We are pretty good about keeping tempting chewables out of reach when leaving the house - no idle plates of brownies on the counter to torment him. Simon taught us early on that his #2 passion was chewing. (Eating, of course, was #1.) Unless you prefer unnaturally distressed furniture and bite-mark footwear, some reigning-in is necessary. We had an explosively funny experiment with discipline during his first weeks home. Taking after Stan, Simon started tinkering with electricity, except his technique was to chew on computer cords. A crispy husband is one thing, a laptop-seared dog is another (much less predictable) so I took action. I taped balloons to the cords. The result? A little dog who lost his appetite for household objects.
After the balloon incident of 2002, Simon focused his chewing on dog toys, but his passion caused him some grief. As a powerful chewer, he would consume bones, whittling them down to remnants. Enjoying a bone during the day meant paying for it that night. Neither savory nor restful for any of us. Fortunately, he never had to get anything extracted from his belly, but extreme chewing led to excessive wearing of his teeth.1
Visits to the Shirlington dog park also led to some sleepless nights. Simon swims only for dear life and loves chasing the ball but retrieves only on his terms. (He takes after me here, except I don't chase after balls.) However, he would jump into the Shirlington creek to fetch a red ball. Specifically red - smart boy knows red stuff pairs well with black dog. On hot days he would also sneak a drink from the creek, which always led to stomach upset later. What is particularly alarming about this is that after many visits to the park and a few months before D-Day, Arlington taped off access to the creek with hazard tape and posted a "hazardous waste" sign nearby. I guess the pipe jutting out the creek wall should have been a red flag for all of us. I'm not attributing Simon's cancer to the creek (or lack of proactive measures by Arlington), but I'm not ruling it out either.
In April 2008 Simon had a growth (fibrous epulis2) surgically removed from his gum. It's storytime, boys and girls, because it turned into a fiasco. We noticed the growth months prior and had it probed by Dr. Baxter of Alexandria Animal Hospital, who said gum growths were common and instructed us to watch it for growth. By March, the growth had not changed in size but was bleeding so Dr. Baxter took a small sample (needle aspirate) to confirm that it was benign. VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance), with whom we had a policy since Simon's adoption, informed us that we no longer had an active policy. Through Stan's employer, VPI previously offered a discount for switching to online billing. We later discovered that VPI was supposed to send a confirmation form when Stan signed up for that offer. We never received such a form and VPI didn't renew our policy. Although we had submitted to VPI claims for standard visits between the time of the offer and the date of this appointment, VPI failed to inform us about the expiration of our policy and the missing form.
It doesn't end there. We purchased the new policy and VPI then said it wouldn't cover the biopsy because it was for a pre-existing conditon. Then VPI required a surgery claiming that an aspirate biopsy wasn't conclusive. Surgery requires anesthesia, which is risky to dogs, so it should be done sparingly. It seemed ridiculous to put a dog through that risk for a growth that apparently was not even growing.
Dr. Baxter said our options were to 1) leave the epulis alone, 2) have the growth removed from the surface to ease discomfort (something AAH could perform), or 3) have surgery to reach the origin of the growth (something only a specialist should perform). We ruled out option 1, because the epulis was bleeding, therefore obtrusive and would probably become painful within the year. A specialist explained to us that a biopsy did not reveal extent of the growth under the gum so option 2 seemed like a temporary solution to a situation that might eventually require option 3. Both options 2 and 3 required anesthesia so we opted for the surgery. The dental vet, Barron Hall, said he would remove only the affected parts of Simon's gum, but that could mean a whole chunk of jaw. He said he would run tests to see if the mass was cancerous. Yikes. My throat constricted. A lab who loves to chew might have a chunk of mouth missing. Cancer? We are not going there. There is no way our dog has cancer.
Dr. Hall confirmed that the epulis was benign and ended up removing two back teeth and a small piece of jaw. No cancer. Phew. At least Simon's pearly whites got professionally cleaned.
1 Prolonged chewing on hard bones and tennis balls has a chiseling and sanding effect on teeth, which is NOT good for your dog. Playing fetch with tennis balls is fine. Infrequent and brief bone chewing might be ok, but bones should be the sterilized, compact kind. Be careful with rawhide because it's brittle and pieces can lodge into the walls of the digestive system, which can be fatal if not extracted. Softer toys and treats won't keep teeth as clean, but they leave your dog with teeth to clean. Brush them regularly to avoid having to get very pricey professional cleaning at the vet. A little caution goes a long way, which saves a lot of pain and cost.