The following is a guest post from veterinary nurse Ellen Herrlin.
We can easily tell when a person may be ill because their skin looks a little paler than usual. For obvious reasons we can’t apply the same basic logic to our furry dogs and cats. Or can we? Actually, we can. All we have to do is look at the mucous membranes to check that blood circulation is good throughout the body. If this is the case it will be shown by a nice pink color, not pale or dark red. The normal color is that of pink salmon. As a pet owner, it’s good to know how to check the mucous membranes, and know how they look when healthy so you can notice any abnormalities.
The most common way is to do this is to lift the lip and look at the color. It is best to look high up or on the underside of the lip so that you will not be misled by an inflamed gum due to poor dental health. As you can see above, the membrane is smooth and pink throughout.
It’s important to remember that some animals have pigmented gums, as you can see in the image of Harry below. This means that the gums can be black, or dark, but this is completely harmless and quite normal. For Harry, however, it is possible to see a sufficiently large area of mucous membrane to determine that it is normal color. Some toxins result in a black edge to the gum, so it may be helpful to know if the animal has pigmentation on the gum in general to detect any abnormalities.
In some cases, you may not see the mucosa in your pet’s mouth. Your dog, or cat, may have very many pigments, or is a being a little difficult, making you afraid for your fingers. In this case you can look at the mucous membrane inside the lower eyelid.
If the mucous membranes are pale, they often look almost white/gray. This may indicate poor circulation or internal bleeding.
It may also be helpful to know how the animal usually looks in the mouth and how the colour usually presents when the patient is feeling well. It is then easier to see when the color of the mucous membrane begins to deviate and go cross over from pink salmon to the red/dark red tone. This may indicate stress and severe infection.
Capillary refill refers to the time it takes for the capillaries to regain circulation after pressure. It can be very helpful to stimulate the pet’s blood circulation, and it is very easy to check. Push your finger against your pet’s gum so that the color disappears. Count how long it takes for the area to regain its colour. You can time it to see how long it takes for the colour to reappear, but the most important thing is to know if it takes more than 3 seconds. In this case, the circulation is affected and you should contact your vet.
Ellen is a veterinary nurse who also runs a fantastic blog which is full of great advice for pet owners. You can find it here: http://nursedolittle.se/. If you like what you read don’t forget to share this article and subscribe for more!