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October 29, 2020

Toa Payoh Vets Clinical Research


Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
29 October, 2020

Can an old vet (>50 years old) change his mindset of not using general anaesthesia and sedation for very old dogs so that she has a high probability of being alive at the end of dental work? The only chances of her dying would be from fright (heart failure) due to the stress of the dental work without general anaesthesia. Seldom are such old dogs healthy. They usually have heart disease and general anaesthesia kills them as they are also very old.

Is it possible to perform dental extraction with no general anaesthesia for such very old dogs
with heart diseases and a mouthful of decayed and rotten teeth as shown in the pictures of a case of a 16-year-old Pomeranian? 

dental health care scaling pain in dogs singapore toa payoh vets

If she survived, her quality of life (no daily oral pain and infection and hence able to enjoy her food and put on weight). She would be more active and alert. She might live to a ripe old age the bacteria in her mouth had been rid of.

Bacteria constantly produce toxins and lower her immune system.  In the above case, the Pomeranian was in good condition for her age. She looked like an 8-year-old dog rather than an ancient canine. She had no fever and no abnormal respiratory rate. The pulse pressure was lower. The dog was on heart medication prescribed by Vet 1 for some years.  However, she was underweight. Her mouth was not smelly despite the presence of large amounts of tartar.

The owner requested "manual scaling" as she had discovered in the internet forum that I was highly recommended as I do "manual scaling" (without general anaesthesia). "I don't do manual scaling," I told her that there was a mistake in the internet forum she had researched. "How many manual scaling in dogs have you performed?" she asked. "None," I said. Ultrasonic dental scaling is the method I use.

However, this old dog needed dental extraction and not dental scaling. The roots of the teeth were all loose and infected. "Manual scaling" (without general anaesthesia) would not be in the interest of this dog as the bacteria still would be multiplying under the roots below the gums. Dental scaling  would be what the lady wanted but this was not the right thing to do for the dog. 

"There is a risk that your old dog may die from fright due to the pain of tooth extraction without general anaesthesia," I informed the lady. She was surprised and said, "Let me have some time to think as to what to do."

I expected the lady to go home on this sunny Sunday afternoon of May 3, 2009. I had my hands full on this busy Sunday. However, she returned and decided to take the risk.

An I/V glucose drip was given to help to increase the blood pressure as the pulse was weak. Into the drip set, I gave Baytril antibiotic to reach the dog immediately to kill the bacteria.

The dog was quite docile and so there was not much worry.  Two front incisor teeth were extracted. The dog started coughing as if to clear phlegm in her throat.  This indicated that the oral heart medication given to the dog was not effective to remove the fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).  What now? Cease operation?

Going back to the basic of veterinary pharmacology, I needed a drug to clear the water from the lungs quickly. I broke a vial of Lasix and injected it into the IV  drip. The drug would take away fluid from clogging the airways by taking it into the blood-stream. I waited 5 minutes   before continuing dental extraction.

One or two teeth were extracted at 1-2-minute intervals. The teeth were so loose that most of them could just be pulled out easily. There was little bleeding. Tissues were used to control the bleeding. When the bleeding had stopped, the other teeth were extracted.

The dog had not even coughed throughout the process of dental extraction. He was apprehensive.  Suddenly the dog shifted and the IV catheter came out. Intern Ms Toh had informed me that there was a skin swelling above the catheter. 3 Elastoplasts strips and a wrap-around bandaged had been used to fix the catheter in place but we had anticipated that this would happen. The dog had around 100 ml of glucose and that would be sufficient.

Since the catheter had popped out of the vein, the rest of the fluid was given subcutaneously. Caution would be the key and there was rest in between each dental extraction, dragging the process to over one hour. Prevention of heart failure due to fright was paramount. After all, the owner wanted an effective veterinarian who would produce a live dog at the end of the day, not an efficient one with a dead body.    

The dog had 23 loose and rotten teeth extracted with little pain and little bleeding. The lady's eyes brightened when she returned later and was told that her dog was OK. 

The dog was alert and her excellent coat shone golden in the evening rays of the evening sun as I took her photograph. As the dog was not vaccinated, I did not want the dog to be hanging around the Surgery. The lady put the dog in her car while she paid the bill. Well, the dog peed inside her car, but she was not upset. Her best friend was alive and that was what mattered to her.  

This is the sole case of me doing dental work without general anaesthesia in my 2 decades of small animal practice. I record this in detail to share my unusual experiences with other veterinarians. If the dog had kicked the bucket, the owner would be very unhappy as she had 14 years of companionship with this old friend after adoption from the SPCA as a 2-year-old.

It was fortunate that the old Pomeranian did not die of fright on the operating table.  I don't want to do any more such cases as this will tempt the God Of Death. This was not a simple case as the dog was coughing. If the coughing continued, the dog was be stressed out and die of heart failure. Therefore, the vet must know what to do when things don't proceed smoothly. Of course, the best way is not to accept such a high-risk case as deaths of companion animals on the operating table are never forgiven or forgotten by the owner and her family.      

It would be wise for dog owners to get the dog's teeth check every year and get dental scaling done when the dog is young and fit. Continue with tooth brushing after dental scaling.

