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February Newsletter

Dental Care

Dogs chew.  Dogs chew a lot of things. It is part of their natural behavior.  My own Golden Retriever likes to chew concrete, any hat (even if it’s on someone’s head!!!) and pretty much any stick he comes across.   Working dogs like to chew like any other dog, but they have the added wear and tear from working with a bite arm over their career. The bite arm material is not tooth friendly.  It wears the enamel down but also has a tendency to fracture teeth as they get snagged in the material. They also can have the added pressure on their teeth if they are cage or kennel chewers. Some have chewed on the bars of their handlers trucks every time the handler leaves the truck. Others have chewed on their kennels for years. No matter how you look at it, these dogs have used and abused their teeth.

Many working dogs will have had some dental care throughout their career in the form of broken teeth being removed and sometimes dental cleanings. However many, if not most, dogs retire without a full assessment of their mouths. This means the dog may retire with some brewing issues in the form of abscessed teeth, fractures or major wear.   Dental issues are often painful, can cause appetite issues and often lead to other complications with your dog’s health. It is amazing however how much dogs can hide from us. We often have owners say to us after a dental procedure, how much happier their dog is, as the subtle changes associated with the pain or infection weren’t obvious to the owner.  When taking on a retired dog this may not have been something you thought about.

At your next check up with your vet, chat with him or her, about whether your dog’s mouth is looking okay or whether it might be a good idea to consider a dental procedure for further assessment and general maintenance.  Keep in mind however that dental care for pets isn’t inexpensive.  The main reasons dental care for dogs is expensive is that dogs must be anesthetized to safely and effectively assess their mouths, as well as the large amount of equipment and time required to perform a complete examination.  Some vet clinics only perform limited dental services while others have extensive capabilities. The more complex dental work should be performed by a board certified veterinary dentist who has specialized in dentistry for animals.

Dog lying on his back under general anesthesia, with a fractured tooth and tartar

Dog lying on his side, sedated, showing two worn canines. This wear is the kind you might see in your working dogs that could ultimately lead to unhealthy teeth.


Image taken from Help Em Up website

Your retired dog has spent many hours in their tracking harness over his or her career.  Some dogs may also have been used to wearing harnesses for repelling or long lining purposes.   As they age, they might now need a new kind of harness, one that helps with their mobility.

As dogs add a few more grey hairs to their muzzles, mobility issues become a concern for any large breed dog.  German Shepherds also have degenerative diseases associated to their breed that cause significant mobility issues as the diseases progress over time.  On top of the breed and age predisposition, add in the extra strain police dog’s put on their joints over the years of jumping in and out of trucks, twisting and turning with the bite arm, sprinting, and tracking in all terrain. Many retired dogs have one sided lameness or soreness because most dogs will tend to track left or right or work on the left or right side of their handler, adding extra strain on the joints on the inside of those turns.  No matter how you look at it, these dogs have sore wrists, sore knees, sore shoulders, sore backs and really sore hips!    

Getting a two handled harness is a great investment.  These are harnesses that have a handle and webbing for the front legs, but also a section of harness over the back legs also with a handle.  One brand that many neurologists like is called Help Em Up Harness. I have zero affiliation with this company by the way. They often recommend these harnesses for dogs recovering from neurological diseases or back injuries.   When older dogs decide it is too hard to get up and move around, they will choose to stay lying down longer.  When they stay lying down, their joints become stiff, their muscles weaken and it becomes even harder to get up. So, it is imperative to keep these old guys moving. They may not be able to move fast or far like they used to, but getting up and moving around the house, or going for several short walks each day is paramount.  If your retired dogs can’t engage with life and join the family on activities, we can also see cognitive decline. We want these dogs comfortable and enjoying the best life they can have for as long as possible.   If your dog is wearing a harness, it becomes easier for you to help them up, without hurting your back, as you have handles to help with that process.   If it is easier to get your dog up, you are more likely to encourage them to get up and move around.  Also, for many dogs, slippery floors in our houses are a death trap.  If they have a harness on them, and you are able to help stabilize them, they will feel more confident in the house but also going down stairs and walking along the street.


I work as a small animal veterinarian in Kamloops BC and volunteer my time with Ned’s Wish. My husband is posted to a small detachment just north of Kamloops.  One of the big reasons I want to keep your retired dogs healthy, is they have helped keep my husband and his coworkers safe over the years and I’ve seen the valuable work they do for our communities.  Please reach out if you have any questions about your retired dogs, or about your working dogs. I’m always happy to help in whatever way I can.

Dr. Kathryn Welsman