Just as you’re about to beat Usain Bolt at the 100 meter mark, you awaken to the feeling of wet, sticky sandpaper on your cheek.
Cold, wet, sticky sandpaper.
You sit upright, startled into consciousness, to see the familiar face of your best friend looking up at you. Good morning to you too!
“But why is my dog’s tongue cold?” you wonder.
There are a few different possible reasons why your dog’s tongue is cold. The surface of the tongue could be cold because it recently came into contact with cold substances, like water or ice.
Believe it or not, sleeping position can also make a dog’s tongue cold.
On the more worrisome side of the spectrum, a cold tongue along with other symptoms can signify bigger health issues in your dog.
It can be difficult to narrow down the cause, but thankfully most of the time it’s not anything too serious. Let’s get straight into it!
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Possible Reason 1: Your Dog Just Drank Water Or Ate Ice
This is the simplest possible answer to the question, “Why is my dog’s tongue cold?”
If your dog just finished drinking fresh, clean water, it’s tongue will likely become at least a little colder than the rest of its body.
This is the basic concept of heat conduction, where a hotter object will transfer heat to the cooler substance until the two are the same temperature. The water essentially chills the tongue the longer it is in contact with it.
It will be even more noticeable if it is winter time or if you live in a location with a cold climate. If your dog eats the snow or ice outside, or licks at the window as dogs love to do, heat transfer will occur and make the tongue colder to the touch.
This will only be for a short period of time however, as when your dog stops drinking water or eating ice the blood flow to the tongue will make it warm again.
Risk factor on a scale of 1 to 10: 0
Possible Reason 2: Saliva Cooling On The Tongue Made It Cold
Another possible reason why your dog’s tongue is cold may be due to a large amount of saliva cooling it down. This is especially the case when your dog has just been running around, or is feeling particularly hot on a sunny day.
While dogs sweat through their paws, it isn’t actually the primary process that keeps them cool.
Instead, dogs regulate their temperature mostly through panting. As they pant, the moisture on their tongue evaporates and the air around the moist tissue cools it down.
Again, this is a matter of basic physics. When your dog is feeling hot, it will produce more saliva. Saliva is made up of water molecules, and these water molecules will all be moving at different kinetic speeds. The lower the kinetic speed, the lower the temperature.
Some of these molecules on the tongue will be slow, and some will be faster. Some will even be fast enough to escape their liquid form and turn into gas water, or what we call water vapor, and evaporate off the tongue.
What remains on the tongue are the lower energy, slower water molecules. They will form in beads, and if they are colder than the tongue, they will cool it down through the same process of heat conduction as explained in the section above.
Again, this will be even more noticeable if it is winter time or if you live in a cold climate. And just like the first reason above, your dog’s tongue will soon become warm again as the saliva dries.
Risk factor on a scale of 1 to 10: 0
Possible Reason 3: Sleeping Position And Body Temperature At Rest
Did you know that sleeping position can also affect the temperature of your dog’s tongue?
Does your dog sleep like this?
Or like this?
Or perhaps even like this…?
If your dog often sleeps on its back, belly-up, then that could be the reason why it sometimes has a chilly tongue!
This is simply due to gravity, and the fact that blood is unable to flow efficiently to the tongue when it is in an elevated, inverted position off the ground. As the blood rushes out of the face and circulates into lower areas of the body, the tongue will become comparatively colder.
Next time you see your dog sleeping on its back, put a finger onto its tongue and see what its temperature is like. Chances are it will be colder than it usually is when your pup is moving around on four feet.
There’s nothing dangerous about dogs sleeping on their back, and they could be doing so in order to cool down, or just because it’s a comfortable position for them.
Dogs will also only ever sleep on their backs with their bellies exposed when they feel completely safe and secure in their surroundings- so kudos on giving that to them!
When they do decide to wake up and upright themselves, their tongue will follow suit and revert back to its normal, warm temperature.
Risk factor on a scale of 1 to 10: 0
Possible Reason 4: Your Dog Is Cold
If your dog’s body temperature has dropped and it is cold, then it is likely that its tongue will become cold too. There are various reasons a dog could experience a drop in body temperature, including:
- Exposure to cold weather or damp environments
- Certain medications such as anesthesia can make it hard for dog’s to regulate body heat
- Small, newborn, and old dogs are more likely to be susceptible to the cold.
Mainly though, a cold tongue comes down to blood circulation. A dog’s tongue is full of tiny blood vessels that carry blood to the muscle and keep it warm.
However, when your dog feels cold, the body will constrict these blood vessels and stop blood from flowing to the area. Instead, the blood flow is redirected to the core to keep the vital organs such as lungs, kidney, and heart warm.
A dog’s normal temperature should hover around 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog’s tongue is cold and you suspect it may be because of low body temperature, you can check by using a rectal thermometer.
A rectal thermometer suitable for your dog would be the Sharptemp-V thermometer.
It can quickly provide temperature readings in around 10 seconds, and has a rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars from over 120 customers on Amazon. Built from durable plastic and stainless-steel, it can be easily cleaned and disinfected after use.
Rectal thermometers should be lubricated and slowly inserted around an inch into the rectum of smaller dogs or 2-3 inches into the rectum of larger dogs to get good temperature readings.
If the temperature is indeed below 101 (but still above 99 degrees F), then it means that your dog is colder than it should be. You may notice other signs that your dog is feeling cold such as shivering, weakness, lethargy and depression.
It is important at this point to do all you can to warm up your dog before it becomes even colder and its condition worsens. You can do this by wrapping your dog up in warm towels and blankets, or by using hot water bottles or heating pads.
If it is just a case of cold weather making your dog feel chilly, keep warming it up until it reaches a normal body temperature. Take your dog’s temperature at 10 minute intervals to check.
When body temperature is back in the normal range, then the tongue will be back to its normal state too as blood is once more able to flow back to the tissue.
However, if your dog’s temperature continues to drop and falls below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is in danger of becoming hypothermic and needs to be taken to the vet immediately for assessment and treatment.
Risk factor on a scale of 1 to 10: 5 (feeling cold) – 10 (hypothermia)
Possible Reason 5: A Symptom Of Something More Serious
If your dog has a cold tongue and none of the above possible reasons apply- it could be a sign of something more ominous going on in their body.
A dog’s tongue can be a very good barometer of its overall health status. This is again due to the large number of veins, vessels and arteries that run throughout the tongue.
When something is amiss, these vessels are very sensitive to change and will reflect the degraded state of health through change in color or condition.
If your dog’s tongue has become cold and clammy, it could be a signal that it has an illness or issue that is affecting its blood circulatory ability.
An effective initial check that you can carry out to see if your dog’s blood circulation is normal is to examine its gums. Gums are a good indicator of circulation, and they should be a healthy pink color.
If your dog’s gums are instead very pale or white, it means that the blood is not receiving sufficient oxygen or that there is a loss of red blood cells. it could be a sign that there’s a disruption to the normal flow of blood, or that your dog has anemia or internal bleeding.
Press firmly on the gums for a second and then let go. This is to check the capillary refill time; the gums should turn pale for around half a second and then quickly return to its original color.
If the color refills very slowly or if there is no difference in color at all, there could be a problem.
The state and color of the tongue can also say a lot about what might be going on:
- White/pale: May indicate blood loss, anemia, compromised immune function, malnutrition, or leukemia
- Yellow/orange color: May indicate liver or stomach damage.
- Red: May indicate dehydration, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney issues, bacterial infection
- Purple/blue: May indicate heart, liver or other organ diseases.
- If the tongue has a white or yellow coating, that could indicate poor oral hygiene or nutrition, as well as internal toxin buildup.
Finally, think about other possible connections and causes.
Is your dog currently on any medication prescribed by a vet for a particular sickness or condition?
Has it been acting unusually lately– showing signs of lethargy, confusion, loss of appetite or doing things it wouldn’t normally do (such as peeing inside)?
You know your dog the best, so if you have been sensing something wrong with your dog either visually or even just through gut feeling- take it to the vet.
More often than not, a devoted owner’s intuition is accurate, and by acting quickly you may be able to catch things before they get worse- and even save your best friend’s life.
Risk factor on a scale of 1 to 10: 8-10. Get your dog to the vet immediately!
There are many possible reasons that your dog’s tongue may be cold, ranging from the completely benign to the potentially fatal.
It could just be a simple case of heat conduction, whether through drinking cold water or panting when your dog needs to cool down. It is even possible that your dog’s sleeping position is what is drawing the blood away from its face and tongue, and making it cold!
However, it is also possible that a cold tongue is just a symptom or sign that something more serious is happening inside your dog’s body. Your dog may be feeling cold and its blood being drawn in towards the vital organs.
It could even be a serious illness such as anemia, internal bleeding or circulatory disease that is resulting in a cold tongue. As soon as you notice something that doesn’t seem to be right with your, dog and rule out every other possibility- take it to the vet!
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.