In veterinary medicine we perform numerous types of amputations on a regular basis. Usually they’re necessary operations that benefit the health of our patients. Some common injuries that necessitate amputation are traumatic mutilations of an appendage rendering it unsalvageable eg. a shredded ear, a dead tail, a limb with bone cancer that may spread, or a severely injured limb.
I’ve adopted two feline amputees. Both were involved in traumatic events as kittens. Tadg’s ear was removed due to a necrotic infection and Camilla’s front leg was amputated after being hit by a car, permanently damaging the nerves in her leg. Despite their handicaps, they live completely normal cat lives (as most three legged and amputee animals adapt very well.)
In cases like Camilla and Tadg, there’s no doubt as to what a veterinary professional’s mode of action is to uphold the humane treatment of our animal clientele.
However sometimes we’re faced with difficult cases where an owner has attempted to amputate a tail other appendage using inhumane methods. For example, rubber-bands wrapped around testicles or tails in order to cut-off blood supply in hopes that the body part will eventually fall off, can, and often does, go terribly wrong.
Farmers correctly use lambing rings or bands remove lamb tails and testicles—while not my favorite practice, these bands are specifically designed for this purpose on lambs. But there can be disastrous results if placed on puppies or dogs. These bands are not designed for dog tails (which are smaller in diameter than lamb tails) causing a slow lack of blood supply, are very painful, and usually don’t work. A week later I’m presented with a swollen infected dog held by a shame-faced owner. At this point I’m forced to amputate after the animal has been ill and suffered unnecessarily.
The Morally Questionable:
There are a wide range of views around the world concerning amputation or cropping of ears, tails, dew-claws, de-vocalization/de-barking, and cat declawing.
Unless injured, in need amputation, or a specific working breed dog, (i.e. sprinters and types of pointers), these are widely considered acts of mutilation within Ireland, the U.K., and many European countries. In Ireland, it’s illegal for vets to dock tails and crop ears without good medical reason. However in the states, these surgeries are performed on a routine basis, often only for cosmetic purposes.
When I was in vet school in Ireland, I never learned any of these surgical procedures since they were all either illegal or extremely frowned upon by the veterinary community. However when I began working in the states I was faced with the ethical dilemma and expectation to know and perform them!
I quickly realized that either I become a quick study and incorporate these cosmetic surgeries into my daily routine or I’d face losing my job. I always gave multiple options to owners prior to these procedures, and went over exactly what the surgery entailed—declawing is the equivalent of chopping off the last bone of your finger! But usually owners still opted for the surgery, so I perfected my technique in order to cause the least amount of post-surgical complications as possible.
This unfortunately back-fired for me and I became the go-to vet for cat declawing in my clinic! As you can imagine, I was thrilled when we returned to Ireland where I’d never be expected to declaw another cat again.
Because, from my point of view, I became a vet to promote animal welfare and heal animals—not to help a client win a prize at a dog show or keep her couch free of a few claw marks.
What are your thoughts on amputations and cosmetic surgeries in veterinary medicine?
And I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween!