Saturday, July 17, 2010

What is Hanging Tongue Syndrome?

By Linda Cole

Seeing a dog with their tongue sticking out is cute, especially when puppies do it. Most of the dogs we see competing in the World's Ugliest Dog competitions always seem to have their tongue hanging out between their teeth. However, a dog's tongue sticking out all the time could be a condition called hanging tongue syndrome, and it can cause the dog pain. Hanging tongue syndrome isn't life threatening in itself, but it could indicate something is wrong.

A dog's tongue is quite remarkable when you think about it. They use it to drink water, help keep themselves cool and to clean their coat and feet. Plus, most dogs aren't shy when it comes to giving us a warm, sloppy kiss when they feel we need one.

How the tongue helps cool the dog is simple, yet effective. When dogs get hot while playing or exercising, they pant to cool down. The blood vessels in the tongue swell because of increased blood flow to the tongue. As the dog pants, moisture is created by their breath which evaporates and cools the tongue. As the tongue cools down, the blood flow is cooled and this goes throughout the dog's respiratory system, cooling his entire body.

A dog's tongue sticking out constantly can end up dry and cracked which can be painful for them. Just like when we get dry, cracked lips from spending too much time in the sun or from dry air during the winter. If the dog's tongue sticks out regularly, the end can become dry if they don't or can't pull it inside their mouth to moisten it. Hanging tongue syndrome is usually seen more often in smaller breeds like the Chihuahua, King Charles Spaniels and the Mexican Hairless, but larger breeds can be affected as well.

Hanging tongue syndrome can occur if the dog has suffered an injury or some kind of trauma to their muzzle or jaw. Some neurological diseases or deformities of the mouth or teeth can leave their tongue sticking out because their condition won't allow them to pull the tongue all the way into the mouth. You can tell your dog has hanging tongue syndrome when they don't or can't pull their tongue all the way in to moisten it. The tongue can even become discolored. If hanging tongue syndrome develops suddenly, it could be a sign of neurological problems, so make sure to have your dog checked out, just in case.

Sometimes, medications or temporary injuries can cause the dog's tongue to hang outside his mouth. If the dog lets his tongue stick out during the healing process or while on medication, once the injury heals or the medication has ended, the dog should return to normal. This isn't hanging tongue syndrome. However, it's always a good idea to have your vet take a look at your dog if he does allow his tongue to hang out.

Dogs who have their tongue sticking out all the time should be monitored to make sure a bacterial infection doesn't develop. Any sign of change in skin texture, bleeding, swelling or even a slight change in color should be checked out by a vet. These dogs are also at greater risk for frostbite during the winter months. A dog with true hanging tongue syndrome may need surgery to remove the part of the tongue that sticks out of his mouth. One common characteristic of dogs with hanging tongue syndrome is excessive drooling after drinking or eating. Dogs with this syndrome can usually remain the happy and normal pet you've always known, however.

Some dogs have an overbite or under-bite that makes it difficult for them to keep their tongue in their mouth because their teeth don't line up properly. This is also not true hanging tongue syndrome. For some dogs, leaving the tongue sticking out of their mouth is just a sign of complete relaxation. It's only true hanging tongue syndrome when they can't pull it back in.

Hanging tongue syndrome is not something dogs can control. For whatever reason, they just can't pull their tongue all the way into their mouth. It's not uncommon to see puppies and even older dogs become so laid back and relaxed with their tongue sticking out the side of their mouth. As with any health concern, a visit to your vet may be in order to make sure everything is alright.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Is there any remedy besides surgery on the tongue? We are fostering a female lab (rescue), but don't want to adopt if her hanging tongue syndrome is going to be a problem that is hard to manage w/lots of vet bills. Advice?

  2. If it's true hanging tongue syndrome, surgery is the only way to manage it. Has she been checked out to make sure it's not a bad alignment of her teeth that's allowing her tongue to hang out or some other medical reason and you know it's true hanging tongue syndrome?

    There shouldn't be extensive vet bills to contend with as long as you keep an eye on her tongue. Talk with your vet on advice on how to help keep her tongue moistened and warning signs to watch out for. If you're in a cold part of the country where her tongue could get frost bite, you would need to monitor her during the winter months.

