiny pieces of sky were displaced; they fell down and the inquisitive Chow Chows gobbled them up. Result? Midnight-blue tongue. 

The biological cause is skin pigmentation and it’s normal, even appearing in some other breeds such as the Newfoundland.

#3 How Does A Dog’s Tongue Affect Their Bark?

The size of the tongue seems to make a difference to the depth of your dog’s bark. (We’d love to see more research on this. Tell us about your dog in the comments!)

Some dogs are born with an oversized tongue (macroglossia). Breeds like Boxers, Pugs, Beagles and Dachshunds seem to be prone to this condition. In Brachycephalic dogs, this large tongue also reduces the size or capacity of the airway, which can cause respiratory difficulties.

#2 Why Does Your Dog Lick You?

Pups are taught to lick by their mothers, who clean their pups soon after birth. They learn to engage with their siblings through affectionate licking and will sometimes lick other adult dogs when they are still young and curious. It’s a good way to get extra information about a canine buddy. Ever seen a dog licking wee? That’s a really great source of info: your dog can tell whether the other dog is male, female, neutered or not. 

Later in life, licking can be a sign of affection – especially if it is fondly received. You could have trained your pup to lick you by responding with attention. A wet nose or licky tongue usually indicates that your dog wants to interact with you, in a game or a cuddle!

#1 How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?

Did you know that your dog’s tongue has far fewer taste buds than yours does? Doggy tongues have about 1,700 compared to humans’ 9,000. To make up for this lack, dogs use their incredible sense of smell. They use their noses to detect molecules of food (especially when it’s sizzling on the barbeque) so they can enjoy it before they even get it into their mouths! 

Did you also know that, because dogs aren’t programmed to seek out salt, they don’t detect it as easily as sweet or bitter foods? Thanks to their fruit-grazing ancestors, most dogs are naturally predisposed to enjoy fruit alongside their regular feed.