Corneal ulcers, periodontal disease, diabetes…  sometimes it’s hard to separate the dog from the health problems.  Or, I should say, my emotional reactions to the problems from Frankie’s far more laissez-faire attitude.

I’m thinking in particular of my first experience getting Frankie’s teeth professionally cleaned, which I introduced a couple of posts ago.

Frankie's tooth cleaning looms large in my mind (from

The Trauma

To recap: When several vets suggested Frankie needed the procedure, I decided to go to a clinic that charged $150 rather than my regular vet’s fee of $400.

The vet at the clinic was extremely nice when I consulted with her in advance about the issues surrounding Frankie’s diabetes: There’s not supposed to be food in the stomach when anesthesia is administered, but Frankie needs to eat in order to get his insulin. If I fed him and gave him his shot at 5:30am, she assured me, an afternoon anesthetic should pose no problem.

She was great in person too. When she examined Frankie, she told me he would do fine under anesthesia, because he was svelte. She didn’t think Frankie’s teeth looked too bad either.

Still, I worried all day after I dropped him off. At about 4 pm I got a call from the receptionist that Frankie was fine. He was groggy, she said, and would need pain meds because he had had 7 teeth extracted.

I was in shock. Why didn’t I get any advance warning, I wondered? I hadn’t seen this coming.

Poor, poor detoothed Frankie.

I spent months feeling guilty. I should have taken Frankie to a better, more expensive vet, I berated myself.  Did he really need all those extractions?

I was so freaked out that I avoided going near his mouth. That’s generally not a bad thing — except when it comes to brushing your dog’s teeth.

The Procrastinating Tactic

So now, two years later, I vowed to brush Frankie’s teeth as my New Year’s resolution. But — there’s always a but — I hesitated. Two years of tartar have accumulated. Would scrubbing tartar-laden teeth do any good?

Surely I need another professional cleaning before I get my program in gear.

An economic downturn, a severe talking to by a sensible friend — not to mention the establishment of a public guilt-free zone — have all made me rethink my initial, irrational reaction to the clinic.

They only offer cleanings and vaccinations once a week, I realized, providing a low-cost service to dog owners. If they stopped to phone people mid-procedure, they wouldn’t be able to provide that service to as many of them.

More to the point, as my friend asked, “Why would the clinic vet pull Frankie’s teeth if they didn’t need pulling? They weren’t charging per extraction, were they?”

“No,” I had to admit. It was just a small extra fee — maybe $20 — for all of them.

Was Frankie traumatized? No. Sure, he was droopy for a few days. But he recovered. And he wasn’t upset about his tooth loss, as far as I could tell. Of course, I pretended that it was now impossible to pull the squeaky toys out of his mouth, in order to salve the doggie ego that he doesn’t have.

The squeaky carrot, when not in Frankie's strong teeth

The Dilemma

Purging guilt from the past (well, almost) didn’t resolve the problem of the future cleaning, however. I started obsessing about where to go.

During the two year interim, I discovered the existence of certified veterinary dentists, members of a field that is that is relatively new. There are fewer than 125 in the entire country, but Tucson is anomalous in having two. I phoned and discovered that both charge about $800, without extractions, which are extra. As it happens, one of them goes to the same classes I go to at the gym and, I’ve been told, thinks my book is fluffy because of its title.

Not that this would have any influence on my decision.

Maybe I should go for something in between? When I took Frankie in to get his eye checked, I asked my vet about their cleanings.  They now charge $550  — a pretty hefty hike from $400.

Next, I called the clinic. The fees are currently $230, with a little extra for extractions — which, the receptionist assured me, the vet avoids whenever possible. That fee includes blood work and careful monitoring of the pre- and post-anesthesia but no X-rays. Or phone calls mid-procedure.

I’m still on the fence. Yes, a specialist would be great, but since I can’t afford it, I would probably do nothing. And I trusted the clinic vet.  Are a phone call and X-rays worth an additional $500, at minimum, for a simple cleaning — which would lead to daily tooth brushing at home, I swear?

And maybe, maybe even a change in diet.

Or — and this is a distinct possibility, guilt-free mandate notwithstanding — will I beat myself up that I didn’t somehow scrape together the money to do it right this time, now that I know that veterinary dentists exist?

What do you think?

30 thoughts on “Pride & Prejudice: Doggie Dental Version”

  1. YIKES! I can’t believe that Frankie needed 7 teeth pulled!! I think that it’s sweet that you pretend that tuggy toys are now impossible to pull from his mouth. Oh, how we love our doggies!!

    As for the dental care. Go for the cheapest. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with wanting to pay less, especially if money’s tight. Think of it like going to get your haircut. You can go to that fancy salon guy that will primp and fuss over you and pay $100 OR you can go to the local franchise place that charges $15. You’re getting the same result, right?

    1. Seven teeth seemed like an insanely large number to me, too — until I heard from other people who said that their dogs needed even more extractions!

