In this article we will look at why some dogs have a black spot on their tongue and let you know what it means. When you notice that your Lab has a dark patch on his tongue it can be worrying, but a black spot on dogs’ tongues is most often nothing to worry about. However in some cases it could be a sign of illness. We will look at when you need to be concerned by and speak with a veterinarian about your dog’s tongue discoloration, and reassure you where it’s nothing to worry about. Let’s start by explaining the reason behind these spots and patches.
Why do dogs have black spots on their tongue?
Common belief is that a black spot on dogs’ tongues is a sure sign that they are a cross-breed. This is absolutely not true and there are many pure-bred dogs with spotted tongues.
Most dogs have mostly pink tongues and pink gums. The exception are Chow Chow’s and Chinese Shar-pei’s, where the blue-black tongue is a breed standard. For this reason many people believe that a black spot on dogs’ tongues is a sign that they are a chow mix. This is simply not true.
The black spots or patches are simply pigmentation in the skin of the dog’s tongue. The pigmentation depends on where melanin is deposited. Melanin is the pigment responsible for coloring in living creatures. Skin, hair, nails, nose, eyes, mouth – and also the tongue. So a black spot on a dog’s tongue is similar to your own birthmarks or freckles. It’s simply one of your furry friend’s unique inborn characteristics.
How common are dogs with spotted tongues?
Black spots on the tongues of usually pink tongue dog breeds are not actually that rare. They have a genetic link, just like the color of their coat. A dog with a patch or black spot on their tongue is quite likely have a parent or a grandparent with the same characteristic. But it isn’t a given, and tongue spots may appear in a dogs whose ancestors were spot-free.
While science has determined that genetics determines melanin deposits, they haven’t established exactly how the mechanism of inheritance works in the the case of tongue spots. We do know that spotted tongues are more common in those breeds that have darker “points” – their lips, nose, eye rims, paw pads and toenails. So certain breeds are more likely to have dogs with spotted tongues.
Dog breeds with black spots on tongue
A black spot on dogs’ tongues actually occurs regularly in over thirty different dog breeds. This includes the Labrador, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, Siberian Husky, Pug, and Airedale.
What do normal black spots on dogs’ tongues look like?
Inherited black spots on dogs’ tongues are present at birth or develop soon thereafter. And they have the same texture as the rest of the tongue. There could be one tiny spot or many spots on the tongue. They might even cover almost the whole tongue. They could be well defined separate spots, or patches of color.
The color can range from grey or bluish-black to black. It’s also quite normal if the color, and even the shape, changes gradually over time. Just like hair changes color and becomes grey with age. However, the sudden appearance of a black spot on dogs’ tongues is cause for concern. Or if their whole tongue changes colour.
Sudden black spot on dog’s tongue
Your dog’s tongue can be a good indicator to his overall health. Any changes that were not there before could be a sign of an illness and should be checked out by your vet. If your adult dog gets a black spot on their tongue that wasn’t there before, or if there is a change in the appearance or texture of existing black spots, this could be a melanoma.
While cancerous melanomas in dogs are rare, the mouth is the most common place for them to occur. The spot is usually raised and unusually smooth and shiny. Other signs are foul smelling breath and bleeding from the mouth. There is also a disease in dogs called black tongue. Signs are a black tongue, foul smelling breath, redness and ulceration in the mouth, and visible blood in their saliva.
A deficiency of a vitamin called niacin is usually the cause and this illness can be fatal if not treated properly by a vet. If your dog’s tongue has an overall bluish color it can be a sign that he’s not getting enough oxygen. The cause can be a lung disease, heart disease or even exposure to a toxic substance.
Regular dental checks with your vet will help highlight any problems with your dog’s mouth and tongue. In the meantime, always consult your vet about any changes in your dog’s mouth. Your vet won’t mind if there’s nothing wrong. Problems spotted early on are much easier to treat.
Black spot on dog’s tongue – summary
So the answer to “Why do dogs have black spots on their tongue?” is mostly quite simple – it’s part of the normal colouring that they were born with. Just like the colour of their fur, paws, nose and eyes. It doesn’t mean that there was a Chow in your dog’s family tree. It doesn’t even mean he isn’t pure bred – many pedigree dogs have black tongue spots. Provided the spots have always been there, and are not raised, changing shape or different in texture from the rest of his tongue, they are harmless
Just accept it as a delightful quirk in your dog’s appearance and part of his own individuality. And, as one of our readers suggested, it can be your own secret way of positively identifying your pet if ever you need to prove that you’re their legal owner.
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.
- Labrador Dental Care
- Burke, A. 2015. What are those black spots on a dog’s tongue, anyway? American Kennel Club.
- Hohenhaus, A. 2014. Unmasking melanoma in pets. Vet Street.
- Vetinfo. Possible causes of dog tongue discoloration. vetinfo.com
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website