Moses & the Fractured Tooth

Lorde cuts her teeth on wedding rings in the movies; Moses cuts his on icy stairways and sidewalks. Unfortunately, for Moses it isn’t a metaphor or turn of phrase.

Moses dismayed at the state of neighbourhood sidewalks

Moses dismayed at the state of neighbourhood sidewalks (apologies for the bad phone photo).

It was 3:30am on Wednesday morning last week, when I shot out of bed to an unfamiliar animal sound. You know – the way you’re suddenly wide awake because you think one of the pets is getting ready to barf on the carpet? That kind of awake.

The source of the noise was Moses. He was loudly grinding his teeth and licking his lips and, just like any unusual behaviour would indicate, I knew something must be wrong.

Oh, did I wake you?

Oh, did I wake you?

After ensuring he hadn’t swallowed something he wasn’t supposed to, I sat on the kitchen floor with him and gave him a tail-to-head examination, making sure there were no bumps or cuts or foreign objects. I had a pretty good idea the problem was in the face somewhere, so I left it to last.

My examination eventually revealed he’d somehow chipped off a large part of one of his canines. Poor guy! No wonder his mouth was bugging him.

There was no blood or anything, but he was clearly not exactly comfortable.

Whole tooth vs. fractured tooth

Whole tooth vs. fractured tooth (and a large display of jowl)

So the next order of business was to determine exactly how uncomfortable he was. Was he 24 hour vet uncomfortable? Or did I have some time to figure it out and make him a regular appointment (noting our usual vet finally made good on his threat to retire, so I’d need to get in somewhere new)?

So I re-filled his water dish, which he appreciated and made use of immediately, likely because he was drooling a bit more than usual. Can still drink water without hesitation – check.

Then I wondered if he’d eat, or if he would consider himself in too much pain for that. Got out some treats and no issues there; eating normally – check.

4:00am food test; definitely not a problem

4:00am food test; definitely not a problem

Next I let him outside and he went down in the yard to sniff around and do some business as usual – also check.

Phew! He’d make it through a couple of hours and I could call for a vet appointment during regular business hours.

I began wracking my brain for when Moses would’ve chipped his tooth and why I didn’t notice it before I went to bed. The sidewalks in our neighbourhood are incredibly icy and treacherous these days, and neither Moses nor I are strangers to wiping out this winter. When Moses slips, he’s usually able to catch himself, but there has definitely been at least one face-meets-pavement fall for the big guy.

Still perplexed, I call Moses back inside and he just looks at me from the bottom of the stairs, wagging his tail.

I call him again, and he puts his front feet on the first step, pauses, and then backs off. He does this a couple of times and I begin to contemplate if my slippers are suitable backyard footwear if I have to go get him.

Eventually, he musters up some resolve, decides he can do it after all, and hurries up to the door.

Like the sidewalks, the stairs had some ice on them, so this is my official guess as to where Moses fractured his tooth. He’s not usually insecure about, well, anything really, but I could see him being hesitant if he’d hurt himself on the stairs just a few hours prior – likely during the last bathroom break before bed.

Hard to tell if the nerve is exposed or not - only the x-ray will tell for sure

Hard to tell if the nerve is exposed or not – only the x-ray will tell for sure

By the time my layperson diagnosis was complete, it was just about 4:30am, so I hit the hay for another 30 minutes until the alarm went off.

As far as fractured teeth go, I of course did my share of reading, and found this website to be a good resource on the issue. Basically, if they’re fairly seriously fractured, an x-ray is required to determine if the nerve has been exposed and the tooth needs to come out. To leave a tooth in and hope it just gets better is not a good idea, because you can open your dog up to all sorts of potentially worse issues. And yes, our pampered pets are perfectly fine sans one, or two, or even all of their canine teeth.

If the nerve is exposed, another option is – as ridiculous as it sounds – to send your dog in for a root canal. I chuckled when the vet mentioned this; there is a dog/root canal mental leap I just cannot make (it’s also way more expensive). “What’s next – braces for dogs?!” I joked, and she looked and me, “Actually….”

