Veterinary Viewpoint,
The Boxer Tail by Walker G Miller BVMS DBR MRCVS

Less distressing

I t looks to me as if we, as Boxer breeders, have a real fight on our hands this time for the right to continue docking. I as a veterinary surgeon do not mind if some of my professional colleagues do not agree with the procedure but please let those of us who have first hand knowledge of the advantages of it be allowed to continue to do so. It is my belief that no respected and caring breeder would ever allow new born puppies to be docked if they thought it painful or cruel. If this procedure was carried out by their own veterinary surgeon as early as possible in life then future tail damage would not occur. My wife has now been breeding for nearly 30 years and as long as the pups are fit and thriving then she gets them docked at 48 hours old and they never feel it and go back to the bitch immediately for a suck. It is my experience of treating animals of many species that if a young animal is in pain it will not drink or eat. I have never seen a recently docked puppy refuse to suck as long as it is fit and healthy when the procedure is carried out. It is also my view that the earlier in life docking is carried out the less distressing to mum and pup it is.

Repeat surgery

In Sweden docking has been prohibited since January 1989 and the number of tail injuries in my opinion is far too high and could be declared as cruelty in some cases. At the end of December 1997 the number of tail injuries was up to 15% out of which 10% are supported by veterinary certificate. A lot of breeders seem reluctant to report tail injuries because they do not want their vet to appear on statistics associated with docking or amputation. As only the damaged area of the tail is allowed to be amputated it has now been reported that a large proportion of those initially operated on have to have repeat surgery at least once if not twice. In Sweden the Boxer is the second most reported breed to have tail injuries since the ban on docking.

With a tail

I am of the view that prevention is better than cure so surely the above facts speak for themselves. I always remember speaking to a prospective puppy purchaser and she asked if my wife would keep a puppy for her out of the next litter with a tail as she thought a Boxer would look good with a tail. As would be expected this was refused but a long explanation of why the tail should be docked in the Boxer was given. The reason given was of course to prevent future tail injury and hence suffering. The lady did not agree with this and purchased a puppy from Wales with a tail. Fifteen months later I received a two page typed letter explaining how the dog had just had his tail amputated due to repeated tail injuries. The tail could never heal properly and was always bandaged but still due to the nature of the Boxer tail had always managed to bleed. The letter went on to explain the pain and suffering the dog had after amputation and that it had lasted for nearly three weeks. The owner explains how she had sat up with the dog for the first week as he had tried to chew and lick at the wound constantly despite having a lampshade collar on. He had to have antibiotics and very strong pain killers. Her final paragraph in the letter said that she wished she had listened to us and bought a docked puppy because the pain and torture the dog had gone through for over six months was dreadful.

Spondylosis

Having had to amputate tails in my own practice on normally docked breeds 1 would 100% agree with the above Boxer owner. It is a nightmare to get these tails to heal post surgery and in this case, unlike Sweden , the tail was taken back to its normal length so it cannot be redamaged or get banged again during healing.

I do not want to think what sort of tail injuries we will get if docking is stopped in certain breeds and can only say as a veterinary surgeon that painless prevention is better than a painful cure. One other thought for Boxer breeders is that I am sure we will see an increase in spondylosis (arthritis of the spine) if docking is stopped due to the new abnormal way the Boxer will have to carry and wag this long thick electric tail. This is definitely an article idea for a future edition.

Agonising

The final plea from me is for you all to go along to your local MP and discus politely the implications a ban on docking will have to the breed. State that in other countries where docking has been stopped how there is a high percentage of tail injuries and also about the painful operation and long agonising recovery needed to rectify the situation. Adopt a new saying to everyone in that PAINLESS PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN A PAINFUL CURE.

This is the end of my tail for this edition and hope by the time I write my next article that the Boxer is still able to be docked by caring veterinary surgeons who agree with the cause.

Originaly published in Boxer Quarterly and reprinted here by kind permission of the Editor