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Doggie Dental Care. It Ain’t Cheap.

Doggie Dental Care. It Ain’t Cheap.

For the past 25 years I’ve had small dogs. They all had one thing in common: heinous teeth. I could take a trip to the Galapagos for what I’ve spent on their doggone dental care. 

A version of this column appeared in The Virginian-Pilot in January, 2001.


My dentist charges $85 to examine and clean my teeth.

My veterinarian wants $350.48 to clean my dog's choppers.

I asked my dentist to work on my poodle, but he wouldn't bite.

If the rest of life worked like this, a large pepperoni pizza that costs me $9.99 at Domino's would cost my dog close to $40.

A haircut that sets me back $50 would cost her $200.

I learned about my dog's "urgent" dental needs during her annual exam. I thought it was bad enough that by the time she'd had her shots and we'd stocked up on heartworm and flea preventatives I was perilously close to spending $200.

The price tag on the proposed dental work left me woozy.

I declined the vet's invitation to set up an appointment immediately.

"I have to think about this," I said, picking up my dog and staggering out of the door.

When I got home I conducted my own doggie dental examination.

Sure enough, her fangs were dingy.

I phoned my dentist to ask him if he'd clean my poodle's teeth.

Please, I begged.

"Oh man,'" said Michael Folck when he stopped laughing. "You must be the fifth patient this week who's asked me to work on their dog or cat's teeth."

Not surprisingly, Dr. Folck refused. You can't blame a dentist for wanting to keep cat and dog fur out of the examining room. 

However, he did suggest that I commiserate with another human patient who'd been griping about the cost of pet dental care that very day.

I caught up with Jim Brunt via cell phone while he was waiting in line at Hardee's. That may be the only place he could afford to lunch after paying the tab for his tabby's tooth problems.

Brunt's 13-year-old cat, Nikita, recently received a diagnosis of dirty teeth. Once the cat was in the chair, the vet decided that Nikita needed a tooth pulled too.

"It was $279 altogether," Brunt said. "Can you believe it?"

Actually, yes.

To save money, I went on the Internet to see if I could find do-it-yourself instructions for cleaning canine teeth.

What luck. Everyone from the American Kennel Club to Martha Stewart offers tips on doggie dental care.

I purchased the requisite poultry-flavored toothpaste. I found a soft, teeny tiny toothbrush. I even tried to relax the dog by playing classical music.

Of course, the only way to really relax a miniature poodle is by backing over it with the family station wagon. I don't recommend that. Neither do I recommend brushing the teeth of a nervous dog.

I tried to begin by following Martha's directions about "gently lifting the dog's lips," but as hard as I tried, I couldn't locate any lips.

By the time I was finished brushing, the dog's fur was matted and her gums were bleeding.

Worst of all, her teeth were still the color of an Idaho potato and her breath smelled like the Tyson's Chicken plant on a humid summer day.

Not that I expected the halitosis to vanish after a simple brushing. 

Frankly, I don't see how it's possible for dogs to have sweet breath considering all the disgusting things they do with their mouths in the course of a day.

I'm wondering where this notion of doggie dentistry came from.

I grew up with a steady procession of dogs. None ever had their teeth cleaned and all lived well into old age while retaining the ability to chew their food and bite the mailman.

Heck, most people in our working-class neighborhood didn't even buy dog food. Table scraps were good enough for Fido. Any dog caught eating Gravy Train was thought to be putting on airs.

I worry about what will come next if I relent and get the dog's teeth cleaned. Will the vet then recommend bleaching so she can have a dazzling smile? Bridgework? Braces?

"Tell you what I'd do," offered Jim Brunt, still waiting in line for lunch. "I'd pass on the teeth cleaning and give the dog a breath mint instead."

Good idea. Pass the Altoids.

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