    I wouldn't let hanging tongue syndrome stop me from adopting a dog, especially one you already are caring for and know. But it will require monitoring. I have a male black lab mix we rescued. They're great dogs.


  3. Hi,
    I have just found this thread as my chihuahua has recently started to stick his tongue out. He is 6 years old and the tongue protrudes at the front (not side) up to 1cm - not constantly - he does put it back in but this has been going on for about 3/4 months and whilst he looks so cute - I am wondering if it is a sign of illness?

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    If he pulls his tongue back in and it doesn't appear he's having trouble keeping it in, that's not a problem or something you need to be concerned with as far as hanging tongue syndrome goes, however, you might want to check his teeth to make sure there's not a dental problem that's starting to show up.

    He could be letting his tongue hang out because he's relaxed, but anytime a dog lets his tongue droop out of his mouth, you should monitor him. To be on the safe side, it's never a bad idea to have your vet give him an exam to make sure there isn't an underlying medical condition that hasn't shown up yet. Hanging tongue syndrome is something seen most often in chihuahuas and it could be the first signs of an illness.


  5. My dog had bloated stomache, lost appetite and became skinny. Went to Vet and she was given

    Furosemide 40 mg, Liverolin 3 cc and VibraVet 2x a day. Her stomache has been filled with

    water and she kept on urinating on the 3rd day and on the 4th day, she was paralyzed (could

    not stand and walk).She was still eating, fighting and alert. But today 6th day, she was

    able to stand a bit and today after my sis fed her cake, her tongue just sticked out but

    she is still alert.What happened and how can she recover?

    1. I'm a pet parent to a rescued 7yr. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She's a retired breeding dog from a puppy mill. Poor thing, because she didn't receive any dental care from her previous life, she is missing almost all of her teeth. (Only 3 remain.) Because of this, her tongue hangs to the right side of her mouth much of the time and becomes dry, especially around the edges. I had multiple vets look at her tongue and didn't seem concerned, so I took matters into my own hands and did extensive online research. What I found is that organic coconut oil is a natural, healthy moisturizer of sorts. I rub a small amount (about a teaspoon) on her tongue at night. Her tongue will always hang out, since there aren't any teeth on top to hold it in, but the coconut oil keeps her tongue soft and moisturized. She loves the taste. Coconut oil also has natural antibacterial and antiparasite qualities to it. I also soak her dry dogfood for 10-15 minutes in just enough water to cover the food before giving it to her. She is able to eat and drink water just like any other dog.

  6. You mentioned neurological disorders as possible cause. I have a rescued Chihuahua who's long had periodic seizures. He's on Potassium Bromide (K Brovet), Keppra (don't remember chem name) and Phenobarbital. As he ages, his tongue seems to stick out more and more; today about 1.5cm. He's about 13 yrs now. It's normal for it to hang out but he can "recoil" it in. No vet has ever mentioned anything except "He's really cute." He gets periodic dental work - cleanings and occasional removals. Is this neurological, pharmacological or dental? Need I worry about it?

    1. Ryan, I would do some research on the BEST possible vet DVM, and take my precious little dog to ANOTHER vet for a second opinion!

  7. I have a 4 month old male pug. Today I noticed his tongue has been hanging out all day today.that's not normal for him. Should I be worried? He feels a lil warm. Someone help.

    1. Hello Jessica, just wondering if you were able to get help for your male pug's tongue? I hope you got him to the vet, especially since he felt warm and is very young to have a hanging tongue. Please give us an update, if you would be so kind. It may help others. Thanks:)

  8. I found this male pit/boxer mix and his tounge always sticks out till he get water then it goes back in for a few. He is very skinny cause I just found him on the side of the road and he seems dehidrated and half way blind. I gave him food and water but his tounge is still out what do u think it is

  9. My 10 year old beagle/labrador has recently started sleeping with a small portion of her tongue hanging out.

    I've found other websites talking about dogs of various ages sleeping with the tip of their tongue out.

    But why has this just started?

    She is in deep REM when she does is cute...she didn't do it when she was a puppy...and she looks like a puppy when she sleeps like this.

    Please respond.


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