Body Modification – is it right for pets?

How do you feel about dogs with docked tails, or cropped ears? How about declawing cats or debarking dogs? Dying your poodle’s coat pink? Modifying the way your pet looks can range from full-scale surgical interventions (declawing or de-barking) to temporary changes such as non-toxic washable dye.

It used to be the accepted practice to dock the tails of many dog breeds as puppies, so adult dogs would have a bob tail instead of a full sized wagger. For example, Rottweilers, Boxers, Schnauzers, and Poodles are some common breeds, but overall there are about 50-70 breeds that would traditionally have their tails docked. Some dogs were bred to have naturally short or bobbed tails, such as the Corgi and the British Bulldog. Reasons given for docking range from hygiene (less risk of faecal contamination – actually fairly unlikely for most dogs anyway), to helping with the dog’s working life (a tail of 5 inches long is perfect length for a Jack Russell owner to grab the dog by the tail and pull him out of a rabbit hole…), to just maintaining “breed standards”. Tail docking is usually done when puppies are only a few days old with surgical scissors or by putting an elastic band around the tail to cut off blood supply so it will drop off. Any older than this and it becomes more of a surgical procedure. In England and Wales it has been illegal since 6 April, 2007, to dock a dog’s tail without a medical reason, or a working dog exemption certificate. It is also against the law to purchase a dog born on or after this time with an illegally docked tail. I personally find it very gratifying to see a lovely, wavy tail held up proudly on a Rottweiler, but there are some people who resent the new law.

Cropped ears is an even more controversial surgical modification made to dogs. It is also banned in the UK and many other countries. Cropping involves the removal of part or all of the pinnae (the external bit of the ears). The reason seems to be purely cosmetic, or to make the dog look more tough. It’s possible that its origins are in dog fighting, and owners would do it to prevent their dog’s opponent getting a grip on their ears.

Declawing cats and debarking dogs is purely for the owner’s sake, who perceive a cat clawing at furniture or a barking dog as a nuisance. Unfortunately, declawing a cat is similar to cutting of your finger at the first knuckle, and means that the cat cannot fully behave as it would naturally. It is an integral part of a cat’s life for them to be able to scratch at trees or tree substitutes, as it allows them to stretch, pass on their scent (from scent glands by the foot pads), and fulfil that instinct to sharpen their claws. It is far better to make sure cats have plenty of options for places they are allowed to scratch, such as scratching posts, and try and reduce access to places where they can scratch something they shouldn’t. Along with docking and cropping, declawing is against the law in the UK, but sadly is still seen in the US.

For dogs that are debarked, it means that tissue is removed from their vocal cords to reduce the volume of their bark. This is an extreme measure and can result in complications. Thankfully for the dogs, this is also banned in the UK.

As for dye, clothing, and blingy collars…. As long as the dye is non-toxic, the clothing is not restrictive, and the collars are safe and none of these things cause any distress to the animal, I think each to their own! What do you think? Comment below!

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  1. Friends of mine had a large poodle, not the little variety. She had a thick mat of tightly curly tangled hair, as they naturally do. When she was about 3 years old, they decided to take her for the first time to the doggie parlour to get her hair shaved and shaped like a poodle. She came home in great distress and was so embarrassed she hid behind the sofa, and refused to come out of hiding for weeks till her coat grew back. She growled at the other dogs, for the first time in her life, when they tried to get to her behind the sofa. Although they found this enormously funny, they did have the good heart to never get her hair shaped again.
    Dogs have feelings too, just like humans.

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