Dogs with docked tails are significantly less likely to sustain tail injuries, finds research published in Veterinary Record. But the overall level of tail injuries is very low, say the authors of the study, which is based on more than 138,000 dogs seen at 52 veterinary practices across Britain between March 2008 and March 2009.
The practice of tail docking to remove most of the tail to prevent this type of injury in dogs was banned in Britain in 2007, although some exemptions apply for specific breeds of working dog.
Among the 138,212 dogs seen by vets at the 52 practices during the study period, 281 were treated for a tail injury – a rate of 0.23%, adjusted for sampling.
The owners of 224 of these injured dogs, as well as a random sample of 799 owners whose dogs had not been treated for tail injury were sent a questionnaire on dog tail injuries and docking.
Only 97 of the owners whose dogs needed treatment and 227 of those whose dogs had not been injured replied.
But their responses indicated that around one in three tail injuries (36%; 35 cases) had occurred at home as a result of the dog knocking its tail against a wall, kennel wall or other household object.
A further 17.5% (17 cases) were sustained outdoors, while 14.4% (14 cases) were caused by the tail being caught in a door. In 15 (15.5%) other causes were cited; and in 16 (16.5%), the cause was unknown. Almost half of the injuries (44%) were recurrent.
Over half the cases were treated with drugs and dressings, but in almost one in three cases, amputation was required. Eleven dogs did not need any treatment.
Certain breeds seemed to be more at risk, with springer and cocker spaniels almost six times as likely to sustain a tail injury as labradors and retrievers.
Greyhounds, lurchers, and whippets were almost seven times as likely to do so, possibly because of the lack of protective hair on their tails, say the authors. Dogs with a wide angle of wag were also almost four times as likely to be injured in this way, while dogs kept in kennels were more than 3.5 times as likely to sustain a tail injury.
Only 35 owners said their dogs had had their tail docked, and on the basis of their overall findings, the authors calculated that tail docking would reduce the risk of injury by 12%.
But in absolute terms, 500 dogs would need to have their tail docked in order to prevent one tail injury.
“Tail docking remains a controversial issue,” say the authors. “The debate is centred on whether non-therapeutic tail docking reduces the risk of tail injuries sufficiently to justify the ethical concerns regarding this [preventive] intervention.”
So, what’s your view on the subject of tail docking? Have your say in the comments section below…