I am Your Dog’s Tongue

 

Almost everybody is familiar with a dog’s tongue, whether it’s hanging out of the mouth of a dog on a hot summer day or being used to vigorously lick the owner in a greeting, this organ is sure to play a conspicuous role in a dog’s life and the life of the people living with the dog. Yet, there are so many things to discover about a dog’s tongue such as the tasks a dog’s tongue is responsible for, the various anatomical parts of the tongue, the number of taste buds populating it and much, much more! So today, let’s have the dog’s tongue do the talking and tell us his fascinating story.

dog panting tongueIntroducing Your Dog’s Tongue

Hello, it’s your dog’s tongue talking! Yes, just for today I have been granted the ability to speak and I am honored to be on stage to talk about myself. I am sure you are already familiar with me, I’m that familiar muscular organ that is often seen hanging out from your dog’s mouth when he is hot or tired as after romping in the yard. I am usually kept nicely moist with doggy saliva and my color is normally pink, but in the dog world, there always seems to be some exception. Wanna know something really cool? The chow chow dog breed boasts a fascinating blue tongue that is out of this world!

People are often surprised when they learn that I am an organ, but since I am more than just tissue and am composed by bundles of muscles that are richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels, I think I deserve to keep this “title.” Wanna learn a bit about my anatomy? Well, my upper surface is known as “dorsum” and that groove you see in the center that divides me into two symmetrical halves is called the median sulcus. I am attached to the back of your dog’s mouth by the hyoid bone. While among humans, I mostly aid with chewing, swallowing and talking, in dogs, I carry out some other interesting functions.

I House the Taste Budsdog watermelon eating

Ever wondered why your dog spits out those bitter pills with a disgusting look on his face? Well, I am home of the taste buds, special sensory organs that are scattered throughout my surface. Dogs are estimated to have about 1,700 taste buds, which is a mere number considering that on average, humans have about 10,000! Each taste bud is equipped with special taste receptor cells responsible for transmitting messages to the dog’s brain such as what he should or should not eat. It’s a known fact that dogs are capable of discerning between salt, sweet, sour and bitter.  You see, generally, in nature, most bad bitter flavors, are a warning sign that an animal has likely encountered something that can be harmful or even poisonous, explains Stanley Coren.So no wonder why Rover spits out those nasty tasting pills!

But hey, here’s a dirty little secret: you can fool my taste buds by wrapping up those pills in a piece of low-sodium hot-dog or piece of cheese (ask your vet first as some medications don’t agree with cheese). If your dog is a smarty pants and still detects the pill, you can trick him by giving him a series of cheese or hot dog pieces without the pill in a row and then in the midst of all of these you can give the one with the pill. Chances are, your dog will be so eagerly eating, he won’t hardly even notice!

dog hotI am a Radiator

On top of allowing Rover to enjoy tasty meals and avoid the potentially harmful ones, I also play a big role in helping him cool down. You see, when your dog pants, he’s not just hanging me out to look silly. Dogs are not able to sweat in the same people do, so it’s my turn to take matters into my own hands. Since I am moistened by saliva produced by four pairs of salivary glands, when Rover sticks me out as he breathes heavily (like 300-400 breaths a minute!) I act like a radiator. Basically, along with the rest of the dog’s mouth and upper respiratory tract, I allow moisture to evaporate with the end result of cooling him down during those dog days of summer. Now, don’t I deserve a nice pat on my back?

I Work as a Ladle

Dogs don’t have the manual dexterity necessary to grab a cup full of water, bring it to the mouth and pour it down, so they rely on me when it’s time to drink. When dogs stick me out to get a drink of water, I curl up backwards and work as a ladle, collecting water and quickly bringing it in to the dog’s mouth. The dog then quickly bites down and then rinses and repeats the whole cycle until his thirst is finally quenched. So if you think your dog is messy drinker, don’t blame him, rather, blame me instead as my backward curl can cause some splashes! Now, watch me below to have a better idea on exactly what I do. Quite fascinating, huh?

 

Did you know? Other than detecting sweet, bitter, sour and salt, a dog’s taste buds are  even capable of tasting water, something quite surprising, isn’t it! Now you know why your dog has a potty mouth. Read more about this here: Dogs have taste buds for water

mother dogI am a Cleaning Device

When you get  need to clean a wound, you can just walk to your medicine cabinet and grab some bandages and a disinfectant, while dogs are left with nothing more than their mouths. This is where I can come handy. Dogs may use me as cleaning device to remove dirt or debris from a wound, and while I am at it, I can even disinfect it a bit too.  My tongue is kept humid with saliva, and that saliva is thought to contain some beneficial compounds capable of destroying the cell walls of  gram-positive bacteria. But as with almost everything in life, moderation is key. Dogs can sometimes get too carried away with licking, and if they sue me too much, my abrasive surface can cause more harm than good. The result can be a moist, raw area, basically, what vets call an “acral lick granuloma.” This is why Rover is sometimes better off wearing that  big satellite dish, also know as the “cone of shame.”

