Drooling up a storm of controversy: plastic surgery in pets
The controversy is decades old but the volume of discourse on the subject is still turned way up high. Plastic surgery is still debated as hotly as it ever was 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 seem to follow the young crowd on these issues—I won’t do ear crops but I sometimes cave to the tails, dewclaws and declaws. (You can read my declaw post for clarity on my position regarding this procedure.)
There’s something about cutting a puppy tail as a three-day-old patient squirms in your assistant’s hands that has a tendency to evoke a bewildering series of emotions. I don’t like to do it and I certainly never will without nerve blocks and other pain-relieving techniques. 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 messed with to hoarsen the voice and reduce the volume of the typical bark. Sort of like a declaw procedure, it hurts and is fraught with plenty of complications, 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. 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 anymore 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.
In the case in question, one of my colleagues at work has a Presa Canario. It’s not that he ever wanted a [notoriously aggressive] Presa; it’s just that this puppy had a cleft palate. He and our staff took it in (these pups are usually euthanized) and nursed it into the giant, healthy beast he is today. Consequently, we all have a soft spot for this gentle guy. Problem is, Abraham drools like a fool 24/7. The spit coats his home and is wreaking havoc on his formerly healthy marriage. But I digress…
Point is, Abraham is scheduled for lip surgery this week. The goal is to minimize the drool he emits by tucking his pendulous lip folds into a spot on his upper jaw’s mucous membranes. This is Abraham:
“It could work,” I said, when I saw an illustration of the procedure in a prominent surgery textbook.
But, then again, maybe not… Either way, an attempt is scheduled. Hopefully, my boyfriend (the vet surgeon) will lend his presence to the surgical party we’re planning to hold in Abraham’s honor this week.
But here’s my question: Is it ethical? After all, it’s normal to drool. I’m sure Abraham could care less whether he drools or not but I’m sure he’d vote against the surgery if he had a choice in the matter. Although it shouldn’t be very painful, every surgery has its risks. And dogs bred with faces like this—well, they’re bred to drool. Anyone who owns a Presa should know they’re in for a storm of saliva. They should deal with it (IMHO).
But given the circumstances of Abraham’s survival and subsequent adoption by my colleague (and the situation at home), I’m persuaded to vote in favor of the surgery. Regardless of your feelings, I’d love to hear about them…on this and the other procedures I’ve mentioned.
There’s a line to be drawn in plastics for pets (and we all have one). As usual, I’d love your comments to help me arrive at a reasonable consensus on where it might be. Feel free to suggest other questionable surgeries. There’s always room for more discussion when the discourse is civil, as it historically has been on this site (and that’s a big compliment to you).