Pet health special: Taking a bite out of canine debarking

To communicate, we talk, sing and sometimes yell. Dogs bark. They bark softly and playfully, loud and aggressively and sometimes nonstop.

Pugs. Dalmatians. Labrador retrievers. Wheaton terriers. And even Golden doodles do it. (If you know of a non-barking breed, let me know!)

But what happens when barking becomes too much for pet owners?

Some pet parents have turned to a surgical procedure known as canine devocalization—or debarking.

In brief, debarking removes tissue from a dog’s vocal cords or folds under general anesthesia to decrease the volume, intensity or pitch of the bark.

The procedure is generally slated as a last resort measure if the pooch in question faces being surrendered from a home or even euthanasia but it is considered a predominantly cosmetic practice. (It is also used to correct laryngeal paralysis.)

Recently, Michigan animal activists have been urging the American Veterinary Medical Association to support the banning of debarking practices seeing it as an inhumane, elective practice.

The AVMA, an organization solely for veterinarians, currently has a policy that discourages veterinarians from canine devocalization except in last resort instances, Tom McPheron, a media relations contact for AVMA said. “But, as always, we do welcome input on our policies.”

To date, three states—Ohio, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—have legislation outlawing the practice. (New York also has legislation in the works to ban canine devocalization.)

But Tim Duncan, a veterinarian at Oakland Animal Hospital argues that going as far as completely outlawing the practice would be a bad choice.

“I feel strongly that the state should not outlaw this procedure, as it (would) remove a final option for certain animals, instead of euthanasia,” he said.

In 15 years of practice, Duncan has only performed two procedures specifically for devocalization and they have been last resort instances before euthanasia.

“One gentleman had a schnauzer that refused to stop barking, even with the help of several in-home training companies,” he said.

“The police were threatening to take and euthanize his dog due to neighbor complaints—He lived within a condominium complex and his association had rules regarding nuisance barking.”

“So, last resort prior to him losing his dog, we performed devocalization.  And, he kept his dog.  That was eight years ago, the last time I performed the surgery,” Duncan said.

Duncan also reminds us that it is important to remember the procedure is removing an animal’s natural behavior and in fact does not always work.

Like any surgical procedure, there are also several risks related to canine devocalization such as scar tissue formation, bleeding, narrowing of the throat and more.

“So, the best option is training,” he said.

Behavior management can truly help a pet’s family get to the root cause of excessive barking, which might be anxiety, social isolation or even poor eyesight.

“Medically, I feel that appropriate (training) is the only truly effective way to correct inappropriate and excessive vocalization,” Duncan said.

The Michigan Humane Society of Rochester Hills does not perform canine devocalization, nor do they advocate for it, but their team offers and recommends several behavioral classes and even a pet hotline—248.650.0127—to help answer any training questions.

The MHS offers Canine College, a Four-Legged Rascals program as well as in-home training called Herr Pet Training.

(For more information, visit www.Michiganhumane.org.)

Looking to adopt a furry friend?

This Sunday, Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the MHS will also hold an adoption event at Pet Smart (2724 S. Adams Road). Dogs, puppies, cats, kittens, rabbits and bunnies will be present.

To learn more about the AVMA and their policy on devocalization, please visit https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Backgrounders/Pages/Canine-Devocalization-Backgrounder.aspx and https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Canine-Devocalization.aspx.

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About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at JenBucciarelli@gmail.com.

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