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Tail Docking in Dogs

By: PetPlace Staff

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Tail docking is the surgical removal of part of the tail. This procedure is most often performed in healthy puppies between 2 to 5 days of age. A similar procedure may be performed in older pets, but this is considered a tail amputation, not a tail dock.

What Are the Indications for Performing Tail Docking?

Tail docking is most often performed in puppies to prevent tail damage in certain breeds, for hygiene reasons and to comply with specific breed standards.

What Preoperative Examinations or Tests Are Needed?

Preoperative tests depend in part on the age and general health of the animal as well as the cause for the tail docking. Since the procedure is most often performed on very young, healthy puppies, preoperative tests are usually not performed.

What Type of Anesthesia is Needed?

In puppies less than 8 days of age, either local anesthetic or no anesthesia is used. If the puppy is over 8 days of age, many veterinarians delay the procedure until the pup is at least 8 weeks of age. At that time, general anesthesia is needed to induce unconsciousness, complete control of pain, and muscle relaxation. If general anesthesia is used, the pet may receive a pre-anesthetic sedative-analgesic drug to help him relax, a brief intravenous anesthetic to allow placement of a breathing tube in the windpipe, and subsequently inhalation (gas) anesthesia in oxygen during the actual surgery.

How Is the Tail Docking Operation Done?

Your pet is placed on his back. An incision is made about ¼ to 1 inch from the base of the tail. The distance from the tail base will depend on the standard for the particular breed. The incision extends through the skin and continues between two vertebrae in older dogs or through cartilage in very young puppies. At this point, the majority of the tail has been removed. The skin is then sutured closed over the remaining vertebra and tail tissue. Sutures may be absorbable or may need to be removed 5 to 7 days later. When the procedure is performed in older dogs, a temporary bandage is placed over the surgery site, and the bandage is removed after 2 to 3 days.

How Long Does Tail Docking Take to Perform?

The procedure takes about 5 to 30 minutes to perform in most cases, including the needed time for preparation and anesthesia.

What Are the Risks and Complications?

The overall risk of this surgery is low. The major risks are those of general anesthesia (if used), bleeding (hemorrhage), postoperative infection and wound breakdown (dehiscence) over the incision.

What Is the Typical Postoperative Aftercare?

Daily monitoring of the suture line is an important aspect of home care. Watch for signs of redness, discharge, swelling or pain. The puppy can be placed back with his mother immediately. Watch the mother for excessive grooming of the surgical site. Any bandage that is placed should be removed in 2 to 3 days. Sutures may also need to be removed, especially if the procedure was done in an older animal. Non-absorbable sutures are removed 5 to 7 days after surgery.

How Long Is the Hospital Stay?

The typical stay following a tail docking is 2 to 3 hours but will vary depending on the overall health of the pet and the underlying reason for the surgery. Most puppies are docked without anesthesia and are typically taken home shortly after the procedure.

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