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Why Do Dogs Stick Their Tongue Out? 7 Vet-Reviewed Possible Reasons

Written by: Kathryn Copeland

Last Updated on July 16, 2024 by Dogster Team

pitbull terrier mixed dog leaning on the bench with tongue hanging out

Why Do Dogs Stick Their Tongue Out? 7 Vet-Reviewed Possible Reasons


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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When you think about a dog, you probably imagine them with their long, pink tongue lolling out their mouth in a big, doggy smile.

Dogs use their tongues for many things, and when they stick out of their mouths, they can look incredibly adorable. But if you’ve ever wondered why your dog’s tongue seems to hang out for no apparent reason, we go over the possible reasons that this happens here.

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The 7 Possible Reasons That Dogs Stick Their Tongue Out

1. Panting

This is an obvious reason, but it still counts. Panting helps cool dogs down through evaporation. But dogs pant for other reasons than being hot. They may pant after exercise and when they’re stressed.

Border Collie dog with tongue sticking out
Image Credit: Lioneska, Shutterstock

2. Relaxation

You might notice your dog’s tongue sticking out when they are deeply relaxed. This might occur after they have enjoyed a particularly tasty meal or an excellent belly rub. This tends to be a temporary thing, but it can certainly indicate a happy and relaxed pup.

Dogs may also lick their lips or flick out their tongues when they’re feeling nervous or stressed, so it is important to interpret the sticking out their tongue with the rest of their body language and in the context of the situation.

3. Dental Issues

If a dog is having dental problems, it could lead to their tongue hanging out. This could be due to periodontal disease leading to discomfort and inflammation in their mouth. It could also be if they are missing some of their front teeth, creating a gap that their tongue sticks through.

Cleaning the dogs tooth with dental finger wipes
Image Credit: Venus Angel, Shutterstock

4. Oral Tumors

Dogs with oral tumors or masses—which may or may not be malignant—can cause swelling of the tongue. The masses and growths may also take up too much space in the mouth, which can lead to the dog sticking out their tongue.

5. Inflammation of the Tongue

Inflammation of the tongue is called glossitis, and it may cause a dog’s tongue to stick out. It may occur on its own or in conjunction with more general inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis) and gums (gingivitis). Glossitis can have many different underlying causes, including wounds, infection, trauma, irritation, chemicals, insect stings, and electrical burns. Drooling and a reluctance to eat are common signs.  The cause needs to be investigated and treated by your veterinarian.

vet checking up dog in vet clinic
Image Credit: SUKJAI PHOTO, Shutterstock

6. Flehmen Response

The flehmen response in canines occurs when they find a particularly interesting odor. They will typically curl up their lips, exposing their teeth, and sometimes lap their tongues, which is why it’s also called “tasting the air.” Dogs have a scent-detecting organ in the roof of their mouth called the vomeronasal organ (VSO), and when they open their mouths and lap the air, they allow the pheromones into the VSO.

7. Hanging Tongue Syndrome

If your dog’s tongue always sticks out, it could be what’s referred to as ‘hanging tongue syndrome’. This syndrome typically affects flat-faced dogs whose mouths are too small and don’t have room for the tongue, so it naturally hangs out. The jawbone can also be abnormally shaped and unable to adequately support the tongue. Damage to the nerves that control the tongue can also cause the tongue to hang loosely.

Closed up smiling Boston Terrier showing her tongue and bending ears in backyard under natural light
Image Credit: SivaNattharom, Shutterstock

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Should You Worry If Your Dog’s Tongue Is Sticking Out?

As their owner, you’re the person best suited to determine if there’s a problem with your dog. You should be able to tell the difference between normal panting and abnormal panting, for example. If your dog’s tongue is sticking out for an extended period, speak to your vet.

If your dog is panting excessively and if there are other signs, such as inappetence or lethargy, a visit to your vet is in order. Your dog might be suffering from an emergency health condition like heatstroke. If your dog’s tongue is sticking out for a long period and you’re unsure of the cause, your vet should check their tongue and mouth for any masses or dental issues.

Hanging Tongue Syndrome

If your dog has hanging tongue syndrome, it’s usually okay if their tongue hangs out most of the time. But you’ll need to ensure that they have plenty of water to prevent it from drying out. Regularly check that the tongue isn’t cracked, bleeding, or swollen.

You should also monitor their tongue for changes in color, which might indicate an infection. If you live in colder climates, frostbite can be a concern. Healthy gums and tongue should be pale pink, so if they turn brighter pink, white, or gray, this merits a visit to your veterinarian.

male veterinarian checking up dog in vet clinic
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

Your Dog’s Oral Health

It is vital to stay on top of your dog’s oral health! You should brush your dog’s teeth three times a week at a minimum, but more often would be best. This will help keep your dog’s mouth healthy, and you’ll be able to pick up on any dental problems before they become serious issues.

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For the most part, a dog’s tongue hanging out of their mouth is nothing to worry about. In Internet speak, sometimes it’s just a blep (the tip of the tongue sticking out briefly), a mlem (the tip of the tongue sticking out to lick something but without the rest of the mouth opening, or a derp (when the dog seems to forget to put their tongue back into their mouth).

But if your dog’s tongue is sticking out for no discernible reason and your pup is also acting out of character, see your vet. Your dog’s oral health is of the utmost importance, and staying on top of it can help keep your pet happy and healthy.

Featured Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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