The Long and Short of Tail Docking

By Dr Marthie Kleynhans

Tail Docking

Tail docking is a surgical procedure that should be performed by a qualified veterinarian to improve an animal’s health and wellbeing, not to make it “look nice”. Tail docking and ear cropping are both seen as cosmetic surgeries and are classified as medically unnecessary procedures. Since the 1st of June 2008 the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) declared that tail docking for cosmetic reasons is illegal and may not be performed as a routine procedure by veterinarians.

What exactly is tail docking?

According to the SAVC, tail docking is the amputation of a dog’s tail at various lengths to the recommendations of a breed standard. Only a small number of animals are born without a tail. When puppies’ tails are docked, the cut goes through many sensitive nerves in the skin, cartilage and bone. It is a painful procedure and sometimes no anaesthetic is used.

Why tail docking is illegal to do:

Sometimes an elastic band is placed around the tail and/or testicles. This method has never been advocated by veterinarians and are so called home-castrations or tail dockings. This is a huge problem as people try to do it themselves and it leads to unnecessary pain and suffering for the animal. It can also cause bleeding and severe infection that could possibly kill the animal, as the bone may be left exposed. Sometimes people dock the tails too short which can lead to nerve damage, neurblastomas or infection of the spinal cord. Recent studies have shown that puppies of a few days old already have a fully developed nervous system and a well-developed sense of pain. Tail docking procedures (when using an elastic band or a surgical procedure) are stressful and painful events even to a very small puppy.

Tail docking is not going to improve your pet’s health and wellbeing. It is a painful and unnecessary procedure with no benefits at all.

Why does a dog need its tail and why is tail docking bad?

Research has shown that tail docking is a painful and traumatic experience for a puppy, even when it is done under local anaesthetic. If done incorrectly, it could lead to nerve damage, pain, bleeding, infection and difficulty with urination and defaecation.

Dogs also use their tails to communicate. It helps them to express their emotions or intentions. Without a tail it makes it very difficult for us to read an animals behaviour. It also helps an animal with agility and balance.

Why was tail docking advocated in the past?

In the past, some breeders considered a docked tail necessary to fulfil the working functions of a dog. In long past history, docking a dog’s tail indicated him as a working dog, and no taxes were levied on dogs with docked tails. These days the owners tend to dock their pet’s tail due to aesthetic reasons, causing them unnecessary pain and suffering.

What will happen to you if you dock your pet’s tail?

Any person that attempts to dock their pet’s tail will be liable for prosecution under the Animal Protection Act no 71 of 1962. The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) is the body primarily responsible for applying the tenets of the Animal Protection Act.If you are caught docking tails, your pet will be confiscated by an SPCA official and taken to a veterinarian for examination and treatment. The veterinarian will then write a report stating that there was no justification for the tail docking, and describing the extent of the injury. A case will be opened and the defendant (you) will appear in the court of law.

How can you help?

You can stop buying puppies with docked tails and insist that the breeder from whom you buy dogs do not dock tails. You can encourage other people to stop buying dogs with docked tails and you can stop them from advocating tail docking. You can also inform your nearest SPCA if you know about a case of tail docking. There is no justifiable reason to dock a puppy’s tail!

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