Date:   25 August, 2008    
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters & rabbits.


BE KIND TO PETS Community Education Project supported by Toa Payoh Vets and Asia USA Realty. Written: Mar 8, 2005. Updated: Aug 23, 2008.
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS

Bringing veterinary medicine and surgery anatomy alive to a vet student studying in Australia


Aug 23, 2008
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS

1. One day in August 2008, a pet shop girl asked me while I was vaccinating her puppies: "The AVA (Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority) is catching those pet shop operators doing dentistry. Do you know?"

I did not know anything about this. However dog dentistry is practised by pet shop operators and groomers for some time. I presume that increasing rentals by as much as 50 - 100% recently and cut-throat competition and under pricing by the pet shop operators have led to some considering new sources of generating revenue to sustain their profitability.

No doubt, there is a demand for dental work without "anaesthesia" as the younger internet generation is much more aware of the need of prevention of diseases to enable their dogs to live longer.

In the last decade, I note that the baby-booming generation just feeds the old dog and let his teeth drop along the years, without bothering about the dog's oral pain, infection and suffering.  The younger generation is much kinder to pets and much more concerned about their health and welfare.
2.  Here are my brief comments about the practice of canine dentistry by pet shop and pet cafe operators and groomers in Singapore.

2.1  Safety. The owner is concerned that his dog may die under general anaesthesia during or before dental scaling. This is a realistic situation for dog owners. The anaesthetic and surgery consent forms used by vets prior to anaesthesia to let owners be aware of the risks involved is a deterrent factor for many pet owners seeking dental work/surgery to be done by the vets.

2.2 Cruelty to dogs. Is it cruel to restrain those dogs who do not want to participate in this scaling without anaesthesia?  Are some "tranquilisers" used by the non-veterinarians in order to get the job done?

2.3 Turf Protection. Is the vet trying to protect his turf if dental work is prohibited by non-vets who don't use anaesthesia?  I presume the non-vets do not do dental work on uncooperative and biting dogs unless they give them some tranquilisers. 

2.4 Legal aspects. Is dental work done by non-vets in Singapore considered veterinary practice and/or illegal in Singapore?

2.5 Economics. From my observations, it is much cheaper when done by the pet shop people. One pet shop I know charges $120. I presume the other operators charge less. Pre-anaesthetic checks, examinations and blood tests will be good for pets but many Singapore owners do not want not pay the additional veterinary costs. Such tests ought to be done by vets but the extra costs are unpalatable to many uneducated pet owners. After all, the older dog looks healthy, can eat and sleep. Only some bad breath.

2.6 One strange case. Recently I encountered a strange case of a 3-year-old dog who had dental scaling done by a pet cafe operator 2 days ago. The dog passed fresh blood several times.  Was it the dental work, the food eaten, stress or pre-existing infections of the intestines - this was hard to say. Parvoviral infection was not the cause of the haemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

2.7. Non-vets practising canine dentistry in the U.S.  There are non-vets providing such a service in the U.S and some may be doing a thriving business using a mobile van to do house-calls. The internet is a source of such information. It is easy to buy dental instruments to do the scaling. There is a demand for "anaesthesia-free" services and the non-vets see the demand.

2.8. Veterinary Dental Health Education. There seems to be a lack of veterinary dental health education in Singapore in general. I note that many Singapore dog and cat owners do not bother with their pet's dental health even when their the teeth drop off. They tolerate the bad breath. Some try dental gels and specific dental food hoping that the tartar will disappear. Some see the vet when their pets can't eat due to oral pain or biting family members who touch their mouth.

However, some are aware of the need for the non-vets to strongly restrain their dogs for dental work as not many dogs want to freely open their mouth for teeth tartar scraping.

Many Singapore dog owners find that their dog resists their mouths from being opened for tooth brushing.

2.9. Health Education by pet internet forums. Dog owners share their grief in the internet forums and badmouth the vets who have had dog deaths under anaesthesia, spreading more worries to other pet owners.

I have read one such forum recently. Many of those 85 participants in this particular forum want to know the name of the vet and the practice (to avoid) in a cases where the writer does not mention names. Death of a pet under anaesthesia is very traumatic to the owner and though it is a rare incident, one death is one too many. 

2.10. Relationship of trust. Many Singapore pet owners are closer to the pet shop operators and groomers as they have more encounters with them than with the vets. Therefore, the owners do trust the advice of the former more when they mention about the rare instances of anaesthetic deaths suffered by certain customers.

Conclusion, there is a realistic concern about deaths under anaesthesia by pet owners all over the world. The internet has given them more knowledge of dental health but also has frightened some about the  risk of dying under anaesthesia. Even one death out of a few hundred is one too many when your pet is affected. So, non-vets offering the alternative without anaesthesia is much appreciated by pet owners.

As the fees are much lower than those charged by the vets, economics play a greater part in a time where food, petrol and other prices in Singapore are on the rise every week.  

Perhaps a canine dental health/education survey amongst the Singapore pet owners on a regular basis may be useful. But who will do it?

An annual dental check up is recommended for dogs older than 2 years old. Use a finger brush to clean your dog's teeth after scaling if your dog fights you when you use the toothbrush.

In the final analysis, an educated dog owner who spends the time to brush the dog's teeth from puppyhood and who gets an annual dental check up at the veterinarian will have prevented many of the severe dental health diseases in their dogs. This means that their dogs live to a ripe old age without oral pain and bad breath. Many dog owners just don't have the time or knowledge to do it. 

Nowadays, there are pet transport people who will bring the dogs for dentistry at the veterinarian. Why not get the transport people if you don't have the time?

Toa Payoh Vets