ASK THE VET: Other nations ban tail docking of dogs because it can cause lasting harm

Q: Our Rottweiler has a docked tail, as do many dogs in the U.S. While watching a British dog show on television, I noticed that all the show dogs had natural, undocked tails. Why?

A: Many countries ban cosmetic tail docking, or amputation of the tail, because the risks of long-term problems are greater than any perceived cosmetic benefit.

Tail docking handicaps dogs, robbing them of the ability to use their tails to signal their moods and intentions. Conversely, when a dog with a full-length tail wags it to greet another dog, the other dog is less apt to feel threatened and respond aggressively.

Dogs also use their tails for balance while running and as rudders when they swim, so dogs with docked tails have additional disadvantages.

Cosmetic tail amputation further harms dogs because it can cause chronic tail pain. This pain can sensitize the central nervous system, making minor discomforts anywhere in the body feel extremely painful for the remainder of the dog's life.

Several situations can cause chronic pain after tail docking:

 ◼️ The dog may experience "phantom limb" pain of the tail, a common occurrence after any amputation;

 ◼️ The person amputating the tail may cut through a tail bone instead of between two bones;

 ◼️ Insufficient skin may remain to cover the boney stub; and

 ◼️ A painful nerve tumor called a neuroma can form at the amputation site.

In the U.S., tail docking is usually done without anesthesia on very young puppies by breeders or veterinarians. In the United Kingdom, tail docking is banned, as it is in most European and South American countries, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Africa and many other nations.

Q: I rarely find ticks on my indoor-outdoor cats, so I assume they groom any ticks off their bodies before they become embedded. Does this mean I don't have to apply a tick preventive?

A: Your cats may indeed be grooming most of the ticks off their bodies, though I frequently see ticks on cats' faces. Because even one tick can cause disease, I recommend you use a tick preventive regularly.

In cats, the most serious tick-borne disease is cytauxzoonosis, which is caused by a one-celled protozoal parasite called Cytauxzoon felis. This parasite lives in bobcats without causing them much difficulty. When a lone star tick or an American dog tick bites an infected bobcat, it ingests the parasite.

Soon after the infected tick bites a domestic cat, clinical signs of cytauxzoonosis appear. Within a week, the disease progresses from fever, loss of appetite, breathing problems, jaundice and enlarged liver and spleen to death.

Aggressive treatment must be started immediately and continued for up to a week before the cat begins to improve. Because treatment is expensive and often unsuccessful, prevention is crucial.

Cytauxzoonosis occurs throughout the world. In the U.S., the disease is most prevalent in the South and Midwest. It affects only cats; despite its name, cytauxzoonosis is not a zoonotic disease that spreads to humans.

Ticks also transmit Anaplasma, Ehrlichia and tularemia bacteria, which can cause fever, loss of appetite, lethargy and other problems in cats.

So, ask your veterinarian to recommend a tick and flea preventive for your cats, and use it throughout the year. Or, better yet, keep your cats indoors where they will be protected not only from tick-borne diseases but also from predators, automobiles, toxins and other dangers.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at