“Pets can get obsessed with licking to the detriment of healthy skin. There’s also a lot of bad bacteria in a pet’s mouth, so as with so many good things in life, licking is an activity best done in moderation.”~ Dr. Patty Khuly

Did you know? I also play a role in keeping a batch of newborn puppies clean and happy. Mother dog uses me to vigorously lick the pups clean and improve their circulation as they take their first gasps of air. Mother dogs also uses me to stimulate the pups to potty, something day-old pups cannot do yer on their own!

I Allow “Dog Talk”dog lip licking

In humans, I play a main role in allowing speech and proper pronunciation, but in dogs I can also “speak volumes,” but this time we’re talking about body language. Those tongue flicks your dog does every now and then may look casual, but there’s likely more to it if you pay attention to the context in which they’re happening. Patricia McConnell in her book ” For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend” explains that those fast tongue flicks can be a sign of low level anxiety or an appeasement signal. So watch what’s going on when you see me in action. It could be your dog is nervous at the vet’s often, not comfortable with a pal he just met at the dog park or nervous about being pat on the head.

If you notice your best friend doing this, take notice of when it happens and then try to find ways to make your dog more comfortable in the future. Consider though that all tongue flicks in dogs don’t always stem from uneasiness or anxiety. You may also see me in action when your dog greets you walking towards you with the head lowered and tongue flicking as a friendly way to solicit attention. And of course, you’re likely familiar with me being used as a greeting tool when your dog submerges you with all those wet “doggy kisses”  when you first come home. 

Dogs like to lick our faces, a behavior that is disturbing for many dog owners and particularly non-dog owners. Yet, this behavior is a demonstration of friendliness, an attempt at pacifying us and themselves, a hand (though not literally) reaching for peace. It’s a compliment a dog gives you, “I like you, you can be my friend.” ~Roger Abrantes

dog sniffI Help With Smells

Have you ever seen your dog chatter his teeth when he sniffs something interesting and perhaps even foam at the mouth? When dogs do this, they are basically gathering large scent molecules and with my help they are able to send them towards their incisiva papilla a behavior known as tonguing. These scent molecules then reach the dog’s vomeronasal organ and finally the dog’s brain possibly eliciting a behavior response such as marking over the sniffed area. Interesting stuff, huh?

 

When Things Go Wrongwhen to see vet

You don’t hear about me much when it comes to medical diseases and conditions. Even though I am made of muscles, you never hear about me getting sore or a sprain as other muscles do. Something though that dog owners notice a lot is that I bleed a whole lot when I get accidentally cut. A bleeding tongue in dogs indeed can be quite scary at times! Using some ice on the area or offering a bowl of ice, cold water can help in such a case, suggests veterinarian Dr. Christian K. Keeping the dog calm and relaxed is also important as any increase in blood pressure can increase my bleeding. Of course, see your vet if the bleeding is pretty significant! Also, if I start bleeding for no reason, it’s important to see the vet, as there may be some bleeding lump, blister, ulcer or wart hiding somewhere in the dog’s mouth that needs to be checked out.

When I sustain any type of injury such as a bug bite, burn or cut, your dog will usually let yo know by drooling, smacking his lips a lot and sometimes being reluctant to eat. Glossitis is the term used for when I get inflamed and swollen and this can be triggered by several things such as a foreign body (think a burr or grass awn working its way into me), an allergic reaction, a fungal or bacterial infection or exposure to something toxic. Sometimes, immune diseases such as lupus, kidney disease and cancer can cause this too. At times, swelling right under me can be a ranula, a blocked salivary gland that causes saliva to collect under the tongue, explains veterinarian Dr. Kara. And yes, Hanging Tongue Syndrome is not what you see in those world’s ugliest dogs competitions, it’s actually a real medical problem. In this condition, trauma to the dog’s jaw or head can lead to nerve dysfunction which causes affected dogs to carry me abnormally.

As with checking a dog’s gums colors, my color can also be an indicator of health or trouble. I am normally pink in color (except some exceptions such as blue tongues in chow chows and dogs with spotted tongues ) so if you see me turn pale, red, bluish or a yellow/brown tint, please see your vet right away as this can be a sign of a dog not getting enough oxygen as seen in heart and respiratory diseases and internal bleeding, decreased profusion (less oxygen moving through body) or liver problems (jaundice) among other possible causes.

