Sometimes fiercely defensive of family and majestically reserved toward strangers, the handsome, ancient Chinese chow chow is well-known to most canine enthusiasts as the dog with the blue-black tongue. Because color perception is subjective, some folks describe the tongue as purple or blue. This unusual coloring doesn’t extend to the gums, which are always black.
While most dogs have pink gums, chows inherit black mouth pigment that causes completely black, spotted, or mottled gums. Breed standard specifies that the top surface and edges of the chow’s tongue must be solid blue-black; darker is considered better. You may see a specimen with a tiny pink spot, but almost all gum tissue is is usually black.
Black gums and blue-black tongues aren’t unique to chows; Chinese Shar-Peis and first-generation chow hybrids have them. A mixed breed dog with chow-like appearance and completely pink or black-mottled tongue may have no chow parentage. It’s more likely to have descended from other members of the extensive Spitz family that includes Akitas, huskies, Samoyeds, Pomeranians and malamutes. More than 30 registered breeds are known to have specimens who sport spotted tongues, including German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. Mixed-breed dogs can inherit dark mouth spotting, too.