Blue (Cyanotic) Gums in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Cyanosis in dogs is the blue to purple discoloration of mucous membranes (particularly gums) and/or skin caused by poor oxygenation of the tissues. 

Cyanosis is a medical emergency as it is linked to potentially life-threatening heart and respiratory system conditions

• Cyanosis can be central, meaning the lack of oxygen originates in the heart or lungs, or peripheral when something is blocking the regular flow of blood to the body

• Diagnostics involve a physical examination, blood tests, and pulse oximetry to measure blood oxygen levels

• Treatment depends on the underlying cause

• Immediate stabilization of oxygen levels is critical, followed by focusing on the underlying problem

• Some conditions are treated with medications, such as antibiotics, while others, particularly those affecting the heart, require surgery

A Closer Look: What is Cyanosis in Dogs?

Cyanosis is always an emergency. Stabilization of the patient is the priority, and veterinary care is required. 

Brachycephalic (push-face) breeds are particularly predisposed to respiratory conditions and cyanosis.

Possible Causes

Many conditions can lead to cyanosis. Cyanosis can be categorized into two main subtypes: central and peripheral. Central is caused by conditions that directly affect the heart or lungs, whereas peripheral is an indicator of a problem with blood flow to tissues. The following associated conditions fall into one of these two broad categories:

Congenital heart conditions 

• Congestive heart failure

• Blood clots 

• Cancer 

• Pulmonary disease (such as pneumonia or pneumothorax)

• Physical injuries

Exposure to toxins

• Heartworm disease

• Laryngeal paralysis

• Neurologic diseases

• Esophageal obstruction

Brachycephalic airway syndrome

Risk Factors

Any condition which limits the supply of oxygen may result in cyanosis if left untreated. Brachycephalic (push-face) breeds and obese dogs are at higher risk of developing cyanosis due to congenital limitations on their ease of respiration even when at rest. There is no significant variance in severity of symptoms; cyanosis is always an emergency.

Testing and Diagnosis

After stabilization, several tests are required to determine the possible causes of cyanosis. 

These tests include:

• Physical examination

• Blood workPulse oximetry to determine the level of oxygen in the blood

• Electrocardiogram (ECG)

• Cardiac ultrasound

• X-rays

Treatment is largely dependent on the underlying condition. For example, heart abnormalities may require surgery, whereas infections, respiratory diseases, or toxicosis can often be treated with specific medications, antibiotics and/or supplemental oxygen.

Similar symptoms

Sometimes, gums can appear pale, white or gray, which is a separate symptom with different origin.

Associated Symptoms

Other symptoms that might appear with cyanosis include

• Coughing

• Panting

• Abdominal contractions

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Difficulty breathing

Rapid breathing

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