      I wish the teeth and hair salon analogy were a bit closer; hair always grows back, even if the cut is lousy, but if you miss a problem with teeth that would only show up in X-rays (e.g., something wrong with the root) it could create a health risk. But of course not cleaning the teeth at all is an even greater health risk…

  2. So are you going to go with the vet that does the x-rays or are you still mulling over the options? It is double the price of the cheaper vet, but it sounds like it would give you piece of mind.

    1. I’m big into mulling. The clinic is offering a 10% discount in February for Pet Dental Month, which will make it even cheaper and thus probably irresistible!

  3. Wow, I would have been in shock hearing they took seven teeth. I can understand your dilemma: first you have the cost, second putting your dog under again which can pose certain risks by itself more so with older dogs, and third your dog is diabetic. If I were you I would first try brushing your dogs teeth to see where that takes you. I brush my dogs teeth and also give them plaque and tarter control. If you’re interested in reading an article I wrote about <a href=""periodontal disease and plaque and tarter feel free. Also if you have any questions I would be happy to answer them if I can. Hope this helps.

  4. Buddha came to us with a mouthful of broken teeth and a bullet lodged in one shoulder. The teeth had obviously been broken much earlier and had started to rot. When we took him for his initial checkup we scheduled a cleaning since they looked pretty nasty.

    I got some static from a friend about putting him under anesthesia, bla bla bla. Whatever.

    When we picked him up, four teeth had been pulled. I was pretty shocked. I had only expected one. He was pretty loopy and kinda lethargic that night and part of the next day. I was worried.

    By the end of three days later, he not only had an incredible appetite compared to before, but he was much more playful and became the Buddha that I now know and love – too inlcude being the most mouthy and read-to-play-tug of my three dogs. He must have been in almost constant pain beforehand and having the teeth pulled turned out to be a relief.

    In the two years since he has lost three more in two operations due to terrible abscesses. So he’s tied with Frankie. My vet and I think it’s a combination of poor nutrition early in life and maybe a car accident, perhaps after he took the buckshot to his shoulder. He seems to be OK now and is the happiest of my three dogs.

    1. Clare, your vote always stacks the decks of my decisions (not enough coffee yet for metaphors, but you know what I mean — it counts heavily).

      Kelly, thanks for your input. One thing: I couldn’t find the Petlane tartar control product you talked about in your excellent article. Could you please send that info? And yes, I’ve been dithering on the teeth cleaning, which is ridiculous. As soon as I stop the eyedrops — I posted about that earlier — teeth cleaning shall commence!

      Eric, it’s funny that anyone should focus on the dangers of anesthesia when you have a dog with a bullet in his shoulder and broken teeth. I think it’s a holdover from the days — decades ago — when anesthesia was far less safe, when barbiturates, which are a lot less predictable, were used. Today reputable vets use drugs like sevofluorane and propofol, the sedative effects of which are reversed far more quickly.

  5. I say bite the bullet and get his teeth cleaned while you still can. Where, is optional. There’s nothing wrong with going where you went previously or to a specialist.

    I think specialists are often overrated.

    I had Lily’s teeth cleaned at 3 years old and she did fine. Then I had them cleaned again at 9 years old and it took her too many days to recover.

    At 12 years 3 months there is no way I am having a greyhound go under anesthesia except if it’s to euthanize her.

    Kelly, I would like to know more about your product. Please forward to Edie and she will forward to me. Right now I am brushing Lily’s teeth with some vet dental care product (that my vet gave me or actually I bought it from her) — it looks like pink glycerin.

    I was going to buy PetKiss but haven’t yet.

  6. Edie, to find the Petlane tartar control go to my, there is a page on the top navigation bar that says shop Petlane, click on it, then when you get to Petlane’s site click shop, then dog, then dental products. It take about 6 weeks before you will notice an improvement in Frankie’s mouth. I am a Petlane Pet Advisor, started to use so many of their products I decided I had to inform other dog owners of their quality.

  7. Amy and I believe everything happens for a reason. There is a reason you’re going thru all of this. Maybe it’s “just” a journey to help Frankie out. Maybe you’ll learn something to help everyone out – and write a book about it. Good luck and keep us all posted via your blog.

    PS – Have you considered foregoing cable to free up some extra cash? (just kidding!)

    1. Well, Am I Boring My Dog came out of Frankie’s initial diabetes diagnosis… so you never know!

      Thanks for your good thoughts.

  8. I understand why you were shocked. I had a shock like that with 5 that had to go from one of my mom’s dogs I was caring for. I did not go to a clinic (none available in the area at that time)*and* did not get a call! Country ways. You had a good rapport with the clinic surgeon, why not stick with it? The only question I’d ask is do they have the same well-qualified anesthetist who monitors vitals throughout the operation? Sounds like you could do an adventures in a dog’s life series with Frankie as the star:)

    1. Mary, the fact that phone calls are not a universal feature of regular vets makes me feel better! As for the anesthesia, I felt comfortable with the fact that it was carefully monitored. Only the specialists — as opposed to, say, my regular vet — offer a dedicated anesthesiologist.

