You know how much it hurts when your lips are dry and chapped, well now imagine how it would feel to have the end or part of your tongue always dry and cracked. That is exactly what dogs with hanging tongue syndrome have to deal with every day. Although many smaller breeds such as the Mexican Hairless, Chihuahua, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and some of the brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs are most prone to the condition it can also be seen in larger breeds such as the German Shepherd.
The condition is caused by an injury or trauma to the jaw or muzzle, a neurological problem or an anatomical malformation that prevents the dog from pulling his or her tongue back into the mouth. Normally dogs will pant and even sit with their tongues hanging out to stay cool, but they do pull the tongue back in to swallow and to moisten the surface. A dog with hanging tongue syndrome is unable to retract their tongue, leading to drying, cracking and even discoloration of the skin of the tongue. Occasionally this condition can be caused by some medications or may also be temporarily caused by an injury, which is not true hanging tongue syndrome but will have the same appearance. Always have the dog checked if the condition develops suddenly as this may be part of a larger neurological illness or condition.
Often dogs with hanging tongue syndrome will be excessive droolers, especially after eating or drinking. Again there is little the dog can do as the tongue simply protrudes past the jaw as the dog is unable to pull it back into his or her mouth. These dogs are typically happy, otherwise very normal dogs that do require a bit of additional care. If you notice any slight changes in the color of the skin of the tongue, the texture of the tissue or if there is any bleeding or swelling of the tongue take the dog to the vet immediately as this can indicate a bacterial infection in the area.
In cold climates a dog with hanging tongue syndrome will be at a much higher risk for frostbite or other damage to the tissues of the tongue due to cold temperatures. Always carefully monitor these dogs outside, especially in below freezing weather and avoid leaving the dog outside for prolonged periods of time. If the tongue does get frostbitten it can require surgical removal of the tip to prevent further damage to the tongue.
Some breeds, such as the Pug, may be more prone to simply leaving their tongue out, even when they sleep. This is not necessarily the same as hanging tongue syndrome and rather may be a feature of just becoming very relaxed and allowing the tongue to slide forward in the mouth. Most dogs will have periods of time when they leave their tongue protruding and puppies of any breed are particularly prone to this type of relaxation behavior.