Surgical alteration of companion animals’ natural functions for human convenience
Ratification Date: 03 Aug 2018
Surgical procedures performed on companion animals primarily to provide a convenience or benefit to humans are not supported or recommended. The welfare of animals is paramount, so the risks and associated consequences of surgery must always be balanced against the benefits to the animal.
Surgical procedures such as declawing, routine dewclaw removal, venomoid surgery, de-musking and de-crowing are unacceptable unless necessary for safety, health or welfare reasons.
Many surgical procedures are performed on animals for valid, safety, health and welfare reasons. However, there are a number of procedures that do not benefit the animals and may be detrimental to their welfare. These include, but are not limited to: declawing of cats, dogs and ferrets; debarking and routine dewclaw removal in dogs; venomoid surgery in snakes; anal sacculectomy in ferrets; and declawing and de-crowing of non-commercial poultry.
All these procedures are painful and, unless medically warranted, are unnecessary. The consequences of these procedures may adversely affect the animal’s health and welfare, including its subsequent behaviour and interaction with conspecifics.
Surgical procedures should be reviewed frequently by the profession, based on veterinary, scientific, and ethological considerations. Reviews should consider:
- the probability of undesirable events occurring without surgical prophylaxis
- the prognosis regarding the success of the prophylactic procedure
- the use of alternative non-surgical procedures that may provide superior or equivalent outcomes.
Routine dewclaw removal in dogs is unacceptable unless for valid medical reasons. Forelimb dewclaw removal should only be considered if the digit is diseased or injured to the extent that amputation is necessary. Prophylactic hindlimb dewclaw removal should only occur if there is a high probability of injury without surgical prophylaxis. This should be a real probability of injury and assessed on a case-by-case basis, not routine prophylaxis.
In some situations, surgical intervention as the only alternative to euthanasia is used as justification for procedures such as debarking of dogs and declawing of cats. Debarking is usually prohibited under law unless all other avenues, including behavioural treatments and interventions, have been documented and exhausted to the satisfaction of the regulatory authorities.
Barking is normal canine behaviour; opinion on what constitutes excessive barking is highly variable among owners and is influenced by many factors. Owners may be influenced by external pressure from neighbours and councils, and as such, the pressure to debark may be coming from people who have no responsibility or compassion for the animal’s welfare.
Debarking reduces the noise associated with barking, but not the motivation or behaviour. When barking has become excessive, it can be a sign that the dog is experiencing poor welfare. Removing a dog’s ability to vocalise will reduce an owner’s ability to detect their dog’s need for treatment, but will not address the underlying cause. This can result in a poor quality of life for that dog in the long term.
Furthermore, debarking is a surgical procedure with inherent potential for complications, and resumption of a near normal bark can occur within months.1
Therefore, debarking surgery should not be performed on any dog. Instead, there should be education of communities and owners around the many factors that cause barking, as well as the importance of appropriate early intervention for behavioural problems such as excessive vocalisation.
Declawing of cats is an amputation and should be regarded as major surgery. It is illegal in some jurisdictions. Declawing of cats is an unacceptable practice because it will not treat the underlying cause for the behaviour that may be negatively affecting the animal’s quality of life.2.
When surgical intervention is necessary to correct adverse physical characteristics produced by breeding, such as brachycephalic airway surgery, breeding practices should be changed to prevent the need for corrective surgery. The veterinary profession has an obligation to:
- strongly recommend desexing of affected animals
- encourage breeders and breed associations to prevent selection for such adverse physical characteristics and to define breeding objectives that will return animals to a natural physiognomy
- attempt to influence factors such as breed standards, that encourage propagation of undesirable traits.
Adequate anaesthesia and analgesia must be provided for any surgical procedure.
- Fossum TW. Surgery of the upper respiratory system. In: Fossum TW, editor. Small animal surgery. 3rd edn. Mosby Elsevier, 2007: 817,828–832
- American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). Declawing position statement. Available from: https://www.catvets.com/guidelines/position-statements/declawing