In January 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) updated its policy on devocalization, an elective surgery in which vocal cord tissue is cut to suppress a dog's or cat's voice.
Calls, emails and a change.org petition with more than 150,000 signatures--all asking the AVMA to take an unequivocal stand against this convenience surgery--made no impact. The association came back with a position that voice-altering surgery should be allowed as a "final alternative to euthanasia."
That is unenforceable. No vet can know, some won't ask, if the client pursued all other options correctly, consistently or at all.
It is baseless. There are many humane solutions for unwanted barking and meowing, starting with responsible selection, care, training and supervision of companion animals. Medication and behavior modification under the guidance of a veterinary behaviorist can help even anxious dogs and cats.
Further, no vet is forced either to cut healthy vocal cords or euthanize a healthy animal for barking or meowing.
Shelters and concerned vets say rehoming is the kind and responsible "final alternative." They point out that surgically masking barking or meowing does not protect healthy dogs and cats from euthanasia--and could increase the risk. (Scroll down for their proposed alternative to the AVMA policy.)
That's why a growing number of vets are calling for laws banning vocal cord surgery on dogs and cats except to treat a physical ailment causing the animal medical harm.
THE AVMA'S 2013 DEVOCALIZATION POLICY... Canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative to euthanasia after behavioral modification to correct excessive vocalization has failed and after discussion of potential complications from the procedure with the owner. When dogs are housed in groups (e.g. laboratories, breeding facilities, kennels) devocalization should not be used as an alternative to appropriate animal management and facility design.
... AND WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT
Cats are devocalized too; it’s documented. This policy doesn't consider them at all.
"should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians"
Veterinarians board-certified in surgery, anesthesiology and internal medicine say: Surgically altering the vocal foldsis always dangerous, even in the hands of qualified, licensed veterinarians. Even a small cut through the open mouth, trivialized as "bark softening," bleeds and forms scar tissue that can impair breathing and swallowing and cause lifelong persistent coughing and gagging. Exposing animals to these risks just to mask their natural voices is inhumane.
"as a final alternative to euthanasia"
This is a false choice: There are many effective, humane ways to manage barking and meowing, with rehoming a humane “final alternative" for owners who can't or won't pursue them. No one need resort to the extremes of cutting healthy vocal cord tissue or killing a healthy animal for barking or meowing.
“Final alternative” is unenforceable. No vet can know--and some won’t ask--if a client has provided responsible care and training, essential to manage all animal behavior. Even receipts from a trainer don’t mean the client followed instructions correctly, consistently or at all; voice-altering surgery is easier for the owner, profitable for the vet. Only the animal suffers.
There is always a reason for persistent vocalization that should be addressed, according to veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, DVA, DACVB, DACVA. The animal may be bored, lonely or need more exercise. Some people unwittingly reward and reinforce the vocalization they say annoys them. Others keep too many animals or place "talkative" breeds like Sheltie dogs and Siamese cats where their voices won't be tolerated. Cutting the animal's vocal cords to compensate for poor judgment is inhumane and irresponsible.
Shelter executives say devocalized animals are given up and euthanized like any other dog or cat. The cost of maintaining a pet--including veterinary care--is among the top ten reasons for relinquishment. Barking and meowing are not.
Other top reasons for surrender and euthanasia--biting and house-soiling--may be caused or worsened by devocalization. Surgically stifling an animal's voice makes it easier for owners to ignore without addressing the triggers for persistent vocalization; the most common are boredom, loneliness and distress such as anxiety. That leaves the frustrated animal with little choice but to seek other attention-seeking behaviors that are more irksome or dangerous than barking or meowing.
Devocalization also can increase the risk of euthanasia when owners can't or won't pay for the costly procedure needed to remove scar tissue from their animal's airway. Scar tissue development, a normal outcome of any surgery, can be deadly in the throat.
"When dogs are housed in groups (e.g. laboratories, breeding facilities, kennels) devocalization should not be used as an alternative to appropriate animal management"
This is akin to the unenforceable "final alternative" position, sanctioning the use of devocalization by animal-testing labs and breeders as long as "appropriate animal management and facility design" is claimed.
CONCERNED VETS PROPOSE THIS POLICY INSTEAD Concerned veterinarians such as those in this video have joined with animal shelters, advocacy groups and others in calling for an unequivocal ban on elective voice-altering surgery. They say cutting vocal cords just to stifle a dog's or cat's voice is cruel, and no one--including vets--should be allowed to engage in animal cruelty.
A more animal-protective position would be:
Any surgical procedure involving the vocal apparatus of dogs and cats should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians and only to treat a physical illness, disease, injury or birth defect causing the animal medical harm that cannot be relieved by other veterinary care.