If you’re a dog person, chances are at some point, you’ve had to bust out the paper towels to deal with some drool. In general, dogs drool because saliva helps them eat and digest food. Drool is a normal, natural part of the canine digestive process. But excessive or irregular drooling can be a sign of a health issue or injury.
Read on to discover why dogs drool, what it means if your dog drools excessively, and the difference between normal slobber and a sign that something is wrong.
What dog drool is
Drool is simply accumulated saliva, or doggy spit. Saliva serves a variety of functions related to taste, smell, digestion, and mouth health:
- Lubrication to help food move down the esophagus
- Moisture to break down food (dog saliva doesn’t have enzymes like human saliva does, and dogs are able to swallow larger pieces of food without chewing—good news for those of us with “hoover” dogs who inhale their kibble!)
- Antiseptic to prevent injury and help heal wounds (when dogs lick their wounds, they’re cleaning and helping to prevent infection)
Dogs have four salivary glands in their mouth that secrete saliva when needed. In a healthy, normal dog mouth, the salivary glands kick into action at meal time, or whenever there’s a foreign object in the mouth.
For a healthy dog, drool is typically a result of being offered a tasty treat or awaiting a meal. When they anticipate food is on the way, their mouth will start to water (remember Pavlov’s Dog?).
Some dogs drool more frequently, and in greater quantity, than others. Deep-jowled, droopy-lipped dogs may unleash a veritable puddle! There are some breeds known for drooling more than others:
- Basset hounds and other hound breeds
- St. Bernards (like Beethoven!)
These types of dogs drool because the looser skin around their mouth collects saliva and fills up until it spills over and out (often onto your clothing or couch). Other breeds may rarely or never have visible drool come out of their mouths.
Normal drool will be clear or white-ish in color, and should be fairly odorless. It may bubble, drip, pool, or ooze, but it shouldn’t be bottomless.
Excessive dog drool
Excessive drooling may be a sign that something is wrong with your dog. Causes of excessive drool vary, and range from unpleasant inconveniences to medical emergencies:
- Mouth disease and tooth decay. Often accompanied by a foul odor
- Heat stroke. Overheated dogs will pant and drool excessively
- Motion sickness and anxiety. Car rides and nervousness can cause open-mouthed breathing, which leads to drool. These causes are rarely medical emergencies, but they are uncomfortable; you can try pet-safe ginger pills for nausea and training to treat anxiety.
- A foreign object caught in the mouth, tongue, or between the teeth. If your dog is drooling a lot and pawing at their face, something is wrong.
- Ingestion of caustic or poisonous substance (including plants, animal matter, and household cleaners)
- Digestive problems ranging from a simple upset tummy to bloat. Learn to recognize the signs of bloat, and pay close attention to your dog’s behavior.
“Excessive” looks different for different animals, but you’ll know from spending time with your dog how much drool is normal for them. You’re the best judge of your dog’s behavior and comfort. If she starts drooling suddenly and in excess, and is acting strange or stressed, contact a veterinarian right away.
Thankfully, most of the time, drool is just a normal expression of your dog’s bodily functions. The next time a slobbery dog comes up and slimes your knee, remember: drool is just drool. It can be a little bit messy and a little bit gross, but it’s a fact of life with dogs!