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Key takeaways

Temporary tongue protrusion is normal and expected during panting in dogs. Some dogs have a protruding tongue even then the mouth is fully closed, which may or may not be related to an underlying medical condition.

  • Tongue protrusion is a common symptom with multiple causes, including congenital anatomical malformations such as a brachycephalic (flat-faced) skull or an abnormally large tongue, damage to the muscles or nerves of the tongue, missing teeth, abnormal jaw or dental anatomy, inflammation, and tumors in the oral cavity
  • If the tongue is exposed constantly for a long time, dryness, cracking and ulceration may develop
  • Diagnosis of tongue protrusion involves physical examination, dental evaluation, blood work and advanced imaging
  • Tongue protrusion typically does not require treatment, although severe cases may require surgical removal of a portion of the tongue
  • Management includes assisted feeding and lubrication/moisturization of the tongue when needed
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A closer look: Protruding tongue in Dogs

Tongue protrusion is a common symptom in dogs. Panting due to stress, high environmental temperature, and after exercise is normal and necessary, as this is how dogs cool themselves.

Tongue protrusion that is always present can result in difficulty eating and drinking or irritation of the tongue, but it is rarely an emergency. Dogs with tongue swelling or tongue protrusion other than when seen during panting should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Sudden-onset swelling of the tongue resulting in trouble breathing or swallowing warrants emergency veterinary attention.

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Possible causes

Tongue protrusion has multiple potential causes. Atypical anatomy is the most common cause, and is often seen in brachycephalic dogs in which the jaws are too small to contain the tongue, dogs born with an abnormally large tongue, and abnormalities in jaw or dental anatomy causing the tongue to protrude.

Risk factors

Tongue protrusion varies in severity. It may be normal for some dogs to intermittently allow part of their tongue to stick out. Abnormal tongue protrusion is more likely when it occurs nearly all the time. Some dogs may only have a small amount of tongue visible, whereas others may have the majority of their tongue exposed.

The amount of tongue exposed varies depending on anatomy and the underlying cause. For example, a dog that has had its front teeth extracted due to dental disease may have a small amount of tongue protruding from the front of its mouth. A brachycephalic dog with a very large tongue may have most of its tongue exposed for its entire life.

Most dogs with persistent or permanent tongue protrusion are able to eat and drink normally and do not appear to be bothered by it. Brachycephalic (push face) dogs and other individuals with facial/skull abnormalities are at higher risk of permanent tongue protrusion.

Long-term exposure of the tongue may lead to cracking, dryness and irritation of the tongue, which may need to be managed with lubricants or moisturizers.

Testing and diagnosis

A thorough physical examination allows diagnosis of tongue protrusion. Dental evaluation, neurological examination, blood work and advanced imaging may be recommended to determine the underlying cause of tongue protrusion.

Treatment is indicated if a dog has trouble swallowing, drinking or eating. Treatment may involve assisted feeding and severe cases may require surgical removal of a portion of the tongue, especially in cases involving tumors. Cases caused by infection or inflammation are treated with antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-inflammatories where appropriate.

Many cases are solely cosmetic and require no treatment.

Similar symptoms

Panting due to heat, stress or pain may be confused with abnormal tongue protrusion. Dogs “tonguing” the air are using their tongues to better scent their environment. This does not result in permanent tongue protrusion.

Associated symptoms


Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!
Darlene Stott - Writing for Wag!
DR. IVANA CRNEC (VETERINARIAN) - Writing for Dog Discoveries
Eric Song, DVM - Writing for Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery

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