U.K. Tail Dock Study Makes This Vet Scratch Her Head

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: August 13, 2010
U.K. Tail Dock Study Makes This Vet Scratch Her Head

From the annals of "no duh" veterinary science comes this brainless winner of a study: U.K. dogs are more likely to injure their tails should they have one. Seriously. It found that the risk of tail injury was lower in dogs with docked tails. 

In June, the Veterinary Record — a decent publication, really — published a pet owner survey-based study that determined the following:

Among 52 U.K. veterinary practices, 281 tail injuries were reported from a population of 138,212 dogs. Of these 281, researchers managed to reach 97 via their survey. A nice summary of the breakdown of these injuries, according to a U.K. based tail docking defense organization, the Council of Docked Breeds (CDB), includes the following:

  • [Survey] responses indicated that around one in three tail injuries (36%; 35 cases) had occurred at home as a result of the dog knocking its tail against a wall, kennel wall or other household object.
  • A further 17.5% (17 cases) were sustained outdoors, while 14.4% (14 cases) were caused by the tail being caught in a door. In 15 (15.5%), other causes were cited, and in 16 (16.5%), the cause was unknown. Almost half of the injuries (44%) were recurrent.
  • Over half the cases were treated with drugs and dressings, but in almost one in three cases, amputation was required. Eleven dogs did not need any treatment.
  • Certain breeds seemed to be more at risk, with springer and cocker spaniels almost six times as likely to sustain a tail injury as Labradors and [other] retrievers.
  • Greyhounds, lurchers and whippets were almost seven times as likely to do so, possibly because of the lack of protective hair on their tails, say the authors. Dogs with a wide angle of wag were also almost four times as likely to be injured in this way, while dogs kept in kennels were more than 3.5 times as likely to sustain a tail injury.
  • Only 35 owners said their dogs had had their tail docked, and on the basis of their overall findings, the authors calculated that tail docking would reduce the risk of injury by 12%.

Faced with such overwhelming evidence, the tail dockers’ lobby (i.e., the CDB) was forced to conclude the following:

PLEASE REMEMBER that the 281 dogs with damaged tails were from just 52 veterinary practices. According to the RCVS there are 3000 verified vet practices in the U.K. If these 52 were representative of them all, then circa 16,000 dogs would have suffered tail injuries in the U.K. for that 12 month period and circa 5,000 would have undergone adult tail amputation ... damage that would have been avoided by a simple painless procedure at three days old.

OK, so that begs the question (and forgive me if I get a bit snarky): As a human, I was born with no tail. Hence no tail injuries. Had I been born with no pinkie fingers, I’d never suffer pinkie finger trauma, much less one requiring pinkie finger amputation. Yet — and here’s the clincher — even a dog who’s had his tail docked "painlessly" at three days of age only enjoys a 12 percent reduction in tail injuries. Now that’s telling.

But consider that 281 tail injuries out of 138,212 dogs means the risk of injury is a mere 0.2 percent. Even the CDB acknowledges that "500 docked dogs would only prevent one tail damage case."

Their mystifying riposte?

"Unfortunately, this simply shows the risk as a percentage of the total dog population and does not represent the risk to undocked dogs in previously docked breeds. Conversely, a number of breeds shown to damage their tails were breeds which have NOT historically been docked."

Hmmmm ...

Is this progress in veterinary medicine ... or more kindling for whichever kind of fire you happen to like to burn? For my part I can only hope all those Veterinary Record pages eventually make it to a recycling bin.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: "Catch it if you can" by timekin


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