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PET’S CORNER Tails wag for new law banning docking


Yorkshire terrier
BRIGHT EYED AND BUSHY TAILED?The painful and unnecessary procedure of tail docking, often seen in breeds like Yorkshire terriers, is now illegal.

Tails wag for new law banning docking

Ask the Vet
Ester Van Luipen

It is now illegal to remove the tail and dew claws from puppies for cosmetic reasons. The new legislation, introduced on March 6, has been welcomed by animal welfare organisations and Veterinary Ireland, which fought long and hard to make the practice illegal.
Certain breeds of dogs are traditionally docked to prevent injuries of the tail whilst hunting or baiting. A dog could get injured while going through dense briars or get bitten by a rat. In order to prevent this, tails were docked at a very young age (3-5 days old).
Nowadays, however, most dogs are docked because their ‘breed standards’ prescribe it. It has become more of a cosmetic issue than a functional one. For example, breeders of Yorkshire terriers tend to dock the tails because ‘they wouldn’t look right with a tail’ or because they think people won’t buy undocked puppies.
As a vet, I often ask new owners of docked puppies why they bought a dog with a docked tail. Most answer that they didn’t realise that the puppy was docked or that there was such a thing as undocked puppies.   
Intensely painful
Tail docking is an intensely painful procedure that was usually carried out by lay people without anaesthetics. There is a widespread misconception that puppies don’t feel pain because their nervous systems haven’t developed yet. However, recent research shows that it is actually the other way around: Because the inhibitory pain pathways haven’t developed completely yet puppies feel the pain much more intensely than an adult dog would do.
Also people who dock puppies say that the puppies go back to the bitch to suck immediately after the procedure, which, according to them, shows that the puppies don’t mind it and go about their business the same as usual. They don’t even go off their food, they say. Unfortunately, the reason that the puppies go back to their mother is because the mother secretes pheromones, a ‘happy hormone’, that soothes the pain.

Tail docking is not without risks either. Puppies can end up bleeding to death from their tail, or the tail can get infected with very serious consequences. Studies also show that there is an increased risk of urinary incontinence in later life due to tail docking. So, when people dock tails in a misconceived bid to prevent injuries, they are actually causing much more harm.

Why tails matter
Dogs need their tail as balance, to defecate properly and, most important, to communicate with other dogs. The position of the tail and the way it is moved shows the emotion of the dog, its social status and willingness to fight or play.
Because most puppies that are being docked nowadays will be kept as pets, there is no reason to make them go through the intense pain of, and serious risks associated with tail docking.
Dogs tails are absolutely essential to their wellbeing – they are their pride and joy, so let’s let them keep them!

Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. Feel free to contact her with any of your small-animal concerns on 094 9373955 or at