When the largest veterinary practice in the world refuses to crop your dog’s ears and dock your pups’ tails, you know the times they are a changin.’

Can there be any companion animal veterinary issue as contentious as the availability of cosmetic surgery for pets? Probably not. Surgical procedures that carry medical risks and the possibility of significant pain should be exclusively confined to the therapeutic arena, animal welfare advocates vociferously contend.

Meanwhile, the right of a pet owner to do what he will with his property––within the bounds of cultural and veterinary practice norms, of course––means that ear crops, tail docks, salivary duct transposition, testicular implants, debarking, canine tooth planing and declaws (among other menu items) are still available...as long as you can find a veterinarian willing to perform them on your pet.

Recently, however, the small animal veterinary community has shifted significantly in its approach to such invasive surgical offerings. More of us are unwilling to perform these procedures than will unreservedly offer them. As if to hoist high the sign of the times, in comes the AVMA to solidify our newer-generation welfarist stance in a 2008 position statement on tail docks and ear crops.

Both heralded and reviled, depending on whom you ask, it’s my belief this statement was long overdue. Though the AVMA can’t go so far as to tell us what we veterinary practitioners can and cannot do in our private practices (our state-specific practice acts and/or municipal laws would have to make happen), it does have the power to change hearts and minds with respect to what’s considered ethical in our profession. And for that, I’m deeply grateful to the AVMA and proud of my profession.

In some ways, however, it seems the AVMA can’t win on this one. The AKC and other breed groups have predictably taken a hard line against this statement, mounting a significant offense against it, while others (the HSUS and PETA, for example) claim it doesn’t go nearly far enough in condemning the violence inherent to cosmetic procedures.

They’re minuscule baby steps, you may argue, but speaking out against ear crops and tail docks even in this defanged manner is undeniably an important leap for the AVMA. At the very least, it represents a strengthening of our resolve against all non-therapeutic procedures. And it’s definitely a step up from the last thready statement it issued on this subject just a few years back.

Furthermore, it doesn’t hurt that the AKC considered the AVMA position statement significant enough to push back forcefully. Not only did the AKC legitimize the AVMA’s position with its vituperation, the AVMA's refusal to back down even a smidge gave an otherwise anemic stance some extra oomph.

Now back to the news at hand: Banfield, The Pet Hospital and its hundreds of outlets have stopped offering crops and docks. Here’s what VP for medical quality advancement at Banfield and internal medicine specialist Dr. Karen Faunt had to say:

“After thoughtful consideration and reviewing medical research, we have determined it is in the best interest of the pets we treat, as well as the overall practice, to discontinue performing these unnecessary cosmetic procedures...It is our hope that this new medical protocol will help reduce, and eventually eliminate, these cosmetic procedures altogether.”

And here I was thinking it had already done so. In fact, it’s somewhat shocking to me that it would issue a press release to let me know they’d been cropping and docking all along––almost one full year after the AVMA position statement.

Despite the somewhat unwelcome surprise, I’m immensely gratified by their public admission. Bringing the issue to the light of day in the public eye is undoubtedly a positive. Here’s hoping the AKC takes the issue one step further with an all-out boycott on Banfield. I’d love nothing better than to hear the public’s reaction. Maybe then we’ll really “help reduce, and eventually eliminate, these cosmetic procedures altogether.”

Image: doublej11 / via Flickr