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Joan Merriam: Toes and teeth

As with almost everything related to your dog’s health, prevention is key, along with a nutritious, balanced diet. Keeping an eye—and a nose!—on your dog’s feet and teeth can lead to a much happier, healthier pet.
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As a responsible pet caretaker, you need to be familiar with your dog’s feet for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is to take care of his nails.
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How often do you look carefully at your dog’s feet? Every few weeks? Every few months? Every few years? Or maybe … never?

As a responsible pet caretaker, you need to be familiar with your dog’s feet for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is to take care of his nails. (No, I’m not talking about a doggie pedicure, although I understand there are some poodles out there wandering the streets with pink toenail polish.)

Dog owners often overlook nail care, but it’s an important part of keeping your dog healthy and comfortable. Just like humans, dogs can develop nail disorders that range from bacterial infections to nail fungus to peeling and ingrown nails — but if you take the time to regularly examine your pup’s feet, you can spot these kinds of issues long before they become a major problem.



Probably the biggest mistake owners make is not keeping their dog’s nails trimmed. If his toenails look like they belong on the hands of the Wicked Witch of the West, you know they’re way past time for a trim. One of the easiest ways to tell if your pup’s nails are too long is if you hear clicking when he walks across your wood or tile floor. On top of the scrapes and gouges a dog’s toenails can inflict on your pristine wood floor, long nails can also be painful, and can lead to deformed feet and injured tendons. Long nails are also much more susceptible to injury and trauma simply because they’re more likely to snag on branches, obstructions, and carpet and fabric.

While it’s easier to examine and care for your dog’s feet if you start when he’s young so you can get him used to having someone fuss with his feet, with plenty of treats and praise, you can even teach your older dog to tolerate nail care and trims. The best type of nail trimmer is called “guillotine” cutter, but you can also use a grinder made specifically for shortening your dog’s nails.



No matter the type of trimmer, you need to avoid cutting into the nail’s quick. (The quick is the dark blood vessel and nerve inside the nail, which is much easier to see on light-colored nails.) Since the quick grows with the nail, if you’ve let the nails grow too long, you’ll need to cut them gradually over the weeks to force the quick to recede. It’s very painful if you cut the quick, so be careful. (If you’re squeamish about trimming your pup’s nails, take her to a reputable groomer, who can do it for a small fee.)

Now, let’s move from the bottom to the top. Maybe your dog just gave you a big, sloppy kiss, and the smell was enough to send you scrambling for the nearest window. You may think of it as just “dog breath,” but actually, it’s not normal for your dog’s breath to knock you into unconsciousness. As with humans, bad breath in your dog is an indication of something amiss in his mouth, lungs, or internal organs.

Usually, canine bad breath is caused by dental or gum disease, often the result of a build-up of plaque and tartar. Certain dogs, especially smaller breeds, are prone to dental difficulties, and regular veterinary care can nip these kinds of problems in the bud with professional dental cleaning when needed. Don’t be duped by those ads that promise you can do a complete dental cleaning at home, because you can’t. In order to thoroughly clean your dog’s teeth, your veterinarian needs to sedate him—it makes sense that no dog will lie there patiently with his mouth open for an hour, and let someone scrape and pick on his teeth!

However, you’re responsible for keeping your dog’s teeth clean. Over-the-counter toys and chews like Greenies and special water additives can help, as can regular tooth-brushing (which your pup may or may not tolerate) and special dental chews available through your vet.

Bad breath can also be a sign of a more serious illness. Unusually sweet or fruity breath could indicate diabetes, and breath that smells like urine can be a sign of kidney disease. Foul breath with vomiting, lack of appetite, and yellow-tinged corneas or gums could signal a liver problem. If you notice any of these, it’s time to consult your veterinarian , sooner rather than later.

As with almost everything related to your dog’s health, prevention is key, along with a nutritious, balanced diet. Keeping an eye—and a nose!—on your dog’s feet and teeth can lead to a much happier, healthier pet.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.


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