November 04, 2010
Whether it is for appearance purposes or for more ease in
function and motion, cosmetic surgeries are not uncommon these
days. From teeth whitening to liposuction people will sometimes
elect to have these procedures even when there is no medical need
present. Now, some people are applying these same principles when
it comes to their pets.
Cosmetic surgeries for pets might include wrinkle removal, tail
docking, ear trimming, declawing in felines, debarking in canines,
and hair dying. Although many of these surgeries are unnecessary,
that is not to say that there value is purely aesthetic.
"I look at declawing cats, front paws only, as a life saving
procedure," said Dr. Phil Hobson, recently retired professor of the
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. "Cats can be very difficult when it comes to clawing
furniture and even children."
Hobson recommends only removing the front claws this way the cat
can still climb a tree to get away from a dog. Another
option, and one that does not involve surgery, is material that can
be adhered to the claws which can be very beneficial, but it often
comes off after a short period of time and may have to be replaced
As with any surgery there are risks. One being if the removal is
incomplete, the claw can then regrow a deformed nail.
"Also, too radical of an excision may result in poor healing and
cause more pain for the cat," said Hobson.
Wrinkle removal is used as the last option for dogs with skin
infections. According to Hobson, sometimes facial folds are
removed, particularly in short-nosed breeds of dogs, because they
tend to get infected at their creases.
Pet owners are not exactly lining up for this surgery,
"It is not generally a surgery that the client would request to
improve the animal's appearance but rather for health reasons. In
fact, sometimes owners do not want the surgery done because it
detracts from the traditional look of the dog," said Hobson.
When discussing pet cosmetic surgery, it's important to remember
that, though some of the procedures are novel, this is not a new
field in veterinary medicine.
"Classic examples of cosmetic surgery include ear trims and tail
docks, which have proven to be quite controversial. Repairing
congenital defects or implantation may also fall into this
category," said Hobson.
Surgery to correct congenital defects may improve the quality of
life for certain animals and should be carefully considered. Pets
with conditions such as luxating patellas (chronic dislocating
kneecaps), and cleft palates would be candidates for this type of
Veterinarians specializing in ophthalmology may be able to
surgically implant eye replacements for dogs that have lost their
sight, as with glaucoma.
Hobson notes, "In this case, the inside of the eye is removed
and a ball is inserted in its place. This is purely for the owner's
benefit because some owners find it difficult to look at their pet
and see an eye missing."
Cosmetic surgeries are usually considered less risky than
"Though there is always an element of danger when working under
anesthesia, most of the time these animals go into surgery healthy
so they have fewer complications," said Hobson.
Also, many cosmetic surgeries, like those for congenital
defects, are done in young animals which will have a better
prospect for recovery than older animals.
Debarking or the removal of vocal folds in a dog is another
surgery that owners have opted for in the past, usually after all
other techniques have failed to help control their barking
"It is usually a rather harmless and relatively simple
procedure, although we rarely have to do the procedure with a dog
for persistent or loud barking because there are the other
techniques that can be used by animal behaviorists," Hobson
continues "However, we do a fair number of vocal fold removals
(debarking) for usually older dogs with laryngeal paralysis to
provide a better airway."
Hobson explains that this surgery is usually adequate and thus
doesn't require more involved surgery which may predispose the pet
to other problems, more specifically aspiration pneumonia.
Besides surgery there are other, less risky, things that owners
might subject their pets to for appearance purposes. Some people
find personal preference in dying the hair of their animals, such
as bleaching a horse's tail or a turning a puppy pink.
With horses remember that if you apply something unnatural or
alter something, it is important that you help them maintain this.
For example, some people like to braid their horse's manes. This
can be very pretty, but if you turn your horse out in a pasture the
hair can become tangled and knotted, especially if rubber bands are
used, resulting in the chore of having to pick out debris and
sometimes even having to cut the hair if the knots are too
Horse-shoes are another example; if you do shoe your horse it is
important to keep up with this. If the shoe becomes loose it can
irritate the foot, and when it eventually falls off if there is an
uneven number of shoes the horse will start to favor one foot over
the other creating unbalanced muscle tone or potential injury. Even
if your horse does not have shoes, their hoofs need to be trimmed
on a regular basis.
Whether a cosmetic procedure for your pet is for appearance
purposes or to help them maintain an easier lifestyle, it is
ultimately the owner's personal preference. Some surgeries
are more complicated and painful than others and the pros and cons
should be weighed before opting for any surgery.
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