Ask The Vet: Caring for senior dogs, dental hygiene for cats

Although caring for senior pets can be challenging, it can also be an enriching and meaningful experience for the owners. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - In this fortnightly column, veterinarians from the National Parks Board answer questions about pet health and behaviour.

My dog is 10 years old and I notice that it has slowed down during walks in recent months. What advice do you have on caring for a senior dog?

Senior dogs are prone to developing health problems. Some of the more common ones are osteoarthritis, loss of sight or hearing, or heart conditions.

Osteoarthritis, in particular, can cause stiffness, limping, enlarged or swollen joints and a general reluctance to jump or climb steps. It is best to take your dog to a veterinarian for a check-up to determine if there are underlying conditions which could benefit from medical treatment.

There are many things you can do to help a senior dog live healthily and happily. Consider giving it a soft bed to rest on at home, which can help keep its joints comfortable. Place the bed somewhere quiet and out of the way of people walking by.

Although a senior dog might not enjoy long walks as much as it used to, it still needs regular exercise to stay physically and mentally stimulated. Choose shorter routes and avoid walking when the temperature is too extreme. Keep a close eye on your dog for signs of exhaustion and allow it to take breaks when it wants to.

Senior dogs might also have poor sight or hearing, so be vigilant of potential obstacles or hazards as you walk. Avoid vehicles, pillars, poles and protruding objects such as branches and tyre stops, which may catch your dog by surprise.

Monitor its weight closely, as weight changes can be a sign of an underlying health issue and may increase the risk of other conditions. For example, excess weight can put increased pressure on joints and worsen osteoarthritis.

Take your dog for regular health checks. This ensures that potential health problems are detected and allows for early intervention.

Although caring for senior pets can be challenging, it can also be an enriching and meaningful experience for you. Speak to your vet to find out more about other things you can do to better meet your dog's needs.

Do cats need to have their teeth brushed? How should I do it without causing them too much stress?

Cats can develop dental issues. These include inflammation of the gums and tissues surrounding your cat's teeth, as well as tooth resorption. They can result in pain, bad breath, excessive drooling and loss of teeth.

Take your cat for regular check-ups to assess its dental health. Your vet may recommend a dental procedure under general anaesthesia, which allows for a thorough cleaning of your cat's teeth above and below the gum line.

Dental issues are usually exacerbated by the build-up of bacteria and plaque in the mouth. Brushing your cat's teeth can help prevent dental disorders. Ideally, this is best introduced when cats are young, but you can still get older cats accustomed to having their mouth and teeth touched.

Dental issues in cats can result in pain, bad breath, excessive drooling and loss of teeth. PHOTO: AFP

You have to buy a suitable pet toothpaste and toothbrush, finger brush or cloth designed for teeth cleaning. Never use human toothpaste for pets.

Start by putting a small spot of toothpaste on your finger or the food bowl, and offering it to your cat. You can also try putting some toothpaste on its paw to encourage it to lick it up. Repeat this until your cat is used to the smell and taste of toothpaste.

To introduce your cat to the toothbrush, gently pull back its lips and touch its teeth with the bristles of the brush. Once it seems comfortable, you can make small circular motions and brush its teeth with toothpaste.

It is best to allocate a regular time for teeth brushing, so it gradually becomes part of your cat's daily routine.

Getting your cat used to teeth brushing will take time and patience. Speak to your vet for more tips on teeth brushing and and dental hygiene for cats.

  • Questions and answers by Dr Christine Lee, a veterinarian from the Animal and Veterinary Service under the National Parks Board
  • Have a query about your pet? Write in with clear, high-resolution pictures of at least 1MB of your pet as well as details about its age and breed. E-mail them with your full name to We reserve the right to edit and reject questions.

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