Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Tale Of The Cracked Tooth

We don't give dogs enough credit for how intelligent they are, even though a majority of their drives and behaviors are influenced by instinct.

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As much as my dogs are tuned into me, I'm finding as we travel and share space with each other, I've become very tuned with them as well. I notice things about how they walk, how they are acting, whether it's a good day, or a bad one. If Lily has an ear infection, or Bear is hyper-focused on another animal in his general vicinity, I notice.

Bear had bad breath from the start. On his first vet visit, I asked about this and worried that his teeth might need to be looked at, or at the very least, cleaned. He'd been at a shelter for about six months when I adopted him and a stray for about a month before that. I wanted to make sure that he had the best chance going forward.

The vet recommended probiotics for his breath and horrendous farts. His farts were pretty epic. One day, he managed to clear out me and Lily from the living room. It also forced me to open the house even though it was mid-summer in Texas. I was willing to give the probiotics a shot if it meant I didn't have to air condition the outside to survive an accidental ground attack from a four-legged gas bomb.

Switching to the probiotic routine meant giving up processed treats for a while. Lily was less than pleased. Bear always liked about anything he was offered, from apples to broccoli, so it was less of a problem for him. At that time I was on a bi-weekly farmer's box program, and I was struggling with ways to use up all the produce. Even though the box was meant for two people, often there was enough for four or more sometimes.

I was cooking sweet potatoes one night, boiling them to remove the skin so I could cube and mash them. The potatoes were cooling off and I noticed both the dogs were sitting at my feet watching me. I took a couple of small chunks out of pot, checking to make sure they were cool enough, then offered them to the dogs. They kinda lost their minds and pushed closer to me and the stove, sitting perfectly, waiting for another bite.

Post walk lounging
I got creative after that small window into doggie likes and bought a dehydration unit. With this I created beet chips and sweet potato chips, which both dogs loved. I dehydrated green onions, apples, kale, mint, tomatoes, carrots; basically anything which I thought I might not finish before it rotted, I dehydrated and put in the freezer. This extended a lot of things for a month or more. For the dogs it was a new found treat they enjoyed more than the treats from the bag. The produce was getting used up instead of rotting in my fridge! It was a significant win-win overall.

As bad breath and deadly gas attacks subsided, Lily and I were getting used to this new being in our house. He was handsome, smart, quiet, almost too quiet, to the point that I wasn't sure he would bark, until a knock on the door or a door bell rang. He had this awesome personality, which was the near opposite of Lily.

As with most medical things, finding one problem and resolving it means others pop up or make themselves known. It turns out, Bear is mildly allergic to something outside. Whether it's grass or some pollen, I'll never know. Likely because of the allergies, he snores like it's his job.

One of the first nights he slept in the same room with Lily and me, I was startled awake by very human sounding snoring. I sat up in bed, wide awake, freaked out that someone was in the room, when I realized Bear had crawled up from under the bed (which was where he always started out the night back then) to lay next to me, head on pillow, all four legs sticking straight out. Lily was peacefully curled up at the foot of the bed. I was the only one in the house that could hear it. I went back to sleep, laughing at myself and pretty happy.

Fast forward to mid 2017.

Bear's bad news breath was back. It wasn't horrible, but it was noticeable. I was concerned, but I thought it might be from plaque buildup. Getting a dogs teeth cleaned is a major event for your dog and your wallet. It was something I was going to have to plan for as it seemed. I knew I was heading to another project towards the end of the year, plus Bear needed his vaccinations in October, I figured I'd check with the vet I found then.

A soulful look.
When he went for his vaccinations, he wasn't exhibiting any issues with eating and the vet gave him a clean bill of health, and also noted, like about every other vet that had seen him, that he had a very high pain tolerance. He stood still for shots, blood draws, and examinations. His only exception was anyone messing with his butt, so getting a stool sample or a temp was often problematic. He still had some pretty foul breath though. I chalked it up to his obsession with goose poop (That's a whole other story I'll write up later).

It wasn't until early March 2018 that I noticed he was only eating on one side. Over the last four to five months, his breath got worse, and I was giving him things to chew that should have helped clear plaque, if that had been the problem. When one night, I gave him a bully stick, which he usually gobbled up, I noticed he was taking longer than Lily to eat it. That never happened before. Lily was usually the slower, pickier eater.

He had the stick between his paws and I gently took it from him, and he let it go. (Another bad sign. That dog never gives up food once he has it.) I started looking at his teeth, and he tolerated this until I got to his back teeth on his left side. I saw a tooth that looked grey. It was a bad color for a tooth. Usually it meant it was rotting out, possibly infected, or both. I made another vet appointment.

It was now apparent that he was masking some kind of pain. His once exuberant meal time, was half-hearted at best. The vet saw the tooth and immediately knew it was cracked. The stench coming from his mouth now was pretty bad. The doc was keen to get him in for an extraction and I absolutely agreed.

The vet also mentioned that it was rare for owners to catch something like a broken tooth. I told her that I pay attention to the dogs, what they act like, what they are doing. Smart dogs equals clever and sneaky, and because of that, you had to be vigilant to mood and behavior changes. Unhappy dogs or dogs in pain can cause all kinds of problems for themselves and those around them. An otherwise fantastic dog can devolve into dangerous behaviors because of pain or stress. It's one of the biggest lessons I learned from the folks at Dogs Out Loud.

Surgery day was kinda hard on both dogs. They don't like being separated. Lily went to daycare. It was routine for her. Bear went to the vet. He had to be encouraged to leave with the tech. Thankfully it was a day operation. I picked Bear up first, then we went to get Lily. You could see the tension melt off both of them as they saw each other again. Licked each other's faces and sniffed butts. The way they behaved it seemed like they hadn't seen each other in weeks rather than hours.

We all came back to the hotel after that. I made dinner, started a movie, and eventually I had a dog on either side of me, sleeping peacefully.  The next day, I could tell Bear was feeling better. He was playing and interacting more with Lily that morning. He could have been high too. The dog was on some pretty good meds. Seeing happy Bear made me happy and glad that I caught his tooth problem before it got even worse.

The Dynamic Duo - My Yin & Yang - Lily & Bear

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