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.
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.
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?