Dog Drooling: The Juicy Truth About Why Dogs Slobber
Holy ropes of drool, Batman! Your newly adopted St. Bernard puppy shakes his head, and the walls are covered in slobber. Is this normal? Will it get better or worse as he ages? Why is he drooling anyway? Come to think of it, what is drool?
What is drool and why do dogs do it?
Drool is saliva. It is produced in glands of which there are 3 sets—parotid, mandibular, and sublingual. Each produces a slightly different type of saliva with an individual purpose. This secretion can differ depending on the type of meal a dog eats. If the meal is dry food, the secretion tends to be more watery to soften the food, whereas if it is canned, softening is not needed. The secretion is often thicker in this case.
Saliva is constantly being made and swallowed. It keeps the mouth moist and free of food, as well as carrying away “bad” bacteria from the teeth. It contains tons of interesting enzymes, as well as electrolytes like sodium and bicarbonate. Saliva has multiple functions within the mouth including protecting the oral mucosa and the teeth, packing the food into a soft ball for easy swallowing, starting the starch digestive process, and destroying bacteria. Drooling can also serve to a cool a dog, since they have very few sweat glands. It’s a truly amazing fluid.
Is drooling ever normal?
It is not abnormal for your dog to drool sometimes. Pavlov showed in his famous bell experiments that anticipating a meal can make a dog salivate. Fear can also cause dogs to drool, as you will see in a storm-phobic dog. Drooling is a form of heat control for dogs called evaporative cooling. So, the answer is yes! Drooling can be normal and in response to the dog’s emotions or environment.
But there are times when drool is not normal. When excessive salivation occurs, the condition is called ptyalism. For instance, a dog with an infected tooth or gums can drool as a sign of dental disease. Nausea can cause drooling, as well. You may notice this particularly in dogs that become carsick. Tumors in the mouth—both benign and malignant, lodged foreign objects (such as a stick across the palate), trauma to the tongue or gums (notably electrical cord burns and caustic substance exposure), warts, and even metabolic diseases such as a liver shunt can cause drooling.
Certain drugs when administered orally have a noxious taste. Tramadol tablets, a pain medication, are known for this. More surprisingly, sometimes eye drops can be the culprit. Atropine is a common ophthalmic medication used to dilate the eye. It is extremely bitter and can cause frothing at the mouth.
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There are even infectious diseases that can cause drooling. The most notable of these is rabies. This is very rare to see in a dog with proper vaccinations, but it is possible. Distemper is another uncommon infection that may present with excessive salivation. Again, vaccinations generally protect against this viral infection.
Large and giant breed dogs like Mastiffs, St Bernards, and Great Danes usually drool frequently. In these breeds, it is “normal” in that the extravagant dripping saliva arises from the conformation of their lips, which are thick and droopy with many folds. Saliva tends to pool and drip, as a result.
When should I seek medical attention?
Unfortunately, if you’ve adopted a large or giant breed dog with floppy lips, slobber is going to be a regular part of the day. On the other hand, if your previously healthy dog with no history of significant salivation starts to drool, a visit to the veterinarian is definitely in order. The veterinarian will do a thorough physical exam to rule out illness. This should include a close examination of the oral cavity including gums, teeth, tongue, and the back of the throat (called the oropharynx). In some cases, depending on your dog’s temperament, this should be done under sedation. Even with an excellently behaved dog, it is difficult to fully examine the back of the mouth and throat, so sedation may be recommended. Even the best dog might not appreciate hands in his mouth.
Once the oral examination is complete, depending on what is found, the veterinarian may recommend more diagnostics such as xrays of the skull, infectious disease testing, or biopsy if a tumor is present. If a cause is readily apparent, a treatment plan will be proposed based on the this. Some examples of possible treatments include a dental for tooth decay and gingivitis or mass removal and biopsy if a tumor is found.
As with all questions of dog health, when in doubt, a phone call to your veterinarian is never a bad idea.
Excessive Drooling in Dogs
Drooling occurs when too much saliva builds up in your dog's mouth and it runs out between the lips. There are several reasons why a dog may suddenly begin to drool and for some breeds it's simply a normal part of life. But for dogs that don't normally drool much, there may be a good reason why it has worsened. Excessive drooling may be a result of an underlying problem so it's important to not only clean up the mess it makes but to get the issue addressed.
So, Why is My Dog Drooling A Lot?
There’s a long list of reasons that could explain your dog’s excessive drooling problem. The causes listed below can help you assess the situation and know whether a call to the vet is necessary. We would prefer if you would reach out to us regardless, so we can give you peace of mind.
