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Yoda, a 14-year-old Chihuahua-Chinese crested mix, won the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest in Petaluma, Calif., in June. Photo by The Associated Press


This week’s questions are answered by Dr. Kevin Wilson, a veterinarian at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish.

Question: Most of the dogs we see competing in the World’s Ugliest Dog competitions always seem to have their tongues hanging out — protruding — and the dogs don’t appear to be able to pull their tongues back in their mouths. Is this likely to be a condition called hanging tongue syndrome?

Answer: A protruding tongue can be caused by various things, most of which are not really health concerns or problems for the dog.

The majority of these dogs are small-breed dogs that are brachycephalic (“smooshed-face”) dogs. These dogs have functional tongues, but, because of genetics, the tongue may be too large for the oral cavity, an abnormal jaw bone doesn’t support the tongue or missing teeth allows the tongue to slip out through the gap.

Sometimes there are non-genetic causes to the hanging tongue. The most common is severe dental disease, which leads to loss of the lower canine teeth. With nothing to rest against, the tongue tends to loll out to the side. Trauma to the jaw, tongue or head can lead to nerve dysfunction or scarring of the tongue. These dogs may not be able to use the tongue normally.


Dr. Kevin Wilson examines a patient with a hanging tongue at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish. Photo courtesy of Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital.