Cosmetic Surgery For Pets

Are you irked by your Schnauzer’s drooping ears or by your Siamese’s tail that can clear off a coffee table in the disastrous blink of an eye? Is your Doberman barking too loudly and your American Bobtail scratching too deeply? In today’s society, there are myriad cosmetic procedures that can transform our pets into the flawless citizens of their breed, into members of other breeds or into denizens of imaginary breeds altogether.

Some may argue that these cosmetic surgeries improve the overall quality of a pet’s life and others may argue that these procedures are cruel, aesthetically driven and are more for the benefit of the owners than for the pets. This issue of the Life’s Abundance News will discuss the different types of cosmetic surgeries and explore the cosmetic surgery controversy at large.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Cosmetic surgery for pets is not a new phenomenon. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, cosmetic surgery or cosmetic alteration was a norm … especially in the cat show world. Tail bobbing, hair dyeing, muzzle bleaching and ear reducing to create the illusion of another breed were practices not unheard of.

There are other cosmetic surgical procedures for pets that sound strangely akin to procedures designed for humans. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones that can get a wrinkle removal. This is mostly done for health reasons, as certain breeds have a tendency to get infections in their charming facial folds. And has your kitty eaten too much lasagna and can’t seem to shed the resulting pounds? Well, your pet can also have a liposuction. It doesn’t stop there. There’s also the altering of eyelids to modify eye shape, Botox injections to fix inverted eyelashes and face lifts to surgically enhance the face. And especially for our show pets, there are prosthetic (silicone) testicles for dogs with undescended testicles and laser depilation to improve the appearance of “hairless” cats.

Dr. Jane has performed her share of elective surgeries. Once, years ago, Dr. Jane gave a face lift to a dog that had facial folds so pronounced that its eyes were partly covered over with skin. Dr. Jane had to rid the dog’s face of its seemingly unnatural folds and after it was all said and done, the eyes looked twice as large.

She also did a nose job on her horse, one that she rescued that had a mangled nose. Dr. Jane replaced the nose and stitched it back on. No, she didn’t change the natural style of the nose. She left it as God made it.

Many animal advocates believe that there’s a morality problem doing this to pets that essentially didn’t ask for it — that didn’t willingly sign up for pain and suffering just to look a certain way and fit a certain standard that was imposed upon their breed. The truth is, major or minor, you’d be surprised at all the other cosmetic surgery procedures that are routinely done — some without even a second thought.

Tail Docking, Declawing and Debarking

Tail Docking

This is common for dog breeds like the  Doberman, Rottweiler, Poodle, Boxer, Schnauzer and Terrier. Some show  cats get their tails bobbed as well.  Though there is still some debate   about the newborn’s nervous system and the extent to which it can feel  physical pain, it is widely agreed that this procedure is much more painless if  done by a vet at a young age. Many breeders choose to do it themselves at  home — the wrong thing to do. It becomes a dangerous process bound  to become infected, often stopping the  blood flow. Some say it’s the equivalent of slamming your finger into a car door and leaving it there for three  days. Ouch!

Supporters of tail docking claim that   certain breeds often have their tails injured from hunting, which  theoretically justifies docking the tails of every single pup of conventionally  docked breeds. However, a survey that reviewed 2,000 canine emergency   cases procured only three tail injuries, all of which were complications from  docking.

The American Veterinary Medical  Association (AVMA) has issued a  statement discouraging this procedure  for cosmetic purposes only.



Declawing is a procedure that used to  be fairly routine for house cats that wreaked havoc on curtains, leather furniture and forearms instead of scratching posts. Now, this process is under much controversy. Declawing involves amputating each front toe at the first joint, the equivalent of uslosing the entire tip of every finger at the first knuckle. Illegal in many countries, this procedure requires general anesthesia and the healing process is painful. Some cats emerge from the procedure with newfound neuroses such as avoiding the litter box and biting more than usual, since their primary method of defense has been taken from them. One study showed that there were no negative behavioral effects from it. Instead of declawing your cat, options include frequent nail cutting, getting the right cat scratching furniture and training your cat to use it, or using soft paws sold in pet stores and through veterinarians.



To debark a chatty dog, the vet removes the folds of tissue in the larynx responsible for the production of  sound. Though the dog may still emit audible sound, it is drastically muted.   The surgery itself is not difficult even though it entails the use of general anesthesia. Some recovering dogs need medication to reduce throat swelling and others develop enough scar tissue that the bark returns like a smoking habit.

A too-large buildup of scar tissue can obstruct the dog’s airway, becoming life threatening. The most controversial of all cosmetic surgeries, Ohio legislators passed a ban on debarking incredibly vicious       dogs. After all, if you were a law enforcement officer, wouldn’t you like to hear a menacing Rottweiler coming your way? New Jersey recently upped the ante and banned debarking altogether.

Though a noisy dog can be a nuisance to its guardian, it can also be a detriment to itself and end up in a shelter awaiting death, because let’s face it — a neighborhood hates nothing more than chronic wild    parties and a loquacious dog.  However, a chatty dog can very well be a reflection of the guardian.

Perhaps the dog was poorly socialized, neglected, frustrated or in pain. If this is the case, debarking the dog doesn’t solve the problem — it just turns down the volume.

FYI … Is your dog addicted to barking?

Did you know that there are barking shock collars that attempt to try and correct nuisance barking? Rather then using shock therapy, there are other collars that emit annoying chemicals such as citronella when  the dog barks — far less physically and mentally detrimental to the dog.   Other owners just shake a can of coins in the barking dog’s ear to discourage further clamorous soliloquies. And then, there’s always ear plugs.


Ear Cropping

Ear cropping or cutting and reshaping   ears to make them stand erect is performed on floppy-eared dog breeds  like Boxers, Great Danes,  Dobermans, Schnauzers and Boston  Terriers. It is mostly done to conform to breed standards. Some naturally  floppy eared cats in the show world also get their ears cropped. Requiring   full anesthesia, this procedure is much more painful than tail docking.   The healing process is lengthy, requiring months of splints and  bandages to create the upright effect.  Unfortunately for the pet, the ears   don’t always turn out the way the owners envision. Sometimes, after  months of taping and bandaging, the ears come out wrinkled, scarred,  twisted and disfigured. For this reason, cropping can very much be  considered an art.

Dr. Jane recalls that many years ago she worked at a clinic where people drove from three states to have their Doberman’s ears cropped by one particular vet. This vet developed the reputation for having an eye for    sculpting the most elegant ear.  Activists argue that ear cropping is done purely for cosmetic reasons and at no health benefit to the pet, while cropping advocates claim that floppy eared pets are more prone to chronic  ear infections and ear cropping helps to alleviate this problem. We should note that ear surgery doesn’t always make a dog more fashionable.

There are dogs that live with long lasting ear infections and eventually, after countless trips back and forth to the vet, need to get their ears taken off altogether.  Most dogs don’t get that bad. What does commonly happen from the constant scratching is the break down of the many small blood vessels in the ear pinna. Picture a blown up pita bread — that’s what a dog’s ear then looks like. Cosmetic surgery is usually the solution, though this type of surgery almost always leaves the ears curled up like autumn leaves, or a cauliflower on the side of  the head. Talk about silly looking!

One can’t help but wonder: when is it going too far? There are necessary cosmetic surgeries, no question about that. What about cosmetic surgery for vanity? How much are we imposing our own obsession with symmetry and perfection onto our pets? Cosmetic surgery is a giant moral question when it comes to our pets simply because they can’t make their own decisions and we, as guardians, nominate them to endure the pain of beauty or what we perceive as beauty.  After all, do pets really care whether or not they fit into a breed standard?



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