The Veterinary Association of Namibia (VAN) celebrated this year’s World Veterinary Day in April with the theme “Say no to cosmetic surgery in animals”.
Specific emphasis was given to the unnecessary tail docking that is being practiced in Namibia. In support of the campaign, we (DVS) printed T-shirts displaying “This Vet doesn’t do tail docking!”
But what is tail docking, by the way?
Tail docking is simply the cutting of a dog’s tail at varying lengths. In the old days when dog fighting was a legal sport, dog tails were cut to prevent an opponent from stepping on it during a fight. Some also believed that docking tails prevented dogs from contracting the Rabies disease.
The controversy about the benefit of tail docking started in the 17th century when one of the first veterinarians was quoted as saying, “The tail of a dog does not suit the fancy of the owner”. This indicated that he was clearly upset about the procedure of cutting dog tails.
Nowadays, tails are cut according to the recommendation of a specific breed standard, simply because “the dog looks nicer”. This is despite most working breeds being kept as companions and pet tail injuries are extremely very rare. Funny enough, cats that are more prone to injuries on their tails are not docked. Actually, who would suggest the mass cutting of cat tails simply for cosmetic purposes?
The procedure is usually performed without any local anesthetics or pain killers and can be quite painful. It can also cause problems such as death of a puppy because of bleeding and wound infections. Sometimes if the operation has been done poorly, a cancerous growth can also form at the stump of the tail.
In the villages, you rarely find dogs with their tails cut off. I personally salute our villagers for not following this dreadful practice. Most of the time, you find dogs so mixed up in breeds that even they don’t know which breed they belong to. So actually, who cares how their tails look like as long as the dog can shepherd the goats or sheep, watch over the household or accompany the hunting team for wild pigs and wild bokkies? Seems like our villagers and farmers have better things to worry about than cutting off their dog tails.
The question we should ask ourselves is, why are dogs born with tails if they do not need them? I’m sure someone may reflect on why we should castrate livestock as if the male animals do not need their balls.
But, in tail docking, we are talking about cosmetic surgery and not a necessary operation that is beneficial for the management of livestock. We are talking about a practice that is discouraged and condemned worldwide. As members of the international community, we are obliged to make sure all is well at home.
Let’s quickly look at the important functions of a tail on a dog. It is a balancing appendage, which helps in expressing body language or communicating with other dogs as well as with humans. Most often, miss-communication is encountered when a dog needs to play, show fear or is aggressive in the absence of a tail. Often, children are attacked by tail-docked dogs that fail to communicate fear and thus become aggressive when the kids continue to play with them. Another important function of the tail is that by wagging it, the muscles around the anus become strong and prevent the anus from herniate or to prolapse.
Tail docking is banned in some countries such as South Africa, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. In Australia, however, it is an absolute no-no.
In Namibia, the topic is still very controversial. The practise is still performed by some so-called experts and in order to save money, breeders often dock the tail of a puppy themselves without the use of anaesthesia and is often done in unsterile environments. Although the outdated animal welfare legislation is currently under review - it would hopefully ban tail docking in Namibia - the VAN signed an agreement with the protection of Companion Animals (WSAVA) that certain procedures such as tail docking and ear cropping should be discouraged. But still, some very few veterinarians are also performing this controversial operation.
Thus, to discourage and prevent tail docking, I would urge our pet lovers not to buy puppies with docked tails. All those dog organisations should also stop advocating for tail docking. From my point of view, docking the tail of a pet is barbaric and needs to be put to an end!.