Certain dog breeds are notorious for being slobbery. This includes Saint Bernards, Bloodhounds, Mastiffs, and other jowly canines. This is considered “typical” drooling, because it isn’t caused by any kind of health problem. Rather, it occurs because the breeds’ head and lip conformation cannot hold in all the saliva, which becomes trapped in the folds of the extra skin they have around their lips and muzzle. When they drink, water can also get stuck in these folds.
If your dog is one of these breeds, have a drool rag handy at all times!
Other Examples of Typical Dog Drooling
Dogs can also drool excessively when they’re anticipating food (kind of like we do, but a little messier), or when they take a medication that has an unpleasant taste. Heavy drooling is a normal reaction in this case and nothing to be worried about.
Health Problems that Can Cause Excessive Drooling in Dogs
A variety of conditions can cause abnormally heavy drooling in dogs, in addition to other symptoms.
Tooth decay, gum inflammation, tartar buildup, and oral tumors in the mouth and/or throat will cause dogs to drool more than normal. Oral and dental diseases, if they advance, can cause serious illness throughout the body and even be life-threatening in some cases.
Be sure to take your pet’s oral health seriously, and bring them in for a professional teeth cleaning at least once a year so we can help you manage their oral and dental needs.
A Foreign Body in the Mouth or Throat
Dogs love to put things in their mouth and chew on things. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for a foreign body to get wedged in the teeth or lodged in the throat. Wood chips, pieces of plastic, bone fragments (from chewing on bones), and even string are known hazards.
If an object gets stuck in their mouth, they’ll start drooling excessively. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you suspect that your pet has a foreign body.
An upset stomach, be it nausea or a stomachache, can also cause heavy drooling in dogs. Drooling brought on by nausea is of course temporary, and can even be resolved with anti-nausea medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
Anxiety is another factor that might cause your dog to drool more than normal. Talk to us so we can help your pet overcome their anxiety and live a happier (and less slobbery) life.
Eating something they shouldn’t can cause serious gastrointestinal issues as well. This includes toys, socks, poisonous plants and chemicals, and even human medications. In addition to the drooling, your dog may also be vomiting and acting lethargic. Don’t wait for things to blow over call us immediately if you sense that something is wrong.
Heat stroke is a serious condition resulting from your dog’s overexposure to sun and heat (much like in humans). A dog with heat stroke will be panting heavily in an attempt to cool down, and with this panting comes excessive drooling. Because heat stroke can be fatal, you should contact your veterinarian in River North right away before attempting any treatment yourself.
Upper Respiratory Infections
If your dog has an infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat, this can also cause them to drool. Other signs of an upper respiratory infection include discharge from the eyes and nose, coughing, and decreased appetite.
Like humans, dogs get more prone to disease as they grow older. This includes kidney and liver disease, which may cause your dog to drool more than usual. Keeping up with your pet’s annual or semiannual health visits is the best way to catch diseases early on, before they become harder to treat.
Bloat is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach becomes filled with gas or fluid, putting pressure on the surrounding organs. Drooling is one of the warning signs of this condition, along with restlessness and swelling of the stomach. Seek medical attention for your dog immediately if you suspect they might have bloat.
Because of all the different things that affect saliva production, there are lots of potential causes of ptyalism (and pseudoptyalism). Some are nothing to worry about, others are very serious.
Here is a (non-exhaustive) list. It will hopefully help explain why when you ring us up and ask: ‘Why is my dog drooling a lot?’ we might not have a simple answer.
droopy lips – lots of large breed dogs have lip conformation that allows saliva to dribble out
Oral and pharynGeal problems
foreign body (eg bone fragment stuck in the mouth)
kidney disease (can cause mouth ulcers)
ingestion of a caustic or irritating substance
ingestion of a foul tasting substance
burns (eg chewing on an electric cord)
neurological or functional disorder of the swallowing mechanism (eg tick toxicity)
SALIVARy gland problems
foreign body (eg grass awn or splinter)
over-proliferation of cells (hyperplasia)
loss of blood supply (infarction)
Oesophageal and gastrointestinal Problems
Oesophageal inflammation (eg due to swallowing something caustic or irritating or from reflux of stomach acid)
Hiatal hernia (where the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity)
Any problem that causes nausea (eg pancreatitis, parvo, intestinal foreign body)
Hepatoencephalopathy (a consequence of severe liver disease)
Uraemia (a build up of toxins due to kidney failure)