Dog tail docking and dew claw removal to be banned as new animal welfare regulations come into effect October 1st

VetEnt Veterinarians are educating clients about changes to the animal welfare regulations coming into effect on October 1st, 2018. The changes will make non-therapeutic dog tail docking and dog dew claw removal an offence, and the allowance for therapeutic procedures is only extended to those procedures performed by a vet. 

Veterinarian Nina Field, from VetEnt Ashburton, describes tail docking as ‘removing part of an animal’s tail, by either reducing blood supply to the tail with a rubber ligature for a few days until the tail falls off, or severing the tail with surgical scissors or a scalpel.’ 

The docking of dog tails has been a common practice in New Zealand, done mostly for aesthetic reasons, convenience and as a perceived injury prevention method. Research shows that tail injuries are rare, and that there is no close relationship between whether breeds are docked and whether they are used for activities likely to cause tail injury (e.g. hunting). A dog’s tail is important for balance, as well as communication with other dogs and humans. Gretchen, a client at VetEnt Ashburton, and owner of two beautiful Boxers, says ‘I couldn't get a dog with a docked tail, as to me it's like taking away their ability to smile, and the use of their tail to communicate.’ On balance, given the infrequency of tail injuries and the vital role a tail plays in a dog’s communication, routine tail docking has been deemed as unjustified.  

A dew claw is the extra digit on the upper, inner part of a dog’s foot. If the dog were human, the dew claw would be a thumb. Dew claws are removed for a number of reasons, both functional and aesthetic. They can be overgrown and require trimming, and they can also catch on objects like fences as the dog is working or playing. 

There are two types of dew claws, which dogs use for handling larger objects like bones, and in some breeds for changing direction when running. The first is an ‘articulated’ dew claw, meaning the claw is attached to the leg by joints and tendons; it’s harder and more painful to remove. The second is a ‘non-articulated’ dew claw, which is attached by a flap of skin and some tissue, requiring less involvement to remove, but still a good deal of pain for the dog. Field explains ‘front dew claws are usually articulated, while rear dew claws are often non-articulated.’  

There are benefits to retaining dew claws, and their removal causes undoubted stress and pain. Therefore the new regulations for dew claws are two-fold: front limb dew claws or articulated hind limb dew claws must not be removed at any age; and non-articulated hind limb dew claws must not be removed in a dog four days of age or older. The exception to the regulations is if the procedure is carried out by a veterinarian who also uses pain relief. The new rules will be of particular note to breeders who are used to removing dew claws without the help of a vet.  

Field says ‘the potential fines for violating the new regs can be hefty, up to $3,000’. Vets will also be required (legally) to report any suspect tail docking or dew claw amputation to the SPCA. 

Field urges dog owners who have questions about dog tail docking or dew claws, or the new regulations, to ‘get in touch with your local vet for a chat’.

A dog's tail is used for communication and balance
A dog's tail is used for communication and balance
01 October 2018, 23:40