So I hope you enjoyed learning more about me today! As you can see, I can do a lot of talking! I won’t bite my tongue in saying that I play many important roles in your dog’s life, so make sure to take good care of me and keep an eye for signs of trouble. Your dog and I will thank you!

Best regards,

Your Dog’s TongueDog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If you notice any abnormalities in your dog’s tongue, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

 

References:

  • Krönert, H.; Pleschka, K. (January 1976). “Lingual blood flow and its hypothalamic control in the dog during panting”. Pflügers Archiv European Journal of Physiology. 367
  • For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D Ballantine Books; 1 Reprint edition (July 22, 2009)
  • American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics. “Fluid dynamics explain what happens when dogs drink water.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2014.
  • Gart, Sean, et al. “Dogs lap using acceleration-driven open pumping.”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.52 (2015): 15798-15802.
  • Psychology Today, How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?, by Stanley Coren, retrieved from the Wed on March 4th, 2016.
  •  Ethology Institute Institute Cambridge, Why Do Dogs Like to Lick Our Faces?, by Roger Abrantes, retrieved from the Web on March 4th, 2016.
  • Just Answer, Dog has cut on tongue, bleeding steadily, retrieved from the web on August 22, 2016

 

Six Fascinating Ways Dogs Use Their Tongues

 

We are used to paying attention to our dog’s ears, eyes and tail when we try to interpret what our dogs may be feeling, but did you know that a dog’s tongue can also play a role in communication? A dog’s tongue covers many important functions and we often take this muscled organ for granted. Dog tongues aren’t there just for decoration. There are many fascinating functions our dog’s tongues have that are just ready to be discovered. Following are six fascinating ways dogs use their tongues coming straight from a dog’s mouth.

dogs tonguesHome of The Taste Buds

Ever wondered why I spit out that bitter pill you offer me giving you a hard time administering my medication? Chances are, my taste buds informed me that it’s not something I may want to eat. You see, just like you, a dog’s tongue is covered with these small bumps known as papillae. Each papillae contains several clusters of taste buds and each taste bud is equipped with taste receptor cells. These receptor cells transmit messages to a special area in our brain that’s dedicated to allowing me to detect odors or tastes so that I can evaluate them. I am known to be capable of discerning between salt, sweet, bitter and sour. Mother Nature has given me this gift, so that I could avoid eating things that could be potentially harmful.

” Sensations of pleasure and disgust provided by taste serve a survival function. A reasonable rule of thumb, at least for natural substances, is that bad tastes are a signal that the animal has encountered something that is harmful, indigestible, or poisonous, while good tastes signal useful, digestible substances.” ~ Stanley Coren

A Dog’s Radiatordog panting tongue

On top of allowing me to perceive taste, my tongue also allows me to cool off especially on those dog days of summer. Unlike humans, who cool off by sweating, us dogs stick out our tongues and start panting. No, my tongue doesn’t sweat, instead, it’s kept moist courtesy of four pairs of salivary glands which release saliva in the mouth. You see, when I’m hot, my tongue acts like a thermostat, and those quick, shallow, breaths allow air to flow over my tongue causing saliva and moisture to evaporate. Through the evaporation of water from my tongue, mouth and upper respiratory tract, I am able to effectively cool down.

Panting in dogs is not only seen when it’s hot or after exercising, sometimes us dogs may pant with our tongues sticking out also when we’re stressed. So a panting dog isn’t always a happy dog. How can you tell if  I am panting from stress? You will have to look at context and rely on other subtle signs such as facial tension, furrowed brows, a tense, spatula-shaped tongue (tongue curved at the edges), whale eyes and prominence of muscles and veins on the face among other signs.

Did you know? According to veterinarian Marty Becker, when a dog pants he takes about 300 to 400 breaths per minute, which is whole lot compared to the normal 30 to 40 breaths per minute.

dog drinking tongueLapping Up Water

When you drink water, you just gulp it down with your tongue staying nicely put inside your mouth. That’s because you have a nice set of full cheeks that allow you to suction. When us dogs must drink, we must stick out our tongues instead. The way we drink water may seem sloppy to you as you wipe away those random splashes by the water bowl, but turns out, it took a group of researchers at Virginia Tech and Purdue University to figure out exactly what we’re doing. You see, as we’re drinking, we plunge our tongue in the water and then the underside of our tongues curls up to bring up a ladle of water into our mouths. We then quickly bite down to capture that water and on goes the lap, gulp and repeat cycle. Researchers say that us dogs are very fast in accelerating our tongue upward and we do so more quickly than cats.

“The everyday experience of dogs as messy drinkers results from the backward curl of the tongue, which increases the size of the water column and thus enables dogs to drink more per lap than with a straight tongue.” ~Gart, Sean, et al.