Moses goes in for his x-rays on Friday, and if they see that the tooth needs to come out, it’ll be removed while he’s under. We’ll probably also throw in a dental cleaning while he’s there.

Until then, it’s no bones for Moses, and he’s on some antibiotics to prevent any potential infection while he waits for his appointment.

How to trick your dog into taking his antibiotics. Yes, those are Kraft cheese slices; works like a charm.

How to trick your dog into taking his antibiotics. Yes, those are Kraft cheese slices; works like a charm.

You’d never know anything was wrong with him, though. Aside from the odd tooth-grind or head shake, the pain from the first day seems to have subsided, and he’s happy to go on walks and as excited as ever for dinner.

This will be the fifth time Moses goes under general anesthetic (bloat, neuter, CT scan, spinal surgery), but arguably the least serious. His blood work came back perfect and he’s otherwise healthy, so we have little to worry about.

In any case, I still feel bad for him – this is certainly one of those times I wish I could explain to him what was going on.

Poor Mo - the million dollar dog

Poor Mo – the million dollar dog

Also, I’d like to leave you with two words: pet insurance.

I know there are two camps on that subject, but we have it and have been thankful for it more than once with Moses. It’s very relieving to be able to make decisions in your pet’s best interests without worrying about the financial aspect.

Pet Insurance? Or Assurance?

I’ve been asked more than once about whether or not I’d recommend pet insurance, and I’m always sorry to say that there’s unfortunately no clear answer to that question.  Not that you’ll get from me, anyway.

Moses is insured.  And personally, I’m very glad he is, because that didn’t always used to be the case.  And then – BAM!  Bloat.  At midnight.  On a Friday.  In another city.

Yep, we sure wish we were insured then.  Because even though we would’ve had to fork over the cost of his emergency surgery up front anyway, at least we would’ve got $5,000 of that back under our current plan.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

But I can really see why many people opt not to get pet insurance.  Heck, that was our first decision, too.  And our cats still aren’t insured.

The reasoning is simple: if you have a well-trained dog and put them on a good quality diet, those are insurance policies of their own.  The quality diet can prevent against many illnesses and allergies, and a well-trained dog is less likely to get into some sort of rare kerfuffle or incident that could result in medical attention.  Simple.

If you have a pure bred dog and did extensive breeder research beforehand, there’s another important precaution taken care of.

Easy initial and daily preventative measures can mean a long, healthy, high quality life for your dog, and also mean that pet insurance for you just might turn out to be a waste of money.

Alternatively, to prepare for any sort of “freak” incident, many people simply put away what they’d pay in premiums into a savings account, so the money is there if you need it, but still in your possession if you don’t.  That was our plan, too, but when Moses bloated at 18 months old, we had barely $500 in the Contingency Account.  So perhaps a large lump sum early on is the way to go with this plan.

For us, however, it took one Several Thousand Dollar Event to change our minds on pet insurance (even though we have yet to make a claim on it – knock on wood).  And, unfortunately, I know more people who didn’t have pet insurance and later really wish they did, than who did purchase a plan and later found it to be an unnecessary expense.  Of course, I also know many people who don’t have pet insurance and have never needed it and are quite content.

So I’m afraid I can’t offer any clear advice; it’s a pretty personal decision.

However, I can offer some important considerations.

Finances. If you’re rolling in dough and won’t be financially affected by paying several hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for a procedure, I probably wouldn’t worry about it.

If you’re leaning towards insuring your pet, you also have to consider your long-term investment and what you can afford monthly or annually in premiums.  For example, $40 per month over the course of a 14 year lifespan would mean paying the insurance company $5,760 at the end of it all.  Do you think you will recover this amount in claims?  Or is your “peace of mind” worth that much?

