He is NOT too old to get his teeth cleaned.

Beau_kelm_2 This "Beau".  He is thirteen years old, and this picture was taken about 15 minutes after we finished cleaning his teeth.  His teeth were really covered with calculus (tartar), and he had a little gum disease.  Cleaning his teeth was especially important because of his other medical problems.  Not his lower back problems (which have been really bad at times), and not his low thyroid condition (for which he takes medicine twice day), but because he has severe heart problems. 

Xray_big_heart_2_2 Beau has congestive heart disease.  He has been on twice-daily medications for four years.  You may not have looked at many chest X-rays, but take my word for it:  this is a big heart.  It looks like a basketball, double the size it ought to be.  It’s not big and strong, either.  It’s stretched out of shape and weak and flabby.  His cardiac output when he’s wide awake is worse than most dogs while they are under anesthesia.  SO… who’s up for knocking him out to clean his teeth?  [I can’t hear you.]

Anything you do involves making a decision as to whether the risks outweigh the benefits.  When they dropped off Beau, the last thing the owners said was, "Don’t kill him."  Hey, no pressure.

First the Benefits: clean teeth, fresh breath, healthy gums… so what?  Just don’t look at his mouth and you can pretend he has all those.  Then there’s the fact that you get rid of the zillions of bacteria that his mouth is constantly dumping into his bloodstream — bacteria that are clogging up his kidneys and damaging them, and that would love to colonize his damaged heart valves.  Okay, that’s a little harder to ignore.

What about the Risks?  Well, he’s thirteen years old and has had heart disease for four years and he might die with clean teeth.  We could have stopped right there, but we didn’t.  We decided to look at his actual risks.  First, his bloodwork is good — no problems with liver or kidney function.  Second, if you look at that chest X-ray again, you’ll see that the lungs are clear — no fluid and looking good.  Third, his electrocardiogram got a pass from the cardiologist at Idexx telemedicine.  So…a lot of his "risk factors" are actually not so risky.

We put Beau on I.V. fluids and kept his anesthesia light (with easy-to-adjust Sevoflurane gas), monitored him closely, and I worked at a furious pace.  My receptionist wandered back to see how we were doing and said, "Your next appointment has cancelled, so you can take your time."  Wrong.  No matter how good his labwork was, there’s no point in pushing our luck with that big, weak heart.

The point of the post is this:  you folks with your 9-year old dogs with healthy hearts have got to stop using the "he’s too old" excuse for not getting those mouth problems handled.

2 thoughts on “He is NOT too old to get his teeth cleaned.

  1. Leigh Lear says:

    I couldn’t find a place to contact, so I thought I would ask this here. We have a 10 month old lab, blue heeler mix puppy. She’s just a mut, but a great dog, except for a few little puppy things. Lately, though, she has been eating her poop, not just picking up the old pieces either, she will actually go, then turn around and start eating it fresh. I know this is somewhat common, but we are trying to figure out a way to discourage this, do you have any suggestions?

  2. Doc says:

    Coprophagia (eating poop) is a common puppy behavior, which is not to say that I consider it “normal”. Some dogs grow out of it, but many do not. Some folks have success with products that are added to the dog’s food and are supposed to make the feces taste bad. ForBid is one product expressly made for the purpose, and Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer has been used with success on occasion. You add it to the food.

    This does not always work. I mean, you have to wonder how good the poop tastes in the first place. How is this stuff going to make it taste that much worse?

    Supervising the dog and scolding or otherwise correcting it when you see it going for the poop should help, but you’d have to catch them pretty nearly every time. Apparently there’s a “reward” every time, so you’ve got to be consistent with the punishment.

    I’ve also heard of people sabotaging the poops before the dog gets there. This is no good if the dog is turning around and eating his own, but adding some cayenne pepper to the cat poops might discourage the dog.

    I wish I had a better answer and sure cure for you, but I don’t. This is a disgusting habit… especially the part where they want to kiss you afterwards.

    Good luck, and thanks for reading

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