In this column we recently reported (Anaesthetic and Newborns: A Cautionary Tale) an unfortunate life-death fiasco due to the unnecessary use of an anesthetic in docking the tails of a litter of newborn Norfolks. The key word was, and still is, "unnecessary", and it applies to the over-use of anesthetics in other minor medical procedures and in canine dentistry in particular. All anesthetics, no matter how safe they are considered, involve a certain unknowable risk. the extent of that risk must be carefully weighed against its benefits. Obviously, for major surgery anesthesia is indispensable, and in many cases a life saver in the truest sense.
But back to dentistry. More often than not it's uncalled for and undesirable to send your pet into a stupor for hours just to have his teeth cleaned -- or even for the extraction of an already wobbly tooth, for that matter. First of all, regular tooth-brushing will definitely decrease the need for frequent scaling of tartar and plaque build-up. Furthermore, you can scale your Norfolk's teeth yourself with a small tool that can be purchased at most pet-supply stores. (Ask your vet to show you once or twice how to do this.) As for that molar or incisor that's "hanging by a thread" in the mouth of your geriatric marvel, a good marrow bone or rawhide will usually do the job of hastening along the extraction naturally. Removal of a stubborn "baby" tooth in puppies can usually be accomplished by the patient push-pull tactic with thumb and forefinger a few minutes at a time over a day or two.
If you're squeamish about any of these do-it-yourself techniques and feel you must rely on a vet, ask that anesthetic not be used unless it's absolutely essential. A number of Norfolk breeders have made the wise observation that our dogs seem in general more sensitive, more allergic, and more easily devastated by anesthesias than some other breeds of the same size. If anesthetic must be administered, by all means make your vet aware of this fact. Let your basic maxim be: "As little as possible, and only as a last resort." Both you and your Norfolk will fare better for it.
ANTIC, Spring, 1988
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