There are very few breeds that are born with docked tails. If a puppy is to have its tail docked, similar to dew claws, they are usually removed within the first 5 days of life. In the case of unforeseen circumstances, like illness or injury, a tail may require an amputation surgery later on. The most common reason for docking tails is cosmetic, but some medical cases do necessitate amputation of the tail. However, it is becoming increasingly common nowadays to see dogs that stereotypically have docked tails with their tails left long. This shift in practice results from a combination of factors, including legal statutes, veterinary ethics, and reevaluating how a tail may be useful and why it should or should not be removed.
When puppies’ tails are “docked” or “bobbed” within the first 5 days, most of the tissue is still soft. Docking early results in less pain and more rapid healing. However, the procedure is usually done without anesthesia. At the most, local anesthesia is used because it’s considered a less painful procedure as a neonate. Additionally, sedation or general anesthesia would be a significant risk to a pup so young. When performed later in life, the procedure requires general and usually local anesthesia, as it is a full amputation and is very painful.
Reasons for Docking Tails
Cosmetics is the most common reason for docking tails. A docked tail became a breed standard for one historical reason or another and makes the dog recognizable as that breed. For instance, many people generally consider long-tailed rottweilers to look like a mixed breed and may not know what to make of a long-tailed vizsla or cocker spaniel. Although rooted in necessity historically, nowadays, this procedure is often only a cosmetic procedure. As a result, many groups advocate for its ban. Furthermore, many veterinarians have discontinued the practice because of ethical implications. Many countries have already banned the practice. Even several US states have imposed restrictions on the procedure unless the amputation is medically necessary.
The bottom line is that it’s a surgery. It’s less painful, and the recovery is faster when the puppies are young (days old) before the tissues have fully calcified, but it’s still a surgery. There are still veterinarians willing to perform this surgery, including here at Tier 1 VMC. However, the pros and cons should be weighed before pursuing this proccedure.
Medically Necessary Amputation
There are cases, not rare ones, in which it is medically necessary to pursue an amputation of the tail.
Accidents happen, and unfortunately, sometimes they happen to the tail. Whether by getting hit by a car, dog fights, tails slammed in doors, or broken, these cases often make a tail amputation medically necessary. Hopefully, the amputation required isn’t too short because this can create a whole other set of issues. For instance, with traction (pulling injuries) or amputations that are extremely short (flush to the rump), there is a risk for damage to the nerves, and incontinence can be a possibility.
A layman’s term and really a subset of trauma, happy tail is a special and unique condition. Happy tail is trauma caused to the end of the tail, usually due to excessive wagging and knocking the tail into things, such as the wall. This causes injury to the tip of the tail, causing it to break open and bleed. Consequently, the ensuing madness of tail-wagging can rapidly transform any room into a bloody horrifying mess.
The blood supply to the end of the tail is not as liberal as other tissues, and it doesn’t have the best capability for collateral (alternative routes of) circulation like many other tissues. As a result, these injuries tend not to heal well. Veterinarians have adapted all manners of oddball bandaging to cushion the tail from further blows while it’s trying to heal. But any bandage is difficult to keep on, especially given the motion at the tip of the tail and the likelihood to be chewed.
Happy tail is commonly a repeat injury. The scarred tissues are weaker and more likely to be injured again, especially if the wagging continues. If you have any ideas on how to keep a happy tail from wagging, I, and the veterinary community at large are all ears. Necrosis or tissue death and decay commonly result. In this case, amputation must occur, usually short enough to keep it from happening again. Meaning, under no waggable circumstances can the tail reach the wall. We also commonly see this injury in working dogs, especially military working dogs who circle in their runs excessively and bang their tails on the walls in their circular fervor.
Navigating the Waters of Docking Tails
Tails are part of our dogs; they use them to express themselves! Tails help with balance (especially in athletic maneuvers) and can even aid in directing a dog in the water like a sort of rudder. Dogs with docked tails get along just fine, but whether elective docking or medically necessary amputation, it’s best to be informed. There are still many breeds all over the world who have their tails docked and many veterinarians willing to do it with as little pain and risk as possible. There is a need for it in many cases and a great desire for it in others. Regardless, your vet or the vets here at Tier 1 VMC can help you navigate the waters. Just open the lines of communication.
Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.