Jul 31, 2009
Interesting news today…according to USA TODAY, Banfield, the Pet Hospital has banned tail docking , ear cropping and “de-barking” in dogs at all of their hospitals.
In case you don’t know them, Banfield is the USA’s largest network of animal hospitals. Many of them can be found in the local PetSmart store, but I believe some of their hospitals are free-standing as well.
This policy, like many that deal with cosmetic surgeries, has a lot of controversy associated with it. We have already seen how passionate people are about declawing cats so I am interested to see responses to this entry. Let’s take a quick look at what each of these surgeries entail. Note, I do use some graphic detail…if you don’t want to know about these surgeries skip the next several paragraphs.
Tail docking is probably the least controversial of the three. 2-3 day old puppies (dependant on breed) are brought to a veterinarian (hopefully) who then will take each individual pup, briefly examine it for problems like a cleft palate and then the assistant shaves the tail. Again, depending on the breed, an incision is made all the way around the tail at a joint in the tail vertebrae and the tail is sliced off. Skin sutures are placed to help aid in healing. Done correctly, the process is relatively safe since no drugs are used. Also, some breeds have their dewclaws removed at this time as well. Tail docks are commonly done in Cockers, Rottweilers, Min Pins, and Yorkies.
Some DVMs have discussed using epidurals or local anesthesia for some puppies but the results are mixed and there is no consensus as to the effectiveness. Given the state of the immature nervous system in these days old puppies, it is likely that they don’t “remember” the event and past the initial shock, the discomfort seems to fade quickly, similar to a circumcision in a male infant. Although complications are rare, some pups can get bone infections post operatively if littermates chew on the tail stub.
Ear cropping is a little more serious surgery, although it is still most often performed on puppies. This time, the puppy is closer to 10-16 weeks of age and intravenous and gas anesthetics are used. Breeds commonly presented for ear cropping include Dobermans, Min. Schnauzers, Boxers, Great Danes and the various Pit Bulls and their crosses. After a sterile preparation of the ear, the surgeon will make a cut down the ear and remove about half of the ear flap. An artery is quickly removed and after some finessing by the surgeon, the outer (cut) edge of the ear is sutured. This surgery is often referred to as one of the most artistic surgeries because each surgeon must learn the appropriate cut for individual breeds and adapt it to the individual puppy. After surgery, many breeds (esp Boxers and Great Danes) have their ears taped in a standing position.
Thankfully, pain relief for these dogs has advanced greatly in the last 15 years. Although it is still an uncomfortable surgery, veterinarians now do a much better job of managing the pup’s pain.
Owner compliance and rechecks are extremely important in the proper healing of ear crops. Many ears fail to stand simply because the owner allowed the tape props to get wet (other dogs chewing on the ears) or failed to show for rechecks.
Some animal behaviorists have stated that a permanent “ears up” look on a dog impacts how other dogs perceive him and that it is perceived as a permanent threatening signal.
Finally, devocalization, or the “de-bark” surgery provides a lot of fuel for intensely heated discussions. Most veterinarians will not do this surgery, but a few will for special clients with special needs. Some will opt to remove the vocal cords altogether by making an incision in the throat and others choose to go through the mouth and remove pieces of the vocal cords with elongated forceps and curved scissors. According to my research, about 65% of dogs “de-barked” with an intra-oral approach have some form of bark return.
Sadly, many breeders and hobbyists feel that they are qualified to do all of these procedures. I have seen rubber bands on tails in attempt to dock the tail, bloody ears from someone using pinking shears and/or a meat cleaver to do an ear trim and the mess inside a dog’s throat from a breeder using a sharpened PVC pipe to “de-bark” his breeding stock.
While I heartily agree with Banfield’s decision to avoid these types of surgery, the policy does not help resolve the overall situation of cosmetic surgeries in general. Many breed standards still require docked tails and although natural (floppy) ears are allowed to be shown, are those dogs winning enough to sway the breeding community into considering a movement away from cropped ears?
Regardless of how you feel about these surgeries, I am hoping that you will agree that it won’t matter how many veterinarians stop doing the surgeries or how many laws get passed, it won’t mean a thing unless the breed clubs themselves and the kennel clubs actively find a way to change their breed standards to allow for more “natural” looking dogs. When these surgeries are unavailable or illegal, they will go underground and animal ERs will see more bloody ears and infected tail stumps. I congratulate the kennel club in England for actively taking a stance to improve the English Bulldog’s conformation by changing their standards to reflect a longer nosed dog.
Devocalization is a little trickier and we will get into a similar debate as we did with declaws. Imagine you have a dog that has been a big part of your life for a period of time and he is a great dog other than excessive barking. Now, your landlord/homeowner’s association comes to you and says that you need to get rid of the dog or face removal from your home. You are not wealthy enough to afford a new home nor can you afford the time/effort to move. Would you consider devocalization in an effort to keep your dog and your home?
I apologize for any graphic images I may have portrayed, but I think everyone should know about these surgeries so that they can make an informed decision (like with declaws). I personally would like to see ear cropping go away in my lifetime, but even I have to admit that a Doberman or Great Dane with floppy ears looks weird, even funny to me. There is an aesthetic beauty to a dog with well done ears, but I realize that these dogs are not here for me to simply change and admire.
So…let’s hear from you…do you own pets with trimmed ears? Has anyone experienced a de-barked dog?