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It can be tricky to know which surgeries for dogs actually serve a medical purpose and which are purely cosmetic. You might wonder, for example, whether dewclaw removal is necessary or if there's ever a good reason to crop a dog's ears. Here are some of the most common cosmetic surgeries for dogs and veterinary viewpoints on the procedures.
Dog Ear Cropping and Tail Docking
If you've seen a Doberman pinscher, Great Dane or boxer with pointy ears that stand straight up, then that dog has had their ears cropped. Dog ear cropping involves cutting the ears when the dog is a puppy, then splinting and bandaging them for several weeks. The procedure is painful and has been banned in several countries, including Australia, parts of Canada and nine states in the U.S.
Tail docking is when part of a dog's tail is removed. The procedure has historically been done on dogs who pulled carts or sleds, such as rottweilers, and hunting dogs. The intention was to prevent injury to the tail when the dogs were pulling carts or hunting. The procedure is often performed when puppies are about 5 days old.
There are instances where a tail might need to be amputated as the result of injury or risk of further injury, depending on the severity of the injury, in which proper surgery using general anesthesia and analgesia will be used.
The American Veterinary Medical Association does not support dog ear cropping or tail docking for cosmetic purposes. If your dog has floppy ears or a long tail, let them flop or wag naturally as they were meant to be.
If you look at one of your dog's back paws, you'll see four clawed toes. Where is the fifth toe? If present, their dewclaw will be located a couple of inches up from the paw on the inside of the leg. Dewclaws are either attached by bone or float in the skin without a bony attachment. Dogs use dewclaws for traction when turning at high speeds and to hold on to things, like a toy that they're chewing on.
Many breeders will remove the dewclaw when puppies are just a few days old. If a dog has floating dewclaws that aren't attached or if they have an extra dewclaw, some pet parents will choose to have them removed when their dog is spayed or neutered. While the intention of dewclaw removal is to prevent future injury, the fact is that dewclaw injuries are quite rare, which means that most dewclaws are removed for no reason other than for human preference. In general, there's no need to remove your dog's dewclaws, however, there may be instances where the dewclaw has been injured and needs to be removed for that purpose. In this case, general anesthesia, analgesia and recovery including bandaging will likely be required. In these case, the removal of the dewclaw will only be made on the affected paw.
Testicular implants for dogs are made of silicone and inserted into the scrotum after a dog is neutered so that they look like they still have testicles. Even though some pet parents say the implants boost their dogs' confidence, there's no science to back that up. This procedure is not recommended.
In the event that a dog has an eye surgically removed, pet parents may elect to have an intraocular prosthesis placed. With this procedure, the inner contents of a damaged or diseased eye are removed and a silicone implant is inserted. Alternatively, the eye can be completely removed and a glass or silicone eye can be inserted in its place. These procedures only serve a cosmetic purpose. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a one-eyed dog.
There are also some dog surgeries that sound like they're cosmetic but, in some cases, might be medically necessary:
- Nose jobs: Dogs don't usually get nose jobs for cosmetic reasons. Instead, dogs normally only undergo rhinoplasties to help them breathe more easily. These surgeries are usually performed in brachycephalic breeds, like bulldogs and pugs, that are born with very narrow nostrils that restrict air movement. The surgery typically involves trimming and widening the nostrils to allow for greater air movement.
- Face-lifts: These are performed on dogs that have heavy facial wrinkles, like shar-peis and English bulldogs, whose skin folds either get infected easily or rub against their eyes and cause irritation. During a dog face-lift, the veterinarian trims excess skin to reduce wrinkling.
- Eye-lifts: If your dog has eyelids that either roll in (entropion) or turn out (ectropion), they can experience excessive irritation to the surfaces of their eyes. In severe cases, they can even become blind. Surgery is recommended to correct the problem.
Instead of surgically altering dogs' appearances, dog parents should accept their pets as they are. Support legislation that bans unnecessary surgery and let breeders know that you oppose tail docking and dog ear cropping and will not adopt from a breeder that supports these surgeries.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well-known international speaker in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications, such as chewy.com, petMD, Vetstreet, Hill's Education Blog, and DVM360 print and online publications, Healthy Pet Magazine, and the Bark. Dr. Wooten has spoken in the veterinary education space for 5 years, and speaks on leadership, client communication, and personal development. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. In addition to being a speaker, author, veterinarian, and co-creator of the wildly popular card game 'Vets Against Insanity', she co-owns Elevated Eateries Restaurant group in Greeley with her husband of 21 years, and together they are raising 3 slightly feral mini-humans. When it is time to play, she can be found skiing in Colorado, diving with sharks in the Caribbean, or training kenpo karate in her local dojo. Go big...or go home. Learn more at drsarahwooten.com.