DOG TRIVIA: All about the tongue!

A dog’s tongue is truly amazing! Not only is it used for licking, drinking, and keeping the dog cool, but it also plays a vital role in communication and is a helpful barometer of your dog’s health and wellbeing. In fact, a dog’s tongue has more responsibilities than any other part of his anatomy except the brain!

Eight pairs of muscles control the dog’s flexible tongue

For such an important piece of anatomy, the dog’s tongue is not especially well understood by most dog owners. Of course, we all see our dogs using their tongues to eat, drink, and groom – but were you aware that they also express emotion with their tongues? Read on for some interesting facts about the remarkable canine tongue!

The remarkable tongue!

A dog’s tongue is a muscular organ that is controlled by eight pairs of muscles. It is filled with a complex network of veins, arteries, and capillaries. All dogs have four pairs of salivary glands as well as numerous tiny salivary glands located on the surface of the tongue. This helps ensure that the dog’s mouth is kept nice and moist -some would say ‘slobbery’! Dog breeds that drool a lot are those that have loose lips that fail to keep all this saliva contained within the dog’s mouth.

Although dogs have fewer taste buds than humans, their keen sense of smell enables them to distinguish between different types of food. Each taste bud contains receptor cells that transmit messages to a special area in the dog’s brain dedicated to evaluating various odors and tastes. Dogs are also able to detect the difference between sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. This aids dogs to avoid ingesting harmful substances and also permits them to spit out a bitter pill carefully hidden inside a yummy dog treat! Unlike cats, dogs are able to taste our ‘sweet’ treats.

Ice cream is a sweet yummy treat!

When dogs drink liquid, they use their tongue in a very clever (although sometimes sloppy) way to get the water to a place in the mouth where it can be swallowed.

First the dog must plunge her tongue into the water. Then the underside of the tongue curls up just like an inverted ladle and water is brought into the mouth. A quick bite traps the water there where the dog swallows it with a gulp! This is repeated many times until the dog’s thirst is quenched.

Taking a drink

The dog also uses his tongue on a hot day to keep cool. Dogs cannot sweat like humans, but instead regulate their temperature by using the tongue as a thermostat. A hot dog will take short, shallow breaths by panting to increase the air flow across his moist tongue. With his tongue sticking out, the moisture easily evaporates and effectively cools the dog down. Sticking out the tongue also increases the surface area that is exposed, allowing evaporation from the mouth and upper respiratory tract as well.

Dogs stick their tongues out and pant to keep cool

Dogs will groom themselves and their doggie friends, and will also lick their favorite humans to show affection. Most dog owners have been the recipient of a slobbery kiss deposited by their happy dog after time spent apart. Your pup is happy to see you back!

The surface of a dog’s tongue makes a remarkably effective cleaning tool even though it lacks the abrasive texture of a cat’s tongue. If injured, dogs will lick their wounds in an attempt to clean themselves up and promote healing.

Mutual grooming helps clean those hard-to-reach spots!

Friendly dogs will often engage in mutual grooming – very helpful to reach those difficult areas such as behind the ears! Mother dogs lick their puppies from the moment they are born to stimulate breathing, keep them clean (and safe from predators), and help very young puppies to eliminate.

However, don’t leave your dog to take care of his hygiene all by himself. A smelly dog is not very nice, and our pampered house pets benefit from a timely bath to compliment their own grooming routine. Long-haired dogs also require help from their human to keep their fur free from tangles and matts.

This dog is showing her discomfort with a quick flick of the tongue

The tongue is also an important means of communication for dogs. A quick flick of the tongue is one way that dogs let those around them know that they are feeling a bit uncomfortable. The tongue flick can also take different forms, from a quick subtle flick of the tongue to a full-blown lip licking episode! Dogs will also pant or yawn when they are stressed. If you see your dog exhibiting any of these tongue signals, it pays to take notice and identify what could be causing the dog’s discomfort. The dog is after all, doing his best to communicate his feelings. Ignoring him can lead to an escalation in anxiety and an increase in unwanted behavior.

A full-blown lip licking episode combined with pinned-back ears

A healthy canine tongue is pink with some breeds having blue or dark tongues. It is not uncommon for dogs to have dark colored patches on their pink tongues as well. Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s tongue in order to assess her health. Any unusual change in color is a cause for concern, and warrants further investigation.

The tongue is indeed an amazing and hard working part of a dog’s anatomy. Who knew that your canine best friend is so well equipped!

LALDR is a Vancouver based, registered non-profit organization which re-homes local dogs and international stray dogs from developing countries to adoptive homes in the local area. Be sure to visit our website to meet our dogs still waiting for their forever homes.


Anne P. (Administrator)

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