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Oral Health is Critical for Your Retriever

Make sure to pay attention to the business end of your duck dog.

Oral Health is Critical for Your Retriever
(Tony J. Peterson photos)

The problem with dogs is also what we love about dogs. If that seems vague, let me offer up an example from my younger years with a buddy’s golden retriever. Buster was a hunting fool and he never met a duck, or upland bird, or toad or snake or you-name-it that he didn’t think deserved a ride between his teeth.

He didn’t discriminate against chipmunks either, and when one sought refuge in an aluminum drain pipe at my buddy’s parent’s house, Buddy chewed through it to get to the prize inside. He also, more than once, chewed through his chain link kennel. Buddy was so driven that he’d ignore serious oral trauma to get at what he wanted, and even when he was dripping blood from his tongue and gums, he really didn’t seem to mind.

That’s the problem.

The Breeding Ground

Not only is their mouth the gateway to interaction with the world for most dogs, it’s also the place where some of their health issues can arise. When it comes to puppies, you might notice some small bumps on their tongue, which could mean they’ve got oral papillomatosis. This condition can also pop up in immuno-compromised dogs. With puppies, it usually resolves as the dog matures, but if your dog is already mature and develops the fleshy warts, it could be a sign that there are underlying issues. Gingivitis can occur in dogs as well so keep an eye on plaque buildup. While it’s not likely to kill them to have inflamed gums, it leads to discomfort and a lesser quality of life. Both of these are preferable to tumors, particularly malignant tumors, which can also develop in the mouth or the throat.


Long story long, is that there is the potential in your duck dog’s mouth to develop minor, self-resolving issues, or something as severe as cancer. Your job is to pay attention and check often for any abnormalities. This, obviously starts with puppies, which is a good thing because you want your retriever to be very comfortable with you poking around between his chompers. A dog that doesn’t learn that is part of his role as your companion will resist oral inspections, which can lead to you missing something early in development a less-than-ideal situation.

Objects & Trauma

Throwing a stick for your lab as you walk along a lake might be as natural as reaching down to pet him when he lays down next to your recliner at the end of the day. But that stick could break off in his throat or jam into his gums and leave some debris behind. I know that dogs have been bringing sticks back to us probably since we coaxed them into the firelight of our nomadic camps thousands of years ago, but it only takes one enthusiastic retrieve and a branch positioned just wrong way to change things in a hurry.

There are other pieces of our environment that could get lodged into our dog’s mouth as well, but even if they don’t, they might cause some trauma. Lodged debris or cuts, scrapes and open wounds can all lead to infection. A seemingly harmless game of fetch could also result in a lost or cracked tooth, which is not a picnic for your four-legged cohort.

The takeaway, again, is to keep a close eye on what’s going on in your dog’s mouth.

Prevention Options

For most oral health issues, prevention is key. Visual inspections and regular cleanings (by both you and your veterinarian) can help keep your dog’s mouth in good shape. There are also dog food formulas out there designed specifically to address plaque buildup, usually through a crunchy kibble texture, that can address potential dental health issues. This might be a good idea, but take your vet’s word for it first. In fact, if you notice anything awry in your dog’s mouth, it’s probably time to seek professional help so a seemingly innocuous issue doesn’t fester into something far worse.

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