Enforceable laws banning elective voice-altering surgery on ALL dogs and cats protect human interests as well as animals.
Enforceable laws that prohibit elective voice-altering surgery on dogs and cats are important for the wellbeing of our communities as well as animals. Here's why it's never advisable to cut a dog's or cat's vocal cords for any reason but to treat a physical ailment.
Risks to People People are at risk when an animal’s vocal communication is compromised.
Surgically stifling an animal's voice may lead to biting. The top reasons for unwanted barking are boredom, loneliness and distress, such as anxiety. All can be managed humanely with proper care, behavior modification and, as needed, medication. Cutting vocal cords does not address the animal's needs; it just makes it easier for the owner to ignore them. Not only is that inhumane, it is dangerous to people when the frustrated animal must resort to other attention-seeking behavior such as biting. And even a small dog's bite can do big harm, especially to a child or frail elder.
It removes or diminishes the vocal distinctions that tell people whether the animal wants to play—or will attack. Humans are not adept at reading animal body language, especially when the dog or cat is not their own. Audible, unambiguous vocal cues are essential.
For example, few realize a dog’s wagging tail may be a sign of agitation not friendliness. A senior in the park bending over to pet a frightened or protective devocalized dog can’t possibly know the animal's muffled, nondescript vocalizations mean “leave me alone or I’ll bite you.”
Animals have been relinquished to shelters or sold without disclosure of devocalization ("bark softening"), causing the new owner great hardship. Surgery to remove scar tissue that may develop over the airway after vocal cord surgery can cost $2,000 or more, and may need to be repeated. Unsuspecting people who buy or adopt these animals then face a devastating choice they did not anticipate: euthanasia of a beloved pet or a significant financial burden. Or they may unwittingly cause the animal's death by feeding dry food--which can be a choking hazard after vocal cord surgery--or through exercise and play that normal animals can tolerate but one with a compromised airway cannot.
Risks to Communities Altering an animal's voice may create public safety risks and burden taxpayer-funded resources such as animal control.
Cutting vocal cords doesn't teach animals to obey; training does. Even devocalized animals may soil public property, bite the letter carrier, jump on children and frail elders in the park, or run into the street, burdening municipalities far more than barking or meowing do! There are no surgeries to correct those behaviors. Training and supervision do.
Access to voice-altering surgery, a quick fix that only masks the symptom, doesn't teach owners responsible stewardship of dogs and cats. It is the harder work of consistent training, humane care and responsible supervision of animals that is necessary to manage all behavior, including vocalization.
It lets hoarders and illegal breeding enterprises go undetected. Keeping many animals in an apartment or other residential setting compromises neighbors' safety, wellbeing and property values. Breeding without any oversight compromises animals and the people who purchase them.
Risks to Animals Veterinarians board-certified in surgery, anesthesiology and internal medicine say there is no benign way to alter a dog's or cat's voice. There are serious risks, some life-threatening, regardless of the vet's skill and experience; the surgical route; and the instrument used, including laser.
Blood loss, adverse reaction to anesthesia, and infection are among the risks of all surgeries. The risk of infection is greater for vocal cord surgery due to resident bacteria in the larynx and trachea.
Impaired breathing and swallowing occur when scar tissue--a normal part of the healing process--forms in the throat. Even a little scarring can be deadly.
Devocalized animals are at increased risking for choking on food. Gasping for air is a terrifying way to die.
They're also at increased risk for heatstroke even when it's not hot because they can't pant normally.
And they're at increased risk during procedures requiring anesthesia, because strictures in the throat make it difficult to intubate (keep the airway open).
Many voice-altered animals can't exercise and play like others their age because their breathing is impaired. That can lead to additional health problems, such as obesity.
Many endure the misery of chronic coughing and gagging the rest of their lives.
Others inhale food, liquid or vomit into their lungs because their larynx no longer can close properly. This in turn can cause pneumonia.
Experts who contributed information to this page include:
Barbara Hodges, DVM Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association
Kelly McCartney, Director of Animal Control, City of Buffalo, NY
Pat Miller, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, Fairplay, MD Past President, Association of Pet Dog Trainers Board of Directors, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
Joel Woolfson, DVM, DACVS, Boston, MA Board-certified veterinary surgeon