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My dog's gums have turned black. What could be causing this?

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My dog was diagnosed epilepsy one week ago and is taking Phenobarbital. Her gums turned black during this week. Also
has bad odor and don''t know if she is producing or maybe a
skunk (it''s bad but like a striped skunk). She is an 8 year old standard poodle that up to now has been in perfect health.

Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  miacarter replied 9 years ago.

Hi there.

I'm sorry to hear about your girl!

I'm a bit concerned for her, as discoloration of the gums is indicative of a problem. Black or blue-tinged gums indicate that a dog is not getting proper oxygen supply. But before you begin worrying and rushing her to the vet, is it possible that the black could be natural black pigment? If the gums are uniformly changing color, then you have a definite problem and I would get her to a vet immediately. But if you have spots of black color, this could very well be natural pigment that maybe you never noticed before?

I'm including some links that show photographs of dog gums. In a few of the photos, you can see this black pigmentation that I'm talking about.

Here is a link to a photo of normal gums:

Here is a link to a couple of photos of pale gums:

I should note that I've seen perfectly healthy dogs with gums that are slightly paler than those pictured in the "normal gums" picture, but there's always a distinct pink tone.

For more information on checking your dog's gums, visit:

Checking the gums is an indicator of your dog's circulation. If there's internal bleeding, anemia, a disruption of normal blood flow, or serious illness, the gums will turn very pale, almost white in appearance. This means that the blood is not properly receiving oxygen or there's a loss of blood or red blood cells. Blue or black gums are an indicator of a lack of oxygen. A blue discoloration would also likely be present on the dog's other visible skin, such as in her ears or the inner rim of their eyelids.

Normal gums will be bright pink to a pale pink. Abnormal gums are white with greyish, blue, or yellow.

It's also possible that if the discoloration is along the gum line, that your girl could be suffering from the effects of periodontal disease or an infection affecting the teeth and gums. Later stage periodontal disease can result in a black discoloration near the gum line.

To learn more about periodontal disease, visit:

As for the odor, the first thing that comes to mind is the fluid that's excreted by the dog's anal glands. It's difficult to describe the smell - some say it's skunky, others call it metallic, and others say it's got a fishy-ness to it. But however you describe it, it's very strong.

When the dog goes to the bathroom, the contracting muscles cause the glands release a small amount of fluid. They serve to mark territory and the like. Dogs with softer stools may have a difficult time eliminating the fluid naturally from the glands, because the soft stools don't apply enough pressure to help release the fluid. So, one long term option could be to try your dog on different foods. If your dog is on a medium or low quality food, consider putting her on a higher quality foods like Science Diet. Better foods are more balanced in terms of fiber and nutrients, so you're less likely to see problems like this. You can also try giving your dog veggies that are high in fiber, like carrots or broccoli. (see the "what to do" section for the specifics)

Another possibility of what could be causing your dog's problem (if this is truly what's causing the odor) is sort of related to the soft stool issue that I just mentioned.
Normally, the glands discharge a liquid. But when the liquid stays inside the glands for an extended period of time, it thickens. So a dog who has thicker or pasty anal gland excretions is likely having a difficult time naturally removing the fluid. Furthermore, the thicker, pasty fluid is harder to naturally excrete, so it builds up, causing the dog to scoot.

A dog with soft stools or thick excretions would be more likely to develop an infection. Soft stools don't provide sufficient pressure on the glands, causing the fluid to accumulate and eventually get infected. So in addition to ruining your carpets, it's also posing a health hazard for your dog, and you don't want that. Symptoms of a problem with the anal glands, such as an infection, include scooting, licking at the area of the rectum or sudden and unexplained changes in bathroom habits. A dog suffering from an infection may also exhibit more generalized symptoms, such as weight loss, poor appetite, lethargy and depression, and a general off-colorness.

What to do:
* Begin by altering your dog's diet (gradually mix in the new food over a couple of weeks) to a higher quality food.

* Give your dog high-fiber vegetables. Carrots work the best. Many dogs will chew at them like a bone. If they're not so cooperative, you can mince them and mix them in with their normal dinner.

* If your dog is out of shape, get her walking regularly. Dogs who are out of shape and don't have good muscle tone have a more difficult time emptying the anal glands, since the muscles play a big role in this process.

* Soak your dog's rear end in the tub for about 15 minutes. (Put her in a sit position) Warm water with epsom salts (one cup of salts per two gallons of water) can help liquify the fluid inside the sacs, making the draining process much easier. Note that the salt can be drying to the dog's skin, so apply a bit of mineral oil after the bath. Do this twice a day for two days.

* After two days, begin applying warm compresses of water and epsom salt to your dog's rear. Do this for 15 minutes twice a day for a week. If you can't get your dog to sit in the bath, this can work as an alternative.

* Following the bathtub soaks and/or compresses, put a washcloth or paper towel over your dog's anal opening. Put the palm of your hand and rock it back and forth, applying a bit of pressure. This will help the glands empty naturally.

* You should also learn to drain the anal sacs yourself. (Some full service groomers will do this as well, so if you're squeemish, this could be an alternative to the vet.) This can be done after the bathtub soaks and/or compresses.

If you'd like to try to drain the glands yourself, here's what to do: Lift your dogs tail. Position a washcloth or paper towel over the anal opening. Position your fingers on either side of the glands and apply pressure while you move your fingers over the glands, toward the center.

There's a good diagram and write up on expressing the anal glands this website:

The following link will take you to an animation that will show you where the anal sacs are positioned (at approximately the 8:00 o'clock and 4:00 o'clock position).

For more information on the types of problems that can occur with the anal glands, visit

I hope this helps you and your dog! There's a great deal you can do to improve anal gland problems on your own, but more serious issues such as infections and abscesses need help from the vet. If you don't see any improvement, don't hesitate to seek help for your dog, because a problem like an abscess can be messy, painful and require putting your dog under for cleaning and stitches!

Let me know if there's any other questions I can assist you with.

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