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Studies Reveal Tail Docking in Puppies Is Painful

Updated on October 1, 2016
More and more Rottweilers have intact tails.
More and more Rottweilers have intact tails. | Source

There has been common belief for many years, that docking a three-day old puppy's tail was a painless procedure due to the puppy's immature nervous system. This justification derived from the belief that as altricial species, day-old puppies would not feel pain due to lack of mielinization. Animals considered to be altricial are those which at birth are immature, and therefore, totally dependent on their mothers. Cats, dogs and human beings are all considered to be altricial species.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, are precocial species which are quite independent at birth. These animals see, hear and can often even stand up, just minutes after being born. Calves, foals, baby ducks and turkeys are good examples of precocial species.

Studies Reveal That Day-Old Puppies do Feel Pain

The immaturity at birth typical of altricial species has been linked to an immature and underdeveloped nervous system, causing people to believe that a newborn puppy is, consequently, not capable of feeling pain. Recent studies and advanced knowledge on pain, however reveal that this is far from being true.

Australian veterinarian Robert K. Wansbrough explains, in an article published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, that anatomical studies demonstrate that pain in day old puppies would be actually more than in an adult dog due to the way impulses are sent through the puppy's unmyelinated fibers. Their slower conduction due to incomplete myelination, is offset by the shorter interneuronal and neuromusvcular distances the impulse has to travel, therefore, creating greater pain due to the pup's undeveloped inhibitory pain pathways. Dr. Robert further explains that cutting through muscles, tendons, nerves, bones or cartilages, would result in intense pain to a level that would never be allowed to be inflicted on a human being!

Understanding Pain Reactions in Day-Old Puppies

The fact that pain is present in neonatal altricial species explains why so much care and dedication is involved in neonatal pain management in the human world, explains veterinarian Jean Hofve with the Animal Protection Institute. One report from the Department of Pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine suggests that even prematurely born babies which are also altricial species exhibit responses to pain.

A puppy's whimpering and ''escape response'' should, therefore, be sufficient to indicate an intense level of pain. However, veterinarian Robert Wansbrough further points out that lack of showing signs of suffering in some puppies should not be automatically translated as lack of pain. Indeed, dogs as animals are prone to appear stoic due to an ''inherent preservation instinct'', where showing pain is a sign of weakness which may potentially attract predators.

Another common myth is the assumption that just because puppies go back to nursing right after being docked, translates into a puppy with no pain. However, studies on this reveal the opposite. Veterinarian Jean Hofve points out that research demonstrates that the act of suckling releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, and therefore, a much more realistic and plausible explanation is provided for the docked puppy's sudden desire to nurse.

Further References and Position Statements

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) reports that tail docking is a painful procedure and that puppies have a fully developed nervous system, and therefore, are fully capable of feeling pain. While a puppy may not actively demonstrate pain, WSAVA explains that ''there are biological markers that show pain is occurring''.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) admits that tail docking is painful and opposes to it, claiming that ''there is no obvious benefit to our patients in performing this procedure''. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) further urges ''the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards. ''

The Department of Companion Animals, in Queensland also carried out an interesting study involving 50 Doberman, Rottweiler and Bouvier puppies between the ages of 3 to 5 days old. After being docked, all puppies appeared distressed, exhibiting '' repeated and intense shrieking vocalizations '' . Upon being returned to their box, the puppies made uncoordinated movements, while ''stumbling and whimpering for some time''.

Methods Used for Tail Docking

There are different methods when it comes to docking tails, and with more stringent rules and the banning of the procedure in several countries, more and more breeders are feeling compelled to open a ''chop-shop'' in their homes, basically performing the docking of litters of puppies themselves using a Stanley knife, nail clippers or scissors.

Many breeders resort to a procedure known as ''banding'' where a sort of rubber band is placed around the tail, causing the tissue to die, and ultimately causing the tail to fall off about three days later. The process is obviously not pain-free and veterinarian Jean Hofve compares it to ''slamming your finger in a car door - and leaving it there.''

Even when performed under the sterile environment of a veterinarian's office, no anesthesia or analgesics are used in tail docking procedures. More and more veterinarians are refusing to perform tail docks for cosmetic purposes only. In July 2009, Banfield, one of the largest veterinary chains with more than 730 hospitals in the U.S., stopped performing tail docks and ear crops with '' the overall health and wellness of pets in mind''. And as research and ethical dilemmas around this painful cosmetic surgery continue, more and more are sure to follow.