      Hmmm…both you and Rod suggested a Frankie-focused book, a much more cheerful trend than the “give-up-your-cable” thread. 😉

  9. Given the seriousness of his past cleaning, I think it’s irresponsible for you to do nothing. Undetected decay could pose serious health problems for Frankie, whose diabetes weakens his immune system. I think the service that includes x-rays is the minimum you should consider. Sure, it costs more – but this preventative procedure could keep Frankie from suffering and save you more vet fees in the future.

    1. “Irresponsible” is not a term that gets thrown around here a lot, what with this being a guilt-free zone. And “Sure, it costs more” is a phrase that only those who don’t struggle with financial decisions on a daily basis tend to use. I’ll say no more.

  10. Before going under, please read!!!

    There was a nationwide recall to ketamine that also goes under different brand names.

    I know how scary it is with all the teeth pulled. Louis, my mini dachshund has half his teeth left and I’ve spent thousands on his dental procedures. My vet did call prior to pulling his teeth but I understand the assembly line way to reduce costs for all.

    1. Thank you so much for this information, Robert! Scary. I will be sure to check about that with any vet I go to. For those who don’t know, ketamine is a short-acting anesthetic that’s commonly used in dental procedures for dogs.

      By the way, I bought Stelly & Chewy’s freeze-dried raw chicken dinner, based on your recommendation. Stay tuned for the blog post!

  11. I think it’s pretty clear, based on everything you’ve blogged about and written about in your book, that the last thing you are is irresponsible toward Frankie. I also think it’s pretty clear that you are not “doing nothing”…you are gathering information, making phone calls, and writing journal articles to save up the money to do your best by Frankie. I tune into this blog every day not only because I’m your biggest fan, but also to get the thoughtful perspectives of your well-informed readership. Name calling has no place here.

  12. You are welcome and I hope he likes the Chicken! I just saw your reply here so disregard my question on the latest post asking what dinner you got for him 🙂 Enjoy Frankie!

  13. From your post above: “I’m still on the fence. Yes, a specialist would be great, but since I can’t afford it, I would probably do nothing.” All I’m saying is that not making a decision is, in fact, a decision. And I don’t think that’s fair to Frankie.

    Further, you state: “Or — and this is a distinct possibility, guilt-free mandate notwithstanding — will I beat myself up that I didn’t somehow scrape together the money to do it right this time, now that I know that veterinary dentists exist?” So, you’ve made it sound like this most expensive option would somehow be a possibility, but my suggestion that you go with the middle cost option is apparently distasteful.

    Finally, you asked: “What do you think?” I gave you my opinion – and you replied by being insulting.

    1. Amy, I understand now where you’re coming from. I honestly don’t know what I meant by saying “I’ll do nothing,” but I know it related only to committing myself to the most expensive option, as I went on to discuss the clinic in a more positive way, suggesting that my prejudice against it (thus the blog’s title) might be misplaced.

      But in the context of a soul searching exploration of what to do about my dog’s health, the word “irresponsible” seemed out of place. I wasn’t the only one who felt that. I believe you didn’t mean to be insulting, only honest; in turn, that’s how I felt about my response.

      I don’t want this blog to be a place of dissension, only intellectual discussion, and I do solicit opinion, so I’m sorry if I made you feel unwelcome.

  14. Edie, I apologize as well. There was a more productive way to communicate my point – I guess I was having a bad day. Also, I did not mean to suggest that you are irresponsible – clearly you take wonderful care of Frankie and love him dearly. I only meant that being paralyzed by the options, and therefore not making a decision would be irresponsible.

  15. I just stumbled across this site while doing research on pet dental procedures. I have a dog and 3 cats. My dog is a pup and I am trying to remember to brush her teeth so that I don’t have to deal with this down the road! Currently I am so upset because I took my cat to my regular vet for a dental ‘cleaning’. He came home 12 hours later with 13 teeth extracted and a morphine patch on his foot! This was not a low cost clinic, it was a vet in my regular vet’s office and it cost me $800! No one called before or after the extractions to talk to me. They also had him sit there in a cage for 7 hrs before even STARTING the procedure! I am so upset. I talked to my regular vet about this, since it is his practice, but he has just told me to dicuss with the vet that did the procedure, so now I am upset with him as well! Time for a new vet???

    1. Sue, I am so sorry to hear about your experience. My opinion: There is NO excuse for what you went through. And yes, I would say fire your vet. It was his referral and, at minimum, his responsibility to discuss the problems with you. You would think he would want to know about these issues; his referral, his practice, his reputation are all at stake.

      For $800 you should have gotten, at minimum, X-rays and a consult about possible extractions — in advance — and then a call during the procedure to confirm that those extractions were occurring. And a 7 hour wait before the procedure could begin? Unconscionable! I was upset about my experience, which was far better than yours (I left my dog off at 8am and I picked him up at 4pm), and it occurred at a low-cost clinic.

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