It’s nothing new really – changing a pet to make it a ‘better,’ more ‘appealing,’ or happier companion. Veterinary medicine for years has offered clients surgical procedures to take care of behavioral and cosmetic issues – but many veterinarians are now refusing to perform such procedures, citing ethics and prevention of cruelty as their reasons.
Historically, pet owners could have their dogs’ ears “cropped” in order to conform to a breed standard (great danes, schnauzers, and pit bulls are common breeds for this) – a requirement in most dog show circles. The procedure is relatively simple – under general anesthesia the “extra” ear flap tissue is cut away, and the remaining ear is usually affixed to a support taped to the dogs head, for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Unfortunately, most dogs undergoing this procedure also need to be sedated through this time frame to prevent self-mutilation disruption of the surgical site. Bleeding and infection are common side effects, often requiring further surgical intervention.
The American Veterinary Medical Association made a statement against ear cropping in 2008, saying it did not stand behind the procedure as it was completely cosmetic and presented no medical benefit to the animal. The argument is that if veterinarians stop performing this procedure, breeders and non-veterinary individuals will do it themselves (resulting in even more pain and suffering).
The practice of ‘debarking’ is also being scrutinized by veterinarians and the pet owning community. Portions of the ‘voice box’ can be surgically removed, resulting in a dog that is unable to bark with the same volume and intensity (instead sounding “hoarse” or muffled). This procedure can leave scar tissue in the throat, making it difficult for the pet to breathe, or for a veterinarian to place a breathing tube while performing other surgical procedures.
Opponents to debarking assert that as with other behavioral issues, the underlying stimulus for the barking should be addressed – rather than mutilating the throat. Proponents state that this may be the last option for a pet before needing to be surrendered or euthanized.
I was recently asked by a client if she could bring her tattoo equipment in to the clinic (she is a licensed tattoo artist) so she could apply a design to her pet while it was still anesthetized following its spay surgery. With some research, I learned that this is a growing fad with pet owners – much more than the identification tattoos that were common in the days before microchips became popular. Elaborate designs are being drawn into the skin of dogs and cats while they are anesthetized – but at what cost? Certainly putting a dog or cat under anesthesia is a risk – is prolonging that anesthesia for a cosmetic/convenience procedure (be it a tattoo, or an ear crop or debarking surgery) worth it?