Your Pet’s Age.  Just like our own health insurance, premiums for pet insurance are cheaper the younger your pet is, so if you’re on the fence, it’s often better to make a decision sooner than later, and see if the policy has any guarantees about premium increases over time.  Some breeders, like ours, even insure your puppy for you up to 6 months old, so it could be an easy procedure to just maintain that policy.  Some companies won’t even insure a pet once they’ve reached a certain age, so it’s worth looking into.

Old age will also be a consideration, because even if a certain procedure is covered and can prolong your pet’s life, questions about quality of life may arise.  Insurance is nice because it takes out the “can we?” when it comes to a major medical procedure, but you can’t neglect the “should we?” considerations.

Medical History.  You have to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions beforehand when applying for insurance or you risk voiding your policy, so it’s best really best to obtain the insurance before anything arises.  We disclosed that Moses had previously bloated, so our insurance coverage now excludes future episodes of bloat (obviously).  Thankfully, his stomach is now tacked and future bloat isn’t a huge concern for us, but this could be a deal breaker with many other medical issues.

Breed.  Shop around when considering a policy, and check to see how different companies assess insurance for your dog (or cat)’s breed.  When we were looking, some companies listed Newfoundlands (among several others) in a riskier category as other breeds, and wouldn’t cover certain things like bloat or hip dysplasia regardless of the particular dog’s medical history.

Lifestyle.  Is your dog well trained?  Does he or she get a quality diet and plenty of exercise?  Are you diligent about keeping him/her out of harm’s way?  If so, you may not want to bother with insurance.  What about considering who else looks after your pets – dog walkers, dog/cat/house sitters?  Sure, unusual and unpredictable things can happen, but, on the other hand, how much are you willing to pay for the rare just-in-case scenario?  This is why our cats aren’t insured:  they stay in the house, are fed well, are miscellaneous stray-mixes, and neither of them have any self-destructive habits such as eating plastic, live electrical cords, or poisonous plants, so serious medical problems or injuries really aren’t a major concern for us.  Could we have made the wrong bet?  Sure, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there.  (Fool me once…?)

Type of Coverage.  Like any other form of insurance, pet insurance comes with many different levels and inclusions and exclusions.  If you just want to insure for the just-in-case scenario, but take on daily preventative care issues yourself, most companies can accommodate.  If you want 100% coverage, including regular medical check-ups, dental care, and even massage or acupuncture (not kidding!), they have that, too.

Vet Considerations.  Some companies allow you to see any veterinarian you want, which means you can keep your current one (if you like them).  Read the fine print and make sure the company you’re considering doesn’t just allow for claims from certain vets in your area, unless you’re already using one or want to make a change.

Past Experiences.  This will probably be the biggest factor: experiences you’ve already had with your pets, or perhaps ones your close friends or family members have had.  If your gut simply tells you to get insurance, and it will make you feel more secure, then just find a good option and go for it.  If you’re certain it will be a waste of money, then who is to say otherwise?  It’s Colbert’s “truthiness” at its finest.

Can you believe it has taken me this long to work Colbert into my blog?

Really, the hard part when considering pet insurance is to think about it as objectively as possible.  And this is tough not only because our pets are generally considered beloved family members, but also because each company selling pet insurance “fear mongers” to a certain extent, playing on your love for your pet and how you “want the best for them”.  You do have to remember that these companies wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a profit to be made.  Like we put off writing our own Last Will and Testament, considering the what-ifs is just one of those necessary evils of being responsible.

No, it is true, I will never come right out and tell someone not to get pet insurance, simply because if they do turn out to be part of that population that opt out and then something terrible happens, I could never live with the guilt; I prefer to err on the side of caution, thus accounting (now) for Moses’ insurance policy.

On the other hand, I can’t (won’t) tell you outright whether to get pet insurance, either, but I will certainly advise to do as much research as possible and be sure you’ve made an informed decision, whatever that decision may be.

In conclusion: there are more questions and considerations than answers.  Sorry ‘bout that.

Moses had both had and not had insurance. Each time, we've been content with our decision.