Tail docking is no longer accepted as necessary for dogs, and is often harmful to the puppy. Vets do not condone the process.

Dogs use their tails for communication/body language. A tail that is wagging quickly indicates a happy, friendly dog, whilst a tail that is being wagged stiffly, slowly and deliberately indicates a warning that a dog is feeling threatened or unhappy, and that he may bite or attack. Without a tail, a dog cannot communicate his emotions or intentions, making it more difficult for people and other dogs to know how a dog is likely to react in a certain situation, and may even lead to an increase in dog fights.

Definitions

Tail docking is the amputation of a dog’s tail at varying lengths to suit the recommendations of a breed standard. Docking involves the amputation of the puppy’s tail with a scalpel. Sometimes rubber bands are used, although this method has never been used by veterinarians. The cut goes through the skin, cartilage and bone. This procedure is usually performed without any anaesthetic, or with a local anaesthetic, at three to five days of age. A small number of dogs are born naturally without a tail.

Tail docking, even if performed with local anaesthesia, causes pain and stress to young puppies. Recent research in pain management indicates clearly that puppies, even at a few days of age, have a fully developed nervous system and a well-developed sense of pain. Sometimes, tail docking results in serious complications such as bleeding, infection and even the death of the puppy.

Tail docking does not provide any benefit to puppies. Traditionally, some breeders considered a docked tail necessary to fulfill the working functions of the dog. Today many working breeds are kept as house pets and only a small percentage are used for field work. If dogs of breeds that are customarily docked are left with intact tails, they are not more likely to get tail injuries than dogs of other breeds. Dogs need their tails for balance and body language. If a procedure that causes pain has no immediate or future benefit for the animal and may lead to complications, it is unnecessary and should not be performed.

Experts’ Response

The South African Veterinary Council does not condone the routine tail docking of puppies for cosmetic purposes by veterinarians. Any veterinarian who docks a tail, “unless for justifiable medical reasons”, will be liable for prosecution under the Animal Protection Act (APA) number 71 of 1962. Veterinarians found guilty under this act will automatically be investigated for unprofessional conduct by the SAVC under the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982. Lay people are also liable to prosecution under the APA if maiming can be proved. This falls under the ambit of welfare organisations.

The NSPCA is opposed to the unnecessary mutilation of animals for cosmetic, sporting, entertainment or convenience purposes – including but not limited to tail-docking, ear-cropping, de-barking and de-clawing. The NSPCA takes the identical standpoint relating to the various surgical mutilations of other species.

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