My Cleaning Devicedog elizabethan collar

Humans are blessed with hands that come with opposable thumbs, while us dogs are left with nothing more than our mouths and paws to carry out several tasks. Count your blessings for this. According to veterinarian Patty Khuly, a practicing veterinarian based in Miami, Florida, if humans lacked opposable thumbs and weren’t able to reach out for disinfectants to clean up their wounds, they would possibly lick their wounds just like dogs do! Whether we’re grooming our puppies, removing debris from our fur or licking a wound, our tongues are our cleaning devices.

We’re not aware of it, but our saliva contains beneficial compounds capable of destroying the cell walls of  gram-positive bacteria. So our instinctive wound licking behavior can help promote healing, diminish our pain and at the same time, inhibit bacterial growth! However, as with many things in life, too much of a good thing is bad. I may get carried away into licking too much and the repeated abrasive action of my tongue along with the negative implication of keeping a wound moist for too long (moisture attracts bacteria), may lead to trouble. This is when your vet may recommend I wear that cone of shame. 

“Pets can get obsessed with licking to the detriment of healthy skin. There’s also a lot of bad bacteria in a pet’s mouth, so as with so many good things in life, licking is an activity best done in moderation.”Patty Khuly

dog tongue flicks whale eyeTongue Flicks Speak Volumes

You’re likely familiar with snakes flicking their tongues, but dogs can flick tongues too. When you see me doing this, you might want to pay attention to what is happening. Patricia McConnell in her book ” For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend” explains that in dogs these little tongue flicks are an expression of low level anxiety or an appeasement signal. You may see tongue flicks happening anytime I feel uncomfortable such as when I am at the vet’s office, when you’re trimming my nails or when I am being hugged or in a place surrounded by strange dogs. Don’t ignore these subtle pleads of help, take notice and try to find ways to make me more comfortable in certain situations. Ignore them, and my anxiety may escalate. Not all tongue flicks stem from anxiety though, a dog who is engaging in a full body wag, and comes towards you with the head lowered and tongue flicking, may just be soliciting attention.

“If a dog stands still, tongue-flicks out of a closed jaw, and then stiffly turns his head away from you, mind your manners. You are being told loud and clear that Fido is uncomfortable. (. . .) Ignore this message at your own peril.” ~Patricia McConnell

dog kissesA Greeting Tool

You’re likely quite familiar with the enthusiastic licks I give upon greeting you in the evening when you come home from work. You like to call them “doggy kisses.” Well, from our doggy perspective, things are a tad bit different from what you may imagine. We don’t really “kiss” as people do and people who kiss dogs are often at risk of being bitten. You see, us dogs use our tongues from a very young age. Mother dog licks us from the day we are born. After we make it out the birth canal, mother dog licks us vigorously to help stimulate our breathing and then she’ll keep licking us to stimulate us to eliminate as we can’t do that on our own when we’re very young.

As we grow up, you’ll see us lick around our mother’s mouth. This behavior is likely reminiscent of the old days when we were in the wild and we licked our mother’s mouths to elicit her to regurgitate for us when we were in the process of being weaned. You see, back then, mother dog couldn’t bring a whole carcass to our den to feed us, so she would regurgitate to feed us. Today we have the luxury of breeders serving us puppy mush before being started on kibble, but back then, things were just that way. So when we greet you by licking your face, we might not necessarily be asking you to regurgitate (although we loves those cookie crumbs on the corners of your mouth!), but if our tails are wagging and we look happy, chances are you can take it as a sign of  friendliness or a sincere compliment coming from “the tip of our tongues.”

Dogs like to lick our faces, a behavior that is disturbing for many dog owners and particularly non-dog owners. Yet, this behavior is a demonstration of friendliness, an attempt at pacifying us and themselves, a hand (though not literally) reaching for peace. It’s a compliment a dog gives you, “I like you, you can be my friend.” ~Roger Abrantes

Did you know? Some dogs have black in their mouths and this can mean black spots on their tongues or even blue/black tongues. Here’s an interesting read on the tongue of the Chow chow: the chow’ chow’s fascinating tongue.

References:

  • For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D Ballantine Books; 1 Reprint edition (July 22, 2009)
  • American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics. “Fluid dynamics explain what happens when dogs drink water.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2014.
  • Gart, Sean, et al. “Dogs lap using acceleration-driven open pumping.”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.52 (2015): 15798-15802.
  • Psychology Today, How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?, by Stanley Coren, retrieved from the Wed on March 4th, 2016.
  •  Ethology Institute Institute Cambridge, Why Do Dogs Like to Lick Our Faces?, by Roger Abrantes, retrieved from the Web on March 4th, 2016.

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