Burr Tongue in Dogs

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernie Ward, DVM

My veterinarian said my dog has burr tongue. What is it, and how did my dog get it?

Burr tongue is the common name for burdock tongue (also called granular stomatitis or granulomatous glossitis) caused by ingestion of the burrs from the burdock plan (Arctium lappa), a form of thistle. Burdock plants typically bloom in July and August and during these months produce the greatest number of burrs. Burdocks have a prickly head that easily catches on fur or clothing and was the inspiration for Velcro® or hook-and-loop fasteners.

"Burr tongue is most commonly seen in long-haired dogs when they accidentally traumatize their tongue and mouth on the burrs during grooming."

Burr tongue is most commonly seen in long-haired dogs when they accidentally traumatize their tongue and mouth on the burrs during grooming. The hooked scales of the burrs become embedded in the tongue and gums and cause an intense foreign body reaction.

What are the signs of burr tongue?

Affected dogs often have small red bumps on the tip and edges of their tongue, front of the lips and gums, and occasionally the base of the nose. These bumps may eventually spread and blend together to form larger lesions. In addition, dogs with burr tongue typically have bleeding from the mouth, drooling, trouble keeping food in their mouth while eating, difficulty drinking water, decreased appetite, and pain.

These problems can result in behavioral changes, including aggression when an owner tries to look inside the mouth. Some dogs will also have bad breath.

If your dog has been in contact with burdock or burrs or has been in the woods before developing these symptoms, burr tongue should be considered.

How is burr tongue treated?

Based on the severity of the condition, treatment ranges from letting the injuries heal on their own to administering antibiotics and pain medications, to surgical intervention. If there are only a few lesions, medical therapy alone until the body expels the plant material may be all that is required.

In more extensive or painful cases, your veterinarian may recommend surgical removal of damaged tissue followed by anti-inflammatory and antibiotic therapy. Most dogs return to normal within two to three weeks after treatment. Some dogs will require follow-up treatment if small plant fragments remain in the mouth.

How can I prevent burr tongue in my dog?

To avoid burr tongue, carefully monitor your dog's coat for any embedded burrs, and remove them at once. If you live in an area that contains many burdocks, brushing and combing your dog after each walk is advised.

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