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    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I am not planning to ever do this unnatural thing, I hope lots of people who were considering it read your Hub!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Rebecca, when I got my first 2 Rottweilers, they were already docked but I regret I did not get them with tails, so much body language there and what a pretty sight! Tails rule!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      When I got my miniature Schnauzer, her tail had already been docked, for I certainly would not have done it. However, her ears were left floppy rather than cropped into the pointed style that show dogs wear, for which I'm glad. Her ears are so expressive. She moves them forward and backward when I'm talking to her. If she still had her tail, I'm sure she would wag it a lot, as she wags her stub. In fact, she shakes her entire bottom!

      Tail docking and ear cropping should be eliminated completely, even in show dogs.

      I didn't like the idea of docking a dog's tail, but didn't realize it was done without anesthesia. That's truly barbaric, and I'm glad that many vets are refusing to do it.

      Do you know if dogs with docked tails continue to "feel" pain emanating from where their tails were? That occurs with humans who have amputations, so it seems plausible to me. I ask because sometimes my dog acts as though the tip of her docked tail is bothering her.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX


    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Jaye, your question is very founded since amputees suffer from ''phantom pain'' wouldn't the same happen to dogs with docked tail? Indeed, veterinarian Robert Wansbrough claims:

      ''About 90% of human amputees suffer pathological pain in the form of phantom limb pain. Docked dogs

      similarly may suffer phantom limb pain but, if their inherent stoicism masks the symptoms, this may be

      misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed. ''

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 5 years ago from Washington state

      Though I will not argue the fact that puppies can feel pain, I don't see how these "purely cosmetic" procedures are any worse than the extremely penetrative acts of spaying and neutering, which are proven to have effects on a dog's behavior, personality, growth, and metabolism. Testicles and ovaries are important, functioning organs in every mammal, even if breeding is not in the future for the animal. It is the location where a large number of important hormones are manufactured and carried out through the entire body. Imagine if you yourself grew up without the effects of your respective testosterone or estrogen supplies? If we are able to render a dog sexless and demure, then why is it such a crime to remove a tail - an appendage that puppies easily compensate for in the face of absence and quickly learn to live without?

      As for ear cropping - is it not more of a crime against Nature to produce dogs with floppy ears? Those limpy flaps of skin make it more difficult for other dogs to read each others' facial signals - the face being one of the key areas a dog looks to when they are 'talking' to one another. I can only assume that floppy ears make it more difficult for dogs to pinpoint noises. And it is a fact that dogs with floppy ears tend to have dirtier ears (earwax, ear mites, etc).

      I think docking and cropping should be a choice made by the breeders and owners. If you don't want a dog whose breed is regularly associated with tail docking (such as with a Doberman), then buy yourself a Beauceron for Pete's sake. Personally, if I wanted a dog that looked like a Labrador, I'd just go out and buy myself a dang Labrador.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Shaddie, when you work for a shelter and see countless puppies and dogs disappear each day leaving an empty cage due to being put to sleep, you understand why spaying and neutering is a blessing and a must for responsible ownership. I would never compare spaying and neutering with something as unnecessary as a tail dock, it's like comparing apples to oranges.

      Personally, I think it differently and agree with the more 30 countries that have banned these procedures.

      You state '' If you don't want a dog whose breed is regularly associated with tail docking (such as with a Doberman), then buy yourself a Beauceron for Pete's sake ''

      Well, I think it this way instead:

      If you cannot accept a dog with floppy ears or a tail, better off buying a stuffed animal. Animals are not accessories nor objects: they are living beings that give us unconditional love, why can't we just do the same? for Pete's sake!

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 5 years ago from chennai

      Good hub about the commonly overlooked problem of dogs.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      I enjoyed reading your Hub, but I just get so upset with the whole notion of tail docking and ear cropping! I think it should be illegal! I wish my miniature schnauzer had her tail back!

      Great Hub.

      I voted it UP, etc.

