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Clipped Ears, Tails Are Cosmetic For Pets
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The look required for some breeds of dogs means puppies have to have cosmetic surgery, an issue that has sparked international debate.
Dr. Paul McCarthy, head of surgery at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said docking tails and cropping ears has no medical value for the animals.
"This is done for the sake of cosmetics and is driven by breeders and competition. Kennel clubs have established the look they want a particular breed to have in the show ring," McCarthy said. "Many people try to keep the same standards of competition for their own pets."
Dr. Cory Langston, head of community practice at MSU's veterinary college, said removing the dew claws is one procedure performed on newborn puppies that has medical value.
"Dew claws are similar to our thumb, and are the claws that ride up high on a dog's foot and don't contact the ground," Langston said. "It serves no purpose and removing it prevents it from getting caught or torn off later."
The procedure to remove dew claws is mild and just takes a second to perform. It is done without anesthesia because the puppy's body cannot handle the drugs. A few breeds such as Great Pyrenees require the dew claws be left on for competition in shows.
"There is no benefit to having the dew claws, and there is a medical benefit to getting rid of them," Langston said.
Tails are typically docked when a puppy is 2 to 4 days old. This is done commonly on breeds such as dobermans, miniature schnauzers and boxers. No anesthesia is used.
"The risk of the anesthesia is greater than the risk of the procedure at this young age," Langston said. "The procedure appears relatively benign because the puppies stop crying once they get back with their mother or other puppies."
Many dogs such as dobermans and some spaniels get their ears cropped. This is reserved until the dog is older for two reasons. Dogs must go under general anesthesia for this procedure.
"By 3 months, the dog has been through the vaccinations and the enzymes for processing drugs have matured to adult function, so they're a safe risk for anesthesia," Langston said.
Before 3 months old, the structure of the ear has not developed sufficiently for the procedure to be successful.
"The cartilage of the ear has to be strong enough to support the new cut and hold up the ear," McCarthy said.
When cropping ears, veterinarians make breed-specific measurements and remove the outside part of the ear. The edges are stitched, and the ears bandaged in a way that supports the new structure. Head protection is placed on the dog so it doesn't damage the wound. This head protection, an Elizabethan collar resembling a lampshade, is placed around the dog's neck and flares out around its face.
Dogs typically stay overnight in the veterinarian's office after having their ears cropped. Their homecoming depends on the dog's disposition and condition, and the owner's ability to provide the intense management.
"Owners have to keep the dog relatively confined and watch it closely," McCarthy said.
While docking and cropping are regularly practiced in the United States today, Langston said it is outlawed in Great Britain. Since it is a cosmetic procedure with no medical value, they consider it an inhumane procedure.
A similar movement is underway in the United States.
"A subgroup of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons is taking a survey of surgery specialists to determine their sentiment on this issue," McCarthy said. "The American Veterinary Medical Association has not supported these procedure because they lack a medical reason, and most institutions such as veterinary colleges do not routinely perform these elective procedures."
Before docking and cropping is rejected in the United States, McCarthy said it would require a re-education from the American Kennel Club on down to owners as to what a breed should look like. This would lead away from performing cosmetic surgery simply for aesthetics.
"In order for this to happen, there has to be an acceptance that the dog can be part of the breed and not have its ears cropped or tail docked," McCarthy said.
Contact: Dr. Cory Langston, (601) 325-1265; Dr. Paul McCarthy, (601) 325-1280