IN THE NEWS: Ear cropping, tail docking not allowed under P.E.I. animal welfare act

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IN THE NEWS: On NOV 16, 2015

New law bans cosmetic surgery, operations performed solely to change appearance of an animal

Under P.E.I.'s new animal welfare act, it is illegal to carry out cosmetic surgery, operations performed solely to change the appearance of an animal and not for reasons of health.

The new act prohibits tail docking in dogs, horses, and cattle; ear cropping in dogs and tail nicking and setting for horses. This confirms the policy of the Prince Edward Island Veterinary Medical Association, approved in 2010.

What does this mean for pet owners? If you have a boxer, cocker spaniel, or a Yorkshire terrier with a short tail, you may be surprised to learn that your dog was not born that way. These are only three of the many breeds in which all or part of the tail has traditionally been amputated when the pup is a few days old in a practice known as tail docking. Local anesthetic may or may not be used. Tail docking can cause infection and chronic pain, the latter because extra nerve cells may grow in the stump of the tail or neuroma.

In some breeds like Doberman pinscher, Great Dane, Boston terrier, part of the ears has been traditionally cut off so that they stand erect (ear cropping), generally between 9 and 12 weeks of age. Such surgery requires general anesthetic and much aftercare. The ears will be painful and there may be infection. Splints and taping are required, with regular bandage changes for many weeks until the ears stand erect. Ear cropping can have a long term affect on the dog's behaviour because all this painful handling occurs at a sensitive time for socialization.

Why were these procedures done? Ear cropping and tail docking were done in some working breeds with the idea of preventing injury or for ease of handling-but these reasons are no longer relevant. And this was often inconsistent-consider hunting dogs. We are used to seeing many breeds of spaniel with docked tails, but imagine how odd it would be to see a docked tail in a Labrador retriever or a setter.

Ear cropping and tail docking have long been illegal in many European Union and Commonwealth countries, and national veterinary associations have worked to discourage these procedures. Ear cropping and tail docking are now illegal in all Atlantic provinces, and similar changes are gradually taking place in other parts of Canada. This does not prohibit surgery performed by a veterinarian that is required for a medical reason, such as tail injury.

Why do these practices persist in North America? It is largely because many (but not all) breed clubs are resistant to change, and breed standards reflect this. In countries where the procedures are banned, breed clubs have accepted this and people in those countries are used to seeing dogs with natural ears and tails.

Basically, it comes down to tradition, and fewer and fewer people, including veterinarians, support subjecting an animal to painful and unnecessary surgery for the sake of tradition.

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