    • profile image

      Anna 4 years ago

      I was telling my mom about this article earlier today and she told me she wasn't surprised at all. She told me that when she used to be a vet tech, puppies would scream horribly when they docked their tails and cropped their ears. She was also horrified to hear about the "chop shops" breeders have begun operating. She said that ears bleed horribly and it's really easy to botch the crop and ruin the ear.

      Cropping and docking are such barbaric practices. It's hard to understand why they're still allowed and encouraged in a society where animal cruelty is so looked down on.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      That's the thing. People who get tails docked are not allowed to assist the amputation, if they saw, dock after dock, what I saw, I think they would think twice about it. But I am not excessively worried about the screaming, even though I would never put a dog through that pain unnecessarily, but the long-term repercussions on dog communication which I see today as a trainer. Dogs have tails, they are beautiful and they are there for many good reasons. I have to yet understand why a person gets in trouble for hitting a dog but then they can cut the tails at home or place rubber bands until the tail comes off.

    • profile image

      Elizabeth 3 years ago

      I want the credentials of the author, the exact source of all studies and quotations before I am going to believe this. It is at the most a momentary twinge and is certainly NOT an ongoing lifelong pain.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      This article is to debunk the common myth that tail docking is not painful.Are you by any chance the same person who has been harassing me on Facebook?All sources are quoted-- see links that go to veterinarians, veterinary organizations and studies. Just click on the hyperlinks to read more. I don't like to write about topics without giving credit to studies and reputable organizations. What are your credentials, please?

    • profile image

      Pamela Beck 3 years ago

      WELL DUH! What kind of moron ever decided that you could chop a dogs tail off (or their ears) at ANY age, and they wouldn 't feel it? oh grrrr

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Pamela, it may sound like it doesn't make sense, but there are still many that think a puppy doesn't feel pain when you chop their tails off because their nervous system is immature :(

    • profile image

      germaine 3 years ago

      I would like to see this banned.puppies do feel pain and this is for what a showing.i hope they ban it completely.

    • profile image

      Mayhem 3 years ago

      I am interested in the comment that spaying and neutering are comparing apples to oranges in regards to long lasting effects on the health of the animal. (Because, I have a Spaniel with a tail that I love, and I love natural Dobes and other dogs, so I'm not so inclined to comment on that. I do believe docking hurts, and there's no question that cropping hurts.)

      But you're saying that a procedure that can increase the chances of incontinence, cancer, ligament damage, and other things DOESN'T effect the long-standing health of the animal? In the community even today vets are saying that they don't know what procedures like vasectomies or ovary-sparing spays will do in dogs -- because we don't have enough information on what it means to be without these organs.

      Spaying and neutering are unnecessary for responsible ownership. Responsible owners put the effort to ensuring the safety and health of their pets, and plan for natural events such as heat cycles. Many performance dogs are kept intact, with no accidental pregnancies. As are many show dogs. So, spaying and neutering is a lazy man's way of ensuring that a dog doesn't reproduce. Hell, you could argue that docking is the lazy man's way of ensuring a dog's tail doesn't knock juice off the table.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      That's true, spaying and neutering is unnecessary for responsible ownership. But trust me, after you work for a shelter and see pets dying day after day because of irresponsible owners; it has nothing, zero, nada to do with cosmetic surgery for dogs. I would invite you to work for a shelter and see it with your eyes. I came home often crying as I saw the empty cages day after day. However, I never said it's like comparing apples to oranges in regards to the health, I said it's comparing apples to oranges when you compare the two procedures side by side when it comes to their purpose. And if you wonder, I admire the mentality in Norway where people don't alter their pets because they are responsible; unfortunately we are a far cry from that yet.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Germaine, many countries have banned it and they are to be admired for that. When I visited Europe it was a joyto see so many happy tails!

    • marion langley profile image

      marion langley 3 years ago from The Study

      Anyone who thought it didn't hurt must not have been present when it was done. They yelp. Thank-you for opening the eyes of people who lacked the personal experience. These rumors need to be put down. On a side note the puppies do seem to get over it pretty quickly. I wish we didn't breed them to have such strong calf bruisers. We never altered our boxers' ears - they looked great with full ears.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Yes, they do yelp. I worked for a vet and saw it done many times. It's true though that after a bit they get over it. However, they are then deprived for all their lives of an important means of communication and a "rudder" that allows them so swim and equilibrium.

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