7 min read

Why Does My Dog’s Tongue Hang Out Of His Mouth?

There's usually a reason behind that derpy face.

We associate a panting, pink tongue with a happy, relaxed dog — but what if your pup can’t seem to hold his tongue inside his mouth for more than a few minutes at a time? Could a dog’s tongue perpetually waving in the wind like a flag be a sign that something’s wrong?

A dog’s tongue has many jobs: It’s an air conditioner, a hydration system, an instrument for giving all those loving smooches and licks. The hardworking organ responds to taste, touch, heat, cold and pain, expanding and contracting depending on the dog’s needs in the moment.

It’s only natural that pet parents would be concerned if their dog’s tongue sticks out — say — all the time. But for some dogs, a flappy tongue is natural; here's how to tell the difference: 

Is it all genetics?

Luckily, the condition, sometimes referred to as “hanging tongue syndrome,” is often simply a matter of being born that way, explains Dr. Holly Ahlgrim, of DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

“A dog’s tongue that constantly hangs out is a genetic condition mostly found in smaller pups and flat-faced pups likes pugs and Pekingese dogs,” Ahlgrim tells The Dodo. “Many times their tongue may be too large for the mouth or jawbone.”

Centuries of breeding have produced petite dogs such as the Chihuahua, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and brachycephalic breeds (those dogs with smooshed faces) who are prone to this endearingly derpy face. If your dog has experienced this condition for the majority of her life, Ahlgrim notes, it’s generally not something to be concerned about, as it won’t in itself negatively affect your dog’s health.

Watch the teeth

A hanging tongue is not only a small dog condition. Dental issues can also lead a dog to display their flappy tongues with pride — so be sure to brush and get your pup's teeth checked regularly.

“Other reasons for a tongue to perpetually hang from a dog’s mouth are loss of teeth or dental disease, or some form of prior trauma to the face, jaw or mouth,” Ahlgrim says. A dog’s tongue can easily slip out if he has no teeth to support it, or if his jaw is misshapen.

Should I worry?

If your dog’s tongue being on constant display is a new occurrence, there may be more to this behavior than meets the eye. Ahlgrim suggests having your dog examined by a veterinarian, especially if the tongue hangs out of a dog’s mouth asymmetrically or if your pup is having trouble chewing or drops her food during mealtime.

“It could be a sign of dental issues or even some sort of trauma to the face area that the pet owner may not have known about. On rare occasions, a hanging tongue paired with unusual behavior could be the result of a neurologic disorder,” Ahlgrim suggests. “All of these issues would need to be treated immediately by a veterinarian.”

Is your pup in pain?

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If your dog’s tongue sticks out constantly, you can rest easy, as he is most likely not in any pain. Pet owners should keep an eye on their pup’s tongue and mouth, as there is a greater chance that your dog’s tongue could get dried out, according to Ahlgrim.

“Keep an eye out for any cracking, bleeding, swelling or unusual appearances — especially in colder weather,” Ahlgrim says. “These are signs that your dog needs to be examined by a vet.”

To ensure your dog’s comfort, make sure she always has access to plenty of water, keeping her tongue hydrated.

“Also, pay attention to the color of your dog’s gums,” Ahlgrim adds. “A dog’s gums should be a pale pink in color. If your dog’s gums start to turn bright pink, gray or any other shade, it’s time to take him to the vet.”

Otherwise, pet parents can feel free to enjoy all the licks with that lovely wet tongue!