Friday, March 7, 2014

For the love of sticks

Murdoch’s breath smells like death.

“Ew,” I say as I pull away after planting a kiss on top of his head. “You stink.” I wave my hand in front of my face in an exaggerated show of disgust and then ask, “Do we need to clean out your teeth again?”

Murdoch stares back with his best flippant expression.

I retrieve the plastic toothpick I’ve been using for Murdoch since the fall and kneel down on the kitchen floor, tapping my finger on the hardwood in front of me. “Lie down,” I say. And he does, in his awkward, stiff-legged way that says ‘I am doing this under extreme duress’.

When he finally flumps down and his overgrown nails have finished raking noisily across the floor and his head is resting on my outstretched leg now that I am sitting behind him, I peel back his lips and look at the spot between his last premolar and first molar that has been a problem for months. It is packed with junk.

Bracing his head against my leg with my forearm, I hold his lips open with one hand, wielding the toothpick in the other and attempt to pluck out the crap that has lodged between his teeth and into the hollow in his gum. He grumbles his usual throaty grumble and flicks his tongue and snaps his jaws in frustration. I aim the toothpick the best I can as he writhes beneath my grasp and poke at the bits of stick detritus that are wedged between his teeth. He usually lets me get a pick or two in before he jerks his head away and then we have to start over again, but each attempt always yields some freed bits of stick and we repeat until the area is cleaned out.

I’ve been doing this since the beginning of fall when I first noticed his breath change. When I peered in to his mouth to investigate, I found he had this sort of greenish goop between those two teeth.

“Well, that looks kind of gross and rotten,” I said to him and contemplated how I might clean it out. I cast my eye about the room as Murdoch and I sat together, relaxed by the woodstove, not wanting to make a grand show of searching for some sort of tool and then descending on him and his very suspicious nature. He was already eyeing me warily when I picked up a splinter of wood off the floor, shaped very much like a toothpick.

I let him sniff it and then as he relaxed again beside me I carefully peeled back his lip and flicked the gunk from his teeth.

In the split second between me poking at the gunk with the toothpick and him jerking away to flick his tongue about furiously, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a trough that had been cut in to his gum.

“What was that?” I asked him, as he sat staring at me, his mouth buttoned up tight.

I stood up and braced his head against my leg by the window so I could peel back his lips again and look at that spot between his teeth on his lower jaw that I had just cleaned. My heart sank a little when I saw that his gum had worn away right where those two teeth meet. There was a rounded trough cut in to his gum that ended in a pocket and I realized then that the stuff that I had picked from between his teeth had actually been packed into his gum.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. He attacks sticks with such vengeance, dragging small trees out of the bush and ripping them the shreds, even breaking a couple of teeth in the process. It only makes sense that he has also damaged his gums.

“Oh, Murpy,” I said as I released him. “I don’t think gums repair themselves.”

So, every couple of days since then I have sat down with Murdoch and cleaned out the trough in his gum the best I can. And for the most part Murdoch has cooperated. Until that day when his breath actually smelled like death.

I left it too long between cleanings, because I had been away, so when I finally peel back his lips to look at the gum it is packed with more stuff than ever before and when I poke at the accumulated junk, his gum starts to bleed. I try to steady Murdoch’s head as it jerks around, thinking if I could just get one clear shot I could clean it all out. But the bits of stick and bark, and whatever else is in there, are jammed so tightly nothing budges. It looks like a splinter of wood is protruding from lower down on his gum, as if it is trying to work its way out from the inside.

I let him go when he starts to snarl and take swipes at my hands with his paws. The vet is an option from that moment on, but I am determined to fix this myself.

“It’s ridiculous,” I rant to Morgan. “We should be able to do this ourselves. If he would just sit still for a minute.”

But it is useless. Two or three times a day for four days I get him to lie down like before and manage to poke around between his teeth, but with each attempt he gets angrier and meaner. His throaty grumbles become full-on growls, his snapping jaws suddenly snap with more purpose, he snarls with wild eyes and claws at my hands until I am shoving him away and both of us are completely out of patience.

After the second time he bites me, I finally agree to take him to the vet.

“When he’s knocked out,” Morgan says. “Maybe they could cut his toenails too.”

We have half-joked in the past about having Murdoch anaesthetized so we could get his claws trimmed since the last time we tried to do it Murdoch broke free of my hold on his head and grabbed Morgan’s hand in his jaw so fast neither of us had time to react. He clamped on to his hand with an iron grasp just long enough to prove how serious he can be. He didn’t break skin, but he left his teeth imprints behind and a bruise that lasted for a week. Since then we have been very apprehensive to try again.

“Yes,” I say flatly. “That would be good.”

And so, we make the appointment and I explain to Murdoch how ridiculous he’s being about everything. But I really don’t think he gets it.


  1. Oh poor Murdoch...or poor you, I'm not sure who I feel for the most! What an ordeal. Mouth/gum infections can be serious I think, some connection to the heart, so it's a good thing you're going to the vet. Didn't I read recently about Murdoch at the vet recently because of stick chewing? So maybe this ordeal has already transpired and all is well. Hope so!

    1. Yes, this happened a couple of weeks ago now. I mentioned it in passing in another post. Sometimes it takes me a while to get to a story :) ... the vet part is coming up! And the ordeal is sort of on-going.