The plastic surgery controversy is decades old but the volume of discourse on the subject is still turned way up high. Plastic surgery continues to be debated as hotly as it ever was, as when ear crops were banned in Great Britain.

Despite the ongoing movement against cosmetic plastics in vet practice, they’re still done every day in almost every city in this country. And not all are the dreaded ear crops and tail docks we’re so used to hearing about.

Ear crops and tail docks are the most common and most controversial. Most in the younger generation of vets are against the former and have mixed opinions on the latter. Dewclaw removals and feline declaws also tend to fall into the “maybe” category. I tend to follow the young crowd on these issues — I won’t do ear crops but I will rarely, and with some exceptions, cave to the tails, dewclaws and declaws. 

There’s something about a three-day-old puppy squirming in my assistant’s hands as it waits for its tail to be 'docked' that has a tendency to evoke a bewildering series of emotions in me. I don’t like to do it and I certainly never will without using nerve blocks and other pain-relieving techniques on the pup. In fact, if I’m lucky, I’ll never do it again. Maybe my readers’ responses will help me stick to my guns when the next batch of pups walks in the door.

The intent of this post, however, was not to discuss the mundanities of plastic surgery in pets (which most of us already have rock-hard feelings about). I’d like to bring up a few of the grayer areas you might not be familiar with.

Consider debarking, in which the larynx (voice box) is surgically altered to hoarsen the voice and reduce the volume of the typical bark. Like a declaw procedure, it hurts and is fraught with superfluous complications. This is largely because it’s performed so infrequently and is usually left in the hands of non-boarded surgeons. (The board-certified surgeons I know won’t touch this procedure unless the owner can convincingly demonstrate that the procedure is required for the pet to keep its home, and even then …)

Or how about cosmetic wart removal or scar repair? I’ve been known to do both simply as a nod to a client’s aesthetic appreciation of their pet. For example, the ugly wart smack on the top of the kissy part of the forehead. If mom doesn’t want to kiss the spot any more due to its nasty bumpiness, is that a good enough reason to take it off?

How about when the Weimeraner’s ear was bitten off at the tip by his sister? Was it OK for me to graft a fold of forehead skin to manufacture a new, rounded ear margin? (For the record, restorative plastics are something I usually recommend against. But I never begrudge an owner a back-to-the-way-it-was technique if they really want it.)

My final example is one I alluded to in this post’s title: lip fold surgery for heavy droolers. Now, drooling is not a pathologic process; dogs just do it out of necessity when their faces are shaped in such a way that the saliva tends to drip from their mouths willy-nilly. It makes for a messy house and a messy lap. But some dogs will also suffer sores and infections around their mouths because of the chronic wetness. 

So here’s my question: Is it ethical if you’re simply protecting your home (and clothes)? After all, it’s normal for dogs to drool.

I’m sure dogs could care less whether they drool or not, but I’m sure they’d vote against the surgery if they had a choice in the matter. Although it shouldn’t be a very painful procedure, every surgery has its risks. And, dogs bred with faces like this — well, they’re inherently bred to drool. Anyone who owns a dog of a certain breed should know they’re in for a storm of saliva and should learn to deal with it, in my humble opinion.

There’s a line to be drawn in plastics for pets, and we all have one. As usual, I’d love to hear your comments. They will help me to arrive at a reasonable consensus on where the current cultural line might be. Feel free to suggest other questionable surgeries too. There’s always room for more discussion as long as the discourse stays civil.

Dr. Patty Khuly