I did not give the dog pre-op NSAID pain-killer nor after the dental extraction as I would do for a younger dog. This is because this dog's kidneys would not be as good as a younger dog to withstand any adverse reactions on the kidneys from NSAID drugs.

NSAID drugs are not to be given to dogs with kidney disorders and though no blood tests to ascertain renal function were taken, I expected the kidneys and livers of a 16-year-old dog not to be as normal as to metabolise NSAID drugs without dying of side effects and thereby distressing the lady owner. As for post-operation sugar paste, this would be given for old dogs. In very old dogs, it is very risky to use injectable anaesthesia. In this case, isoflurane gas would be safer but it was not used as the owner had specifically requested for no anaesthesia.

dental health care scaling pain in dogs singapore toa payoh vets
16-year-old. Home cooked food. Teeth encrusted with tartar but surprisingly there was no strong bad breath smell.
dental health care scaling pain in dogs singapore toa payoh vets
An I/V glucose drip is important for aged dogs during operation. Emergency Lasix was given I/V when the dog coughed trying to clear her throat.
dental health care scaling pain in dogs singapore toa payoh vets
dental health care scaling pain in dogs singapore toa payoh vets
Dog goes home with no teeth left.  Vet Intern Ms Toh arranged the teeth neatly for photography. "How many teeth has an adult dog?" I tested Ms Toh who had great interest to study veterinary medicine. She shook her head. The answer is 42. 


The dog lived to a ripe old age and passed away in May 2010. The post-operation feedback from the owner indicated that the dog had oral pain and low blood sugar. 

E-mail to Dr Sing dated Sep 2, 2010

Dear Judy, 

I saw the case study on the above website. 

I am the owner of this dog. Her name is She. She passed away this year 11 April. It was a Sunday morning. 

Please send my regards to Dr Sing. 

On the case study, I would also like to update you what happened after I got home.  

The surgery was a success as my dog was indeed alive and well. Just like any other beings, they need rest after surgery.

However dogs will always attempt to walk or run as its part of their nature, not knowing it’s exhausting.

One the first night after the surgery, my dog collapsed suddenly and started to whine. I picked her up and gave her a massage, which she was able to stand on her feet soon after. This happened for another 2 times in a day. 

I realized it may be trauma and shock, and maybe low glucose level. She is also not eating well. Where is she going to get the “energy”?

She was already on long term medication for heart, plus after surgery medicine. I was not prepared for more medication for my little 16+ yr old. 

I brought her to TCM. I think this doctor is the only doctor in SG who provides acupuncture for dogs. He is (Name given). I asked this doctor to also do treatment for her appetite, her heart, and other senses such as hearing and sight. She responded very well after the first treatment. She was also beginning to eat! And best part is she and I had eye contact, it shows that she’s getting more alert.  

She continued the treatment for about 1 month, about 5 consultations. She recovered very well. Soon after she starts to bite all people who attempt to touch her, including myself. I think it’s the surgery trauma and old age crankiness. But I also think that if she bites it means she is alert to her surroundings. I see it as something positive, sometimes, funny.

Because, no teeth still want to bite people?

No more bad breathe and no more toothache. I was not worried about bacteria possibly worsening her heart condition anymore.

Without teeth, her tongue always sticks out! Amazingly she looked even younger and cuter!  

I wrote this to you because as fate has it, Dr Sing has indeed changed the quality of her life.  

But he is also right, its very risky. What if the owner did not take precaution AFTER the surgery? 

I have attached 3 pictures. 1 taken in May 2009, 1 in Sep 2009 and 1 less than a month before she left in 2010. 

She was very lucky, to have met the right people. 

Thank you.  

Best Regards,


E-mail from Dr Sing dated Sep 4, 2010

I am Dr Sing and got your good news of your dog living to a ripe old age.  Thank you for your email and important feedback post-operation as I seldom get any feedback. Most likely it was low blood sugar as you diagnosed. It could be the post-dental extraction pain.  Your pictures are great. Please give permission to post the pictures.  I hope all are well with you.

E-mail to Dr Sing dated Sep 4, 2010

Hi Dr Sing,

Great to hear from you! 

Sorry I would like to rephrase, I meant her fear and anxiety on the surgery table would definitely caused that weakness which makes her faintish.

Yes, I should write as low blood sugar. Its a normal after-surgery process. I remember feeding her sugar/glucose water. 

I am well, thank you. I guess this is one thing all dog owners have to go thru. 

Until yesterday, I could never have imagined how hard you guys work over the metal table, while I was stoning in your clinic.

It was a very detailed re-enactment. Thank you for sharing. It was heartwarming for me. 

I hope my feedback could help you and your furry patients.

Please feel free to use the pictures, its my pleasure.

Best Regards
16-year-old Pomeranian after dental work looks much younger and active. Toa Payoh Vets, Singapore
16-year-old Pomeranian after dental work looks much younger and active. Toa Payoh Vets, Singapore
16-year-old Pomeranian after dental work looks much younger and active. Toa Payoh Vets, Singapore

Dental work in some dogs in Singapore

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