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Cyanosis in Dogs

If you start to see your dog's skin changing color, becoming purple or blueish, cyanosis may be the culprit. In this article, our Gold Canyon vets discuss the dangers of cyanosis in dogs, as well as the causes, signs, and treatment options for this condition.

Why is my dog's tongue blue?

If you notice your dog's tongue is blue or you find yourself asking 'Why is my dog's skin turning purple?', we understand that it can be quite worrisome. This issue is known as cyanosis. Cyanosis indicates that the tissues of the body aren't receiving an appropriate amount of oxygen. While there can be many possible causes of cyanosis, they are all related to the blood vessels that lie close to the surface of the skin.

It is extremely important to note that if your dog's breed is a Chow Chow or a Shar-pei, there may not be any cause for concern. The color may just be coming from extra pigmentation in the cells of the tongue, which is a completely natural occurrence for these breeds. With that being the case, routine veterinary exams are all the more important because if your dog's tongue is naturally a bluish color, you may not notice much of a change if they have cyanosis.

What are the signs of cyanosis in dogs? 

While the main symptom of cyanosis is blue skin or blue gums in dogs, there may be other indicators including:

  • Respiratory distress, such as panting
  • Coughing or wheezing. 
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Collapsing

If you see any of these signs of cyanosis in dogs, you need to seek emergency medical care right away. Cyanosis can be caused by heart or lung problems, so veterinary intervention is crucial.

What causes dogs to experience cyanosis?

The conditions causing cyanosis in dogs are typically connected to the respiratory system in some way. These conditions include: 

  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Choking
  • Anemia
  • Heart problem
  • Heartworm disease 
  • Paralysis of the larynx 

Are there any other major causes of cyanosis in dogs?

Trauma or damage that affects the muscles of the diaphragm or chest wall can result in difficulty breathing which is another possible cause of cyanosis.

Conditions affecting the nervous system like brain tumors, strokes, paralysis, or poisoning can cause the inability to breathe properly. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause the appearance of blue skin on dogs.

Diagnosing Cyanosis

Your vet will likely start by performing a physical exam. This may include measuring your dog's oxygen levels by placing a small device called a pulse oximeter on an area of your dog, such as the tongue or tip of the ear. 

If cyanosis can't be determined with an examination alone, your vet may consider pursuing further diagnostic tests such as blood work, chest X-rays, and a heart function assessment.

Can cyanosis in dogs be cured?

If cyanosis becomes apparent, the first step will be to determine the cause. Once the cause is determined and treatment begins, the cyanosis should be resolved. Unfortunately, depending on the severity of the condition and the length of time that the affected tissues were without oxygen, there may be some long-term or even life-long damage.

How is cyanosis treated?

Treated cyanosis usually involves administering oxygen immediately. Your vet may take out excess fluid to ease lung pressure and help the lungs expand. In more severe cases, it may be necessary to make a small hole in the windpipe to make breathing easier.

Your dog may also need special medication to help with breathing. The exact medication will depend on the cause of your dog's cyanosis. In some cases, your vet might recommend changes to their daily routine or a special diet to address the underlying issue.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Is your dog showing signs of cyanosis? Contact our Gold Canyon vets right away, or head to the nearest emergency animal hospital.

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