“Teddy” is not a normal family pet. The strapping black Russian terrier weighs 150 pounds, actually comes from Russia, was sold as a puppy for $3,000, and travels the country as the 11th-rated dog of his breed in the U.S.
His travel accommodations don’t always match his rarified status, though. Teddy’s owner, Eagan resident Leo Merman, had to leave Teddy in a metal kennel for a while at a dog show in Iowa last month, but Teddy has a certain level of attachment to his owner and fought the confinement.
“He decided to bite his way out just to be close to me,” said Merman, who explained the bond by recounting how he used to bring Teddy into the shower with him when the dog was a puppy.
The fit of anxiety almost ended Teddy’s rounds on the dog show circuit. In his escape attempt, the terrier fractured several of his teeth, a condition that is especially dire for an animal that is judged in part on its bite. Merman knew the fracture would lead to discoloration — and eventual removal — of the dog’s teeth.
“It would finish his career,” Merman said.
So he took Teddy in for treatment last week at Blue Pearl Veterinary in Eden Prairie, which offers specialized care for animals, including advanced dentistry. Dr. Donnell Hanson, a veterinary dentist and oral surgeon, applied a sealant treatment that smoothed out the fractures and added protection to the fractured teeth.
“He got off pretty lucky,” Hanson said, noting minimal structural damage to Teddy’s chompers.
Many cases eclipse his in severity. “Often they break their teeth in such a way that … they require root canals or extractions,” Hanson said.
It goes beyond teeth. The animal dentist noted she removed a large tumor from another dog’s upper jaw the same day as Teddy’s treatment.
It is easy for pet owners to let dental problems with their animals to go untreated. Dogs don’t wince in pain from a toothache the way humans do, making it difficult to detect any discomfort.
“Dogs and cats don’t show signs of oral pain,” Hanson said. “They don’t cry out. They don’t complain.”
When an animal seems to be slowing down, most people attribute it to age, when the problem could be hidden behind a pair of drooping jowls, according to Hanson.
“The most remarkable ones are these dogs who just seem to be getting older,” she said, “and we address their mouth and they have a whole change in perspective.”
One time, the problem was hidden up a wet nose, Hanson recalled in the case of an animal that was missing a canine tooth. Upon inspection, that tooth was found in the dog’s nasal cavity.
It was a rescue dog and no one is sure of the cause, Hanson said, but it is believed the animal was bitten as a puppy and suffered damage to a tooth bud, which forms in the initial stage of a tooth’s development. The trauma to the tooth bud caused the wayward growth, Hanson said.
Like dentists for humans, Hanson stresses regular care to prevent such maladies. The average pet, according to Hanson, should have an oral exam or dental cleaning once a year. “Pets need oral care just like we do,” she said, adding that 85 percent of pets have a periodontal disease.
Merman, who came to the United States from Russia 15 years ago, cleans Teddy’s mouth once a month and brings the dog — along with Sofia, his other Russian terrier — in for an oral exam every two years.
When problems do pop up, regular family veterinarians, who are often able to perform standard dental procedures but hand off the big jobs to others, refer their patients to Hanson.
Animals come into Hanson and others at her office from across the state, plus the Dakotas, Wisconsin and sometimes Iowa — specialized animal dental facilities like Blue Pearl Veterinary aren’t usually available outside from major population centers.
While Teddy is one of the more refined animals that will come through Hanson’s office, she said pet dentistry is not just for the elite few. They handle “everything from a stray who doesn’t have a home and is still part of rescue groups,” to the average indoor pet, to police dogs and show dogs like Teddy, said the dentist, adding that she treats a wide variety of species and makes periodic trips to zoos to treat more exotic animals.
In addition to its Eden Prairie location, Blue Pearl Veterinary, headquartered in Tampa, Fla., also has a clinic in Blaine.
Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected]