Cosmetic Procedures

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 procedures 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 their 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 frequently.

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, though.

“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 surgery.

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 necessary surgeries.

“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 habits.

“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 tangled.

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.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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