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Cost of cleaning pets' teeth may pay off in prevention

Question: When our 2-year-old Bombay cat needed her teeth cleaned, we paid just over $200, including $75 for blood testing. Is this blood work necessary? To me, $200 seems expensive. Do you think that's a fair price?

Answer: Veterinary dentist Dr. Jean Hawkins of Boise, Idaho, says the preanesthetic blood work is precautionary but wise.

"There have been times when I've picked up on beginning stages of kidney or liver disease, and then I adjust the anesthetic," Hawkins says. "For senior pets especially, we check thyroid and heart function, and sometimes we can discover a serious disease process just by preparing for a dental."

If you're taking your pet in for an annual exam, blood work is typically done at this time anyway. If the teeth require cleaning, make an appointment for sometime within a month or two and you won't have to redo the blood tests.

Hawkins says that $75 sounds about right for the tests, and by today's standards, $200 is very fair for a full dental cleaning.

"Of course, cleaning teeth is like anything else in this world," Hawkins says. "You get what you pay for. Absolutely ask this question: Do you use a gas anesthetic? If the answer is no, in this day and age I'd consider another veterinarian, no matter what the price is. You want a gas anesthetic, which offers your pet maximum safety and the veterinary staff the time to really do what needs to be done."

Other factors determine costs, too. For example, a practice that uses certified, highly trained veterinary technicians may charge more than a practice that employs technicians who are not certified.

Perhaps the biggest factor in determining cost is geography. In rural Kentucky, teeth cleaning for a pet may cost $150; the same procedure in New York City may be more than $400.

Tap water toast

Question: I enjoy your column, even though I don't have a cat or a dog. I do, however, have three ball pythons. I've always given my snakes bottled water. I'm concerned about chlorine, as well as about tap water's being unhealthful. I know that some reptiles get bone and digestive troubles because too many minerals are in their diets. We buy bottled spring water for ourselves and bottled water without minerals for the snakes. Buying two kinds of bottled water is getting expensive. Is bottled spring water safe for pythons?

Answer: Dr. Mark Mitchell, of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge may be the only professor of zoological reptile epidemiology in the country. Mitchell says that chlorine is added to our water to eliminate bacteria and other pathogens. This makes the water safe for us to drink, and the same is true for reptiles.

"I have four ball pythons myself, and they drink tap water," Mitchell says. "While tap water does have some mineral content and your awareness about reptile susceptibility to minerals is legitimate, the mineral quantity in tap water is negligible."

However, the mineral content in some tap water may adversely affect fish. Also, even slightly chlorinated tap water can affect fish and amphibians' health. Though ordinary tap water is safe for your snakes, if you prefer bottled water, the same bottled spring water you drink is fine for your reptiles.

Vet visits for seniors

Question: My veterinarian thinks I should take my 14-year-old Pomeranian, Bonkers, in twice a year because the dog is a senior citizen. Bonkers is in wonderful health, and even the vet says there's nothing wrong. I do take Bonkers to the vet once a year, without fail. I realize that even Pomeranians can't live forever. So, what's the point? Do you think the vet is trying to rip me off?

Answer: "Your vet is actually doing Bonkers a favor," says Darlene Arden, author of The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventative Care for Dogs (Contemporary Books, $21.95).

Arden, who is not a veterinarian, says, "Your vet is not trying to rip you off. In fact, catching diseases early may save you the cost of a more prolonged treatment, never mind saving the pet you love from suffering. Yes, we're all destined to reach that dog house in the sky some day, but catching a disease early might also prolong Bonkers' life."

In one year, a dog or cat ages the equivalent of six to eight years in a person. Imagine an 85-year-old person not seeing a physician for six to eight years?

Curb cat's climbing

Question: Marmy, my sweet orange tabby, loves to climb on furniture and ignores me when I holler, "Get down!" Marmy climbs the most when I'm watching TV or getting into bed. Any suggestions?

Answer: Marmy wants you to pay attention to her; that's why she walks on the wild side when you're otherwise occupied. Stop hollering because it's not working.

"From now on, the correction will come from the piece of furniture," says Jacque Schultz, behavior specialist and director of special projects Animal Sciences Division of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City.

Lay double-stick tape over pieces of cardboard or plastic placemats and arrange them on furniture you don't want Marmy to scale. She won't like the feel of that sticky tape on her paws. Also, instead of throwing a fit when Marmy climbs on the furniture, ignore her or walk to another room.

Be certain to arrange your booby traps when you leave the house because Marmy may also try her furniture tap dance when you're not home. If you have company, it's easy to remove the cardboard or placemats temporarily.

Being a cat, Marmy needs places where she can climb and ascend to great heights. Forcing her to remain grounded isn't fair. There's now documentation to support my long-standing contention that the most confident cats are those who have an opportunity to look down on humans. Besides, climbing is fun and good exercise.

Window perches, cat trees (the kind you buy or build yourself) and bookcases are among many possibilities. Marmy will be most determined to climb and observe in rooms the family uses most often.

Smooches from pooches

Question: Why does my dog, Rusty, kiss me when I come home from school? Does he really love me?

Answer: Expert behaviorists say that a dog greeting its people with licks, which you refer to as kisses, is a canine sign of submission. Your dog is deferring to your leadership and reassuring himself in the process.

It might also be that you didn't completely clean your face after lunch and a trace of peanut butter or some other yummy thing is still there.

Though the behaviorists are correct and my lunch theory probably has validity, there's no question in my mind that a dog greeting its owner with big, slobbery wet ones is also a clear sign of affection. I'm sure Rusty loves you!

Write to Steve Dale at Tribune Media Services, 435 N Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611, or send e-mail to Include your name, city and state. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column.