I had taken my dog ​​Harper to the vet for a routine blood test. The vet came to the car looking worried. “His gums are really pale,” he said. “Usually when I see gums that look like this, the dog is close to death.”

It seemed strange. Harper was acting normal and eating well. But he pushed me to take him to the emergency hospital. They were reserved, however, and I suggested we continue his lab work there and see if we could rule out anything serious.

His concern was understandable. Pale gums can signal “really bad things,” says Tony Johnson, DVM, an emergency and critical care specialist who practices in Chicago. This includes anemia, poor blood circulation, blood loss, and shock.

“A dog that has just been hit by a car and is bleeding from a lacerated spleen in its abdomen will have pale gums. A dog that has been stung by a bee and is having an anaphylactic reaction will have pale gums. The dog with congestive heart failure will have pale gums,” Dr Johnson said.

It’s a good idea to check your dog or cat’s gums regularly so you know what’s normal and when your pet needs to see the vet as soon as possible.

Start with good lighting. In a dimly lit room in the house, the gums may look pale, but in a well-lit exam room, they may look fine.

Behavior is a clue. “A dog or cat won’t be happy or won’t eat and then have pale gums,” says Dr. Johnson. “They will usually be lethargic or not get up.”

Know where to look. Lift the lip and check the area just above the canine, the large one at the front of the mouth.

Know what is normal for your pet. Some animals have pigmented gums that are not normally pink. Early in our marriage, my husband and I took our first female cat to the vet because she had black spots on her gums. We were sure it was something terrible. It was normal pigmentation. And Harper’s cardiologist said some spaniels she sees have lighter-than-normal gums. In general, however, the gums should be a healthy, vibrant pink.

When your pet has pale gums, the vet will start with a health history and what is called the “signal”: age, breed, and gender.

“A 10-year-old Doberman Pinscher with pale gums, I’m going to weigh heart disease more heavily because they’re prone to it,” says Dr Johnson. “A 10 year old German Shepherd with pale gums and a sudden collapse – they are prone to masses on their spleen which split open and bleed.”

The vet may also check blood pressure. Low blood pressure can signal shock. A hematocrit, or hematocrit, test can indicate anemia if the red blood cell count is very low.

If you are unaware of any trauma your pet may have suffered or poison they may have ingested, your veterinarian can perform tests that can help determine if they are suffering from internal bleeding. . One is what is called a FAST ultrasound exam. It is the acronym for Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma. This involves placing the ultrasound probe on the abdomen in four specific areas to look for evidence of fluid.

“It’s a very sensitive indicator of internal bleeding, even more sensitive than an x-ray,” says Dr Johnson. “You can take an x-ray and not see any fluid, but the ultrasound is much more likely to pick up fluid in the abdomen.”

Pale gums are considered an emergency, but if your pet is bouncing back, happy and eating, the first thing to do is check your technique, Johnson says. Have someone else watch them or get a flashlight for better lighting.

“If it’s a patient who’s not feeling well and their gums are pale, that’s worth a rush to the ER,” says Dr. Johnson.

Harper, in the end, was fine, but given his age and history of heart disease and cancer, I’m glad we checked in.

Double the chats, double the fun

Q: Is it better for cats to live alone or with a friend?

A: Cats don’t always have a reputation for being social creatures, but more often than not, we think they like having a friend. You’re not always home, and it’s good for them to have a catnip buddy, a grooming partner, a playmate, someone to nap with somewhere sunny. Whether you decide to have one or a pair of kittens or are considering adding a second adult cat, we think two is the magic number.

Feline friendships generally work best if the cats are of the opposite sex. Another pair that works well is an adult cat and a younger cat. A kitten or adolescent can help cheer up an adult cat that may have forgotten some of the fun of playing. If your adult cat is older, another calm adult cat may be a better choice. a kitten might be too rambunctious and boring. You can also ask if the shelter has a pair of related adults who would like to live together.

If you’re considering a kitten, go ahead and get two from the same litter; they will be best friends for life. You can find out more here:

Whenever you bring a new cat into a home with a cat that already lives there, expect an adjustment period that can last weeks, months, or even a year. But it can be worth it. Veterinary studies show that when cats have company, both cats are healthier. Pets with buddies are sick less often, require shorter stays when hospitalized, and live longer.

Two cats are twice the fun, but not twice the effort to maintain. Just make sure they each have their own gear; cats only take share so far. — Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

Do you have a question about pets? Send it to [email protected] or visit

What’s in a word? 3 origins related to pets

— Most cats have five toes on their front paws, but only four of them touch the ground. The fifth toe is called the ergot and is on the inside of the front paw. The ergot is the equivalent of our thumb and is used to grab prey and climb trees. A normal feline hind paw has four toes which are all put into use when walking. Any number of toes above the norm (usually an extra one or two, but sometimes up to three or four) makes a cat polydactyl, which means “many toes”. Polydactylism is a dominant genetic trait, so a single polydactyl parent is enough to make a litter of polydactyl kittens. These cats are also called “Hemingway cats”, after those kept by Ernest Hemingway.

— One of the most prized exports from the Canary Islands, located off the northwest coast of Africa, are the small yellow finches we now call canaries, prized for their singing voices. They were introduced to Europe in the 15th century and became popular when it was discovered that they sang beautifully when exposed to other songbirds or instrumental music. In the late 19th century, the word canary was used to refer to female singers; later it came to mean an informant who “sings” the law. Although birds can be other colors, the word canary also refers to a bright, light yellow color.

— A puppy, or pup, is a young dog. We often refer to “puppy love,” applying it to the teenage craze. Puppy love is described as sweet, intense, and insane in a way that emotionally grown adult dogs are said to have surpassed. But we think you’re never too old to give or receive that kind of love, especially with your dog. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is the founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of, and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has written about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is behavioral consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is on and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is on and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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