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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 congenital defect, injury, 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 sunburn, dehydration, frostbite, or even infection.

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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
  • Dry tongue
  • Swollen tongue
  • Thickening of tongue

Types

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 moisturizers 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.

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.

Hanging Tongue Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Licky licky
Shih Tzu
3 Days
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

My shih tzu just had her 3rd litter of pups (pure bred) the runt was born with hanging tongue syndrome. There isn't a family history of this disease on either side. Just wondering if this is a form of retardation? I am keeping him fed with goats milk and a syringe about 6-8 mL every 2-3 hours. He's 3days old is that enough? I've tried goggling but no luck.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Tongue hanging out may be a congenital problem, nerve injury or problem with the conformation of the jaw. I wouldn’t call it retardation, but there are various causes; dogs affected by tongue hanging out syndrome are usually not affected that badly and live normally. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

I have a canine dog and he's 5yrs old now. Fives days back I gave him a chewable bone and suddenly after that he started putting his tongue out. I took him to a vetenary hospital and they gave him some injections,now he's getting worst, his tongue is swollen, he can't eat, his eyes is cloudy and blood is coming out from his tongue. I don't know if the blood is from his tongue or throat. And a bad breath is coming out.

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Louie
Japanese Chin
10 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Huge ulcer under his tongue

My little dog was bitten UNDER the tongue, by a venomous baby snake...he's a smoothed nosed Japanese chin....so we never saw it happen. We got emergency vet treatment, but the bite site is under his tongue, forcing it out the other side. I was researching OTC mouth moisturizing products, when I read that they all have xylitol in them...which is toxic to dogs. I am currently using olive oil to keep his tongue moist....any other suggestions?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
I'm sorry that that happened to Louie! It would make sense to me to keep his tongue moist with saline, tap water, or small amounts of olive oil, as you are right, most human products cannot be used for dogs. It will take time, but as his tongue heals, it will become easier.

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Pepper
Chihuahua cross
13 weeks
Moderate condition
-1 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 13 week old puppy tongue constantly hangs out. She was seen by the vet 3+ weeks ago for jabs and microchip and I pointed this out.. the vet said it may right itself but may always be like that. Told nothing to worry about but I have now noticed that the front teeth too and bottom have not come through.. side ones have but not centre ones... any ideas please

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Some dogs have tongues longer than others which is not uncommon in smaller breeds of dog; sometimes as the jaw (and mouth overall) grows, these issues may resolve themselves but in other instances they don’t. A partial amputation of the tongue may be considered by some Veterinarians if there is constant injury to the tongue or it gets dry and cracked. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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