What is Hanging Tongue Syndrome?
A dog with an exposed tongue is not an unusual sight; they pant to show pleasure or anxiety, to recover after exercise, and to cool themselves. Some dogs, however, are either partially or fully unable to control their tongue and it may hang out of their mouth on a consistent basis.
These dogs have a condition know as hanging tongue syndrome, and it can be triggered by a congenital defect, injury, dental disease or neurological damage. This can leave the dog open to cracking and bleeding of the tongue as well as difficulty eating or cleaning themselves.
Dogs who are unable to pull their tongue back into their mouths may be at an increased risk of dehydration, frostbite, or even infection.
Symptoms of Hanging Tongue Syndrome in Dogs
Dogs who have developed hanging tongue syndrome may experience several different symptoms that are likely to require attention and may even be indicative of additional disorders. Some of the symptoms that you may want to watch for include:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding and cracking of the tongue
- Dry tongue
- Swollen tongue
- Thickening of tongue
- A tongue infection
Constantly hanging tongues in dogs may have multiple causes, and this may result in differing amounts of control over the organ. Dogs that are unable to retract their tongue fully due to dentition problems or injuries to the jaw may have full control of their tongue otherwise. Canines who have limited control or no control, such as dogs with tongues that are paralyzed due to nerve damage or dogs with an injured tongue, may require assistance with important tasks such as eating, drinking, and cleaning themselves and may be more at risk for environmental hazards such as sunburn or frostbite.
Causes of Hanging Tongue Syndrome in Dogs
Several situations can lead to hanging tongue syndrome in dogs, some of them congenital and others acquired. Brachycephalic and toy breeds can be prone to having a tongue that is overly long compared to their mouths compared to other breeds and dogs with either an underbite or an overbite are more likely to develop this condition as they age. Hanging tongue syndrome can also be triggered by damage to the facial area, particularly damage that involves the jaw, as well as by dental disease that results in the loss of teeth. Damage to the nerves that control the tongue and other forms of neurological damage may also induce the tongue to hang loosely.
Diagnosis of Hanging Tongue Syndrome in Dogs
When you bring your pet into the clinic in regards to its hanging tongue, the visit is likely to start with a complete physical examination, including standard diagnostic tests such as a urinalysis, complete blood count, and a biochemical profile. These will be done to rule out other causes of a protruding tongue, which could include illnesses or medications that induce swelling, ulcers or tumors on the tongue, or minor injuries to the tongue.
When examining the mouth area, the veterinarian will also evaluate the state of the dog’s teeth and check to see if the tongue is abnormally large for the oral cavity. If the tongue is too large for the oral cavity, the examining veterinarian will also evaluate how much of an effect it is likely to have on the animal’s quality of life. In some cases, an x-ray of the mouth and jaw area may uncover poorly healed breaks or other trauma that may be causing the inability to better control the tongue.
Treatment of Hanging Tongue Syndrome in Dogs
Treatment for dogs with hanging tongue syndrome can differ somewhat, depending on the reason that the tongue is hanging limp and how severely it is affecting the animal. In many cases, the tongue requires only maintenance treatments such as appropriate lubricants for the tongue typically just olive oil or water and close monitoring to check for changes in texture or indications of frostbite or sunburn. Dogs who have tongues that are already swollen or cracked may be offered drugs for pain relief, and if the tongue has developed an infection, then the appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medications will be prescribed.
For dogs that do not have control of their tongues, the veterinarian may recommend that you feed your dog food that is soft and easy to swallow in an attempt to prevent damage to the tongue during feeding times. For some dogs with overly large tongues, sometimes referred to as macroglossia, the size of the tongue may severely interfere with eating, drinking, and even sleeping. In cases where the size or condition of the tongue is interfering greatly with the patient’s quality of life, surgical resection of the tongue, known as a glossectomy, may be recommended.
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Recovery of Hanging Tongue Syndrome in Dogs
Hanging tongue syndrome is generally a condition that is managed rather than cured, and additional care may be required for your dog. Dogs that have protruding tongues are prone to drying and cracking of the tongue, and the addition of olive oil to the tongue several times a day will help to prevent dehydration of this important organ.
It is also more likely to get sunburned or frostbitten, so the animal’s exposure to the elements should be reduced on days when the temperatures are excessively high or low, and additional grooming may be required, particularly for patients who do not have control of the tongue. It is also vital to regularly check the condition of the tongue as changes in thickness or color may signify systemic diseases that require veterinary care.