Full Title Name:  Overview of of Non-Therapeutic Procedures for Companion Animals

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Asia Siev Place of Publication:  Michigan State University Publish Year:  2022 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center 0 Country of Origin:  United States
Summary: This overview details "cosmetic" and "convenience" surgeries in cats and dogs. The four unnecessary medical surgeries discussed include tail docking, ear cropping, devocalization, and declawing. It briefly explores arguments against the procedures and how breed registries might still require certain cosmetic procedures. Finally, it touches upon recent efforts to regulate or ban these types of surgeries both at the city and state level.

Surgical procedures on animals can be performed for therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventative purposes. Surgery can also be performed for cosmetic purposes or to prevent behaviors humans find destructive or annoying. These types of surgeries are called medically unnecessary surgeries and include tail docking, ear cropping, devocalization, and declawing.

Tail docking and ear cropping are considered cosmetic surgeries - medically unnecessary procedures used solely to alter the physical appearance of an animal. Tail docking involves removing the tail of a dog, either because the dog is a working dog or because it fits a breed standard. Ear cropping is the removal of parts of the ear to allow a naturally drooping ear to stand upright. Both of these procedures have supporters and opponents for a variety of complex reasons.

Despite most veterinarians agreeing that tail docking and ear cropping serve no therapeutic benefits for dogs, breed registries still require the procedure for many dogs. Breed standards are set by American Kennel Club parent clubs, the national organization devoted to a particular breed. Some kennel clubs do not make allowances for undocked or uncropped dogs. Even though cosmetic procedures serve no purpose, no state law prohibits tail docking or ear cropping. State laws that regulate the practices typically require that they are performed by a licensed veterinarian when the dog is under general anesthesia.

Convenience surgeries are those that inhibit an animal’s natural behaviors and perpetuate avoidance of responsibilities inherent with living with the animal, at the expense of the animal. They place animals at risk without imparting physical benefits like other surgical procedures would. These surgeries are not performed for an aesthetic reason, like ear cropping and tail docking. Instead, these surgeries, are as the name implies, for the convenience of the owner and include procedures like devocalization in dogs and declawing in cats.

Non-therapeutic devocalization is banned in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington. The American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) position on devocalization is that the surgery should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian as a final alternative to euthanasia after behavioral modification has failed.

"Declawing" (or onychectomy in medical terms) is an invasive surgery that entails removing the claw, bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons from a cat. It is comparable to cutting off a human’s toes at the joint as opposed to clipping one’s toenails. Declawing can be banned at the municipal level and, in July of 2019, New York enacted the first statewide ban on elective declawing in cats. Similar bans are being considered in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The AVMA updated its position in 2020 on declawing by discouraging declawing of domestic cats as an elective procedure.

Current trends point to more states banning non-therapeutic procedures in the United States at the state level. Public perceptions towards procedures like declawing and devocalization are changing, with more pet owners opposing the practice. As for practices like docking and ear cropping, there seems to be a movement to regulate the procedures to only be performed by a veterinarian.



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