Cosmetic surgery for people is one thing. But for pets?

You betcha; and, just like with humans, some of it’s medically necessary and some of it isn’t



Has vanity gone too far?

None of it, however, includes face lifts, tummy tucks or breast implants. At least not yet. But that doesn’t mean vanity isn’t involved. Except the difference with our four-legged friends is, they’re not the ones who’ve decided to “have a little work done.” It’s mommy or daddy who want the nips and tucks.

One of the most common areas to “nip,” at least with certain dog breeds, is the tail

It’s said that tail docking (intentional removal of part of an animal’s tail) dates all the way back to the Roman Empire. The justification for it was to prevent injury to all kinds of farm animals, including working dogs.

When I spoke with Dr. Sheldon Jafine, our Get Leashed Veterinarian-in-Residence, he told me that “while there might have been a logical reason for it hundreds of years ago, there’s never been a ‘medical reason’ to do it; and that it continues to this day because it’s ‘a tradition’.” A tradition not followed, incidentally, in his clinics.

He suggested I contact the Canadian Kennel Club for their views:

Richard Paquette, Chair of their Cropping and Docking Committee, was very helpful. He confirmed docking’s origins, adding that it was “also done to hunting dogs to prevent their tails from getting caught or injured when they wagged them in the rough brush.”

He then went on to emphasize that “the Canadian Kennel Club has no breeding standards that require mandatory docking or cropping;” and that, in fact, “they are currently reviewing all their material with the intention of spelling out, very clearly, that breeders have a choice, even when it comes to show dogs.

What I wasn’t so happy to discover — especially after Dr. Jafine told me it’s often botched and Veterinarians then have to do corrective surgery — is that some breeders do this procedure (tail docking) themselves, on newborns, without anesthetic. Proponents insist that when it’s done so early in the puppy’s life it’s not as traumatic as it is on an older puppy. Speaking strictly for myself, I’d like to know how anyone can possibly know that.

Some of the other reasons owners put their dogs under the knife to “enhance their looks”

“Ear cropping,” Mr. Paquette (Canadian Kennel Club expert) explained, “is the removal of the external flap of the ear and it’s another ancient practice that was done for health and practical reasons.” Apparently back then it was believed to decrease ear infections and especially hematomas (blood clots) in animals used for pit-fighting sports.

And yes, it’s also done for cosmetic reasons in nations, like Canada and the United States, where it’s still legal. I’m guessing you’ve seen Doberman, Great Dane, Boxer and even Schnauzer puppies with bandages on their ears. Now you know why.

model poses with great dane who does not have cropped ears

It takes a lot to shock me, but when I Googled cosmetic surgery for pets and “neuticles” appeared on my computer screen I was totally floored. You may be au courant, but for those, like me, who have been blissfully unaware, neuticles are testicular prosthetic implants for neutered pets.

Even more startling was hearing, from Dr. Jafine, that “many, many pet owners — particularly men — are opposed to neutering, refusing to have it done on their animals until they’re told about this option.” Of course I had to know more. A visit to their website revealed that “Neuticles allows pets to retain their natural look, self esteem and aids the pet’s owner with the trauma associated with altering.”

Not exactly your average mani-pedi

If ever there were a couple of topics that are sure to get passionate pet owners up in arms (or paws), you can bet it’s dew claw surgery and the declawing of cats. And there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Either you think it’s barbaric and should be outlawed or you believe naysayers are the barbarians.

Depending on the breed, dew claws can either be found on the inside of a dog’s paw or sometimes on the back as well. What distinguishes them from the other claws is the fact that they’re higher up and, therefore, don’t touch the ground.

While they’re often removed for purely cosmetic reasons, I’ve read that it’s also done preventatively — to avoid painful injuries. What you should know before your put your dog through this surgery is that this is more than a trimming of the nails. The dew claw is a digit, which mean the whole toe is removed. Yes, ouch!

Which brings me to declawing cats, a practice often considered “unnecessary mutilation” in many countries. Why? Well for one thing, a cat’s “toe” has three bones. And much like dew claw removal, when a cat is declawed that last bone, closest to the nail, is removed as well as the nail. Ouch again!

Declawing isn’t done for the sake of beauty — at least not as it relates to the cats. It’s done because cats love to scratch, they need to scratch; and if your newly upholstered sofa is right there in front of them, well, it’ll do just fine. And that ain’t pretty.

I currently have two cats, although I’ve had two others over the last thirty-odd years. One, believe it or not, isn’t a scratcher of anything. Two were, but I broke them of the habit. Between a combo of discipline and a variety of scratchboards, including a huge one that looked like a tiger, I managed to train them to leave my furniture alone.

And one (sigh), really looks like he’s paying attention when I say “no, Bartlett, don’t do that,” he even appears to be contrite. But the minute I stop talking he looks me in the eye, saunters over to his favorite upholstered whatever of the moment, and boldly proceeds to rip it to shreds.

Despite that, and despite the fact that all my cats have been strictly indoor cats, I’ve never even considered declawing them. I do, however, have a spare set of slipcovers for when company comes. I’m a wuss, what can I say? I’m not into pain, mine (which explains why my nose remains untouched) or theirs.

Speaking of which, Dr.Jafine did inform me that “nowadays declawing can be done with lasers and the recovery is less painful and takes less time.”

And, while we’re talking about “behavior,” there are pet owners who have their dogs’ vocal cords removed because they’re yappers. So it’s not surprising that this procedure is called “debarking.” An intervention that, to be honest, seems rather extreme to me.

I’m someone who believes that it’s up to parents to discipline their children — both the two-and-four-legged ones — but to be fair I decided to check in with Dr. Jafine. He told me that, over time, the dog develops a very harsh-sounding “voice” and it’s worse than the barking ever was.

But cosmetic surgery is sometimes necessary

Certain breeds of dogs (Pugs, Pomeranians, toy and miniature Poodles and Basset Hounds to name just a few) have eyelids that curl in, which is an abnormality. The hair on the surface of the lid then rubs against the cornea (outer part of the eyeball), which results in pain, corneal ulcers or erosions which, in turn, can cause scarring that interferes with vision. The good news is, entropion surgery can correct it.

Another condition often requiring surgery is brachycephalic syndrome which, loosely translated, means that it can be difficult for short nosed dogs (and cats) such as English and French bulldogs, Pekingese and Boston terriers to breathe. This can, understandably, lead to stress and, therefore, elevated respiratory and heart rates, which can quickly lead to life-threatening situations. Happily there’s treatment.

When all is said and done

There’s no question that what we, as humans, do to ourselves is up to us. Technically what we choose to do with our pets, unless it’s considered abuse or neglect, is also up to us. Because as good as they are at communicating when they’re hungry or want to go out, when we’ve pissed them off and even when they’re sick, they can’t tell us whether or not they’re happy with what they see in the mirror.

So for better or worse we make the decision for them.

But I ask you this: If it’s unnecessary, is it fair, or right, to subject Rover or Felix to surgery, discomfort and possibly long, difficult recoveries simply to please our own sense of esthetics?

What do you think?