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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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    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 months ago from USA

      About spaying and neutering, things are starting moving towards a better understanding of what it really entails. The effects of hormones on bones is of significance so much so that studies have shown that dogs spayed or neutered before a certain age have about 4 times more chances for developing osteosarcoma. Also, in male dogs castration increases malignant prostate cancer by 3 times and transitional cell carcinoma by eight times! Yet, spaying can prevent certain cancer such as mammary cancer (the risk for mammary tumor is 0.5% when dogs are spayed before their first heat) and potentially life threatening pyometra which is quite common in intact female dogs. There are many pros and cons and reading all the data out there can make your head spin if you look at all the studies.

      Then there is the pet overpopulation problem. In countries like Norway where dogs are mostly kept intact (it's against the law to neuter there) but there are no stray dogs there as they're doing a great job in being responsible dog owners, but in US are people ready to become so committed into becoming responsible dog owners? About 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters each year and 670,000 dogs are euthanized (source ASPCA). It is no wonder why these organizations put such an emphasis on spaying and neutering, it keeps the dog population down and lowers the numbers of dogs entering shelters. As sad as it is, these numbers are astounding and a great part is because Scruffy escaped the yard to impregnate Misty and 63 days later a litter of 10 puppies is born.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 months ago from USA

      Hello Shaddie, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You make valid points but there are several subtleties that are missed in your argument. If working dogs really need docked, how come many working dog breeds such as English pointers, German Longhaired Pointers, setters, hounds and the longhaired Weimaraner are able to do a remarkable job in the field without being docked? Did you know that tail docking actually started because of the belief that it prevented rabies, strengthened the dog's back, increased speed, and prevented injuries to dogs who were ratting, fighting, and baiting (which most dogs no longer do nowadays?) Docking then was popular again because a tax was put on dogs with tails, so docking helped people avoid this tax. Did you know that on top of a means for communication tails can be used as a rudder when swimming and as balance when running? Did you know that The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons considers tail docking "an unjustified mutilation and unethical unless done for therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons?" Also, most of all, did you know that studies found that "working dogs (predominantly gundogs) were not at significantly greater risk of tail injury than non-working dogs? (Diesel et al) This was the largest study to date on tail injuries in dogs, the risk for tail injuries are dramatically low (the incidence was 0.23%) which means that out of approximately 500 dogs one dog would get a tail injury! Talk about "preventive" care! That's like cutting a tennist's elbow to prevent elbow injury, which is a much more common injury! Also, why is tail docking performed even on non-working dogs if allegedly it prevents tail injuries? There are several things that do not make sense at all, and all seems to point out that tail docking is mostly for cosmetic appeal and for an attempt to maintain a certain look so to follow "tradition." In the countries where tail docking is banned, it seems like working dogs are doing just fine! Mother Nature knows best, and if there's a tail there's a reason (and likely many reasons that are just now being discovered! -eg supposedly higher incidence of urinary incontinence in docked dogs)

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      Me 4 months ago

      I have mixed feelings about docked tails and cropped ears, and here is why: Although the process causes the puppies pain, it is not lifelong pain and the puppies learn to live without their tails and ears being natural.

      So many people say it is barbaric and cruel for the dog but it is much crueler to not dock the tails or crop the ears if the dog is a WORKING DOG. When dogs are being used to do the job they were bred for, their tails and ears need to be docked if that is what the breed standard calls for. There IS a reason for this. Certain jobs dogs do are much safer for them to do if their tails are docked and their ears are cropped. If injury came to an adult dogs tail or ears (lets say it was trampled by cattle) and the only way to save the dog (prevent infection and/or future injury) was to dock the tail or crop the ears, the dog would have a much harder recovery time. Adult dogs have lived with natural tails and ears all their life and when they suddenly lose them they have much more trouble adapting their body language and figuring out how to balance. If is better to be safe than sorry IF THE DOG IS A WORKING DOG.

      Dogs that will be showed has their ears cropped or their tails docked because those dogs are often bred to produce offspring with clean lines and the correct body stature. To see if those dogs have the correct body stature the ears need to be cropped and the tails docked.

      If the dog is a pet that is not going to be working or used in show then in that case I see no reason for the dogs tail to be docked or ears to be cropped other than for looks. Of course, if the owner got that dog because they love the looks then that is their choice.

      Honestly owners and breeders should be able to do what they like with their dog. If someone doesn't approve of it, well boo-hoo to them. It is not their choice. The dog isn't going to hate them for it and the dog won't even notice in a couple days to weeks. I have 2 friends with Aussies and one has her tail docked and the other doesn't. They are both happy, heathy dogs that love playing and love being with humans. The female with the docked tail doesn't even seem to notice. It doesn't bother her. Same goes for the other Aussie with a tail.

      If I want to dock the tails or crop the ears of my dogs I am going to. I will still love them with all my heart and I know that they will still love me. Docking and cropping are as personal choices as spaying, neutering, and which meathod you will use to train your dog.

      I did not want to offend anyone with what I wrote and I apolozie if I did. This is my opinion. It is how I feel. If you do not want to crop your dogs ears or dock their tails then that is your choice.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 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.

    • marion langley profile image

      marion langley 4 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
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 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!

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 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.

    • profile image

      Mayhem 4 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.

    • profile image

      germaine 4 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.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 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

      Pamela Beck 4 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
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 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

      Elizabeth 4 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
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 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

      Anna 5 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.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 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.

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 5 years ago from chennai

      Good hub about the commonly overlooked problem of dogs.

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      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!

    • 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
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      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. ''

      http://anti-dockingalliance.co.uk/page_4.htm

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      I FULLY AGREE with you...THAT IS VERY CRUEL AND PAINFUL.. ... /GREAT HUB... AWESOME..

    • 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.

    • alexadry profile image
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      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!

    • 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!