Should Debarking Surgery Be Outlawed?

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Every year, thousands of dogs undergo a procedure called a ventriculocordectomy, commonly known as debarking or devocalization. It's a highly controversial surgery most veterinarians prefer to use only as a last resort.

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Unfortunately, too many dog owners -- out of laziness, ignorance, or both -- opt for the surgery before they've tried the myriad behavioral solutions for excessive barking. They may tell a vet they've done everything to deal with the barking, and what's a vet to do? Send over spy cams?



The American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) official position on the procedure is that it should be used only when all else has failed. But a Change.org petition is asking the organization to consider devocalization a mutilation and calling for the end of it. According to the petition's introduction, only one state, Massachusetts, has laws against debarking. Petition signers would like to see the procedure be illegal across the U.S. Some 140,000 have already signed on.

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Debarked dogs are easy to recognize as soon as they open their mouths to say something. They try to bark and but instead out comes a raspy, coughlike sound. Sometimes these dogs gag on their barks. I met one of these dogs a few years ago, and she looked very disturbed and uncomfortable when she barked. It was even disturbing to hear her try. Her owner told me she wished she'd never had it done.




In a very informative New York Times piece on the procedure, veterinarian Sharon Vanderlip provides some excellent answers to reader questions. She describes the two surgical techniques used in devocalization.

One technique, known as laryngotomy, is painful, dangerous, and can ruin a dog for life. Fortunately, this Spanish Inquisition-like procedure is not the method most veterinarians use these days. But the fact that anyone still resorts to it is very disturbing. Vanderlip describes it:

"This technique involves making a two-inch incision on the skin of the neck, above the dog's larynx, separating the muscles, cauterizing blood vessels, entering the larynx, removing all of the dog's vocal fold tissue and stitching the incision back together. This technique is invasive, painful, requires gas anesthesia and has a prolonged recovery time. There can be serious postoperative complications, including seroma formation, delayed healing and tissue damage. Scarring can be so extensive that the dog can have difficulty breathing for the rest of its life."

The other surgery is done through the mouth and takes only a couple of minutes; dogs are generally able to eat and drink right away. Vets remove a small bit of tissue in one or both vocal folds of the anesthetized dog. It's far less invasive and dangerous, and much better tolerated, but it's by no means always the walk in the park it's supposed to be.

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"Though an experienced vet devocalized our gentle giant, Porter, in the least invasive way, scar tissue formed in his throat, making it hard for him to breathe and swallow; he rasps, coughs and gags throughout the day like a chain smoker," writes one of the originators of the petition. "Because devocalization permanently damaged his larynx too, he's at great risk for inhaling food, liquids, even vomit into his lungs."

Porter, the big sweetie in this video, had a $2,000 surgery to try to help him breathe better after his previous owners had him debarked. (Oh, and they gave him up anyway.) It didn't do much good. So sad!

But what about the people who have, indeed, tried everything? What if the choice comes down to debarking or giving up the dog because of complaining neighbors or the law? It can be a death sentence for the barker if the latter is the option. Excessive barking is a big reason many dogs are in shelters. They're not exactly highly adoptable.

So what's worse in this situation: Muffling a dog's voice or killing the dog? AKC honoree Charlotte McGowan opts for the surgery.

"It's giving a tool to someone who really loves their animal and is at the end of their rope," McGowan, who refers to the procedure as "bark softening," told NBC News.

What do you think? Will you sign the petition? If so, what about caring owners who have tried utterly everything and are facing the prospect of their dog being destroyed? Should there be some amendment for them if they can prove their case? Let's talk in the comments!

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Karen

Only after all abortions are outlawed !!

November 14 2012 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jackie

I think most people forget that training your pet is not as easy as saying sit and the dog sits... come and they come...Dogs like people have their own minds and their own agendas. Debarking protects the lives of dogs from people who would harm them. Most people don't go out to buy a dog to intentionally get them debarked. They are forced to do it by complaining neighbors who threaten their dogs safety. You who oppose this blame the owner and want to devocalize the owner, what about the neighbor who forced them to take such drastic measures to protect the animals the owner loves. Think about that...Also take a moment and think about circumcision of a new born child... surgically cutting away skin from a child and for what (to protect them from illness) so until we are willing to outlaw all surgeries that alter human or animal we should consider debarking as a preventative of death.

November 03 2012 at 11:16 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jackie's comment
mrsdelorio

I'm sorry but your comparison to circumcision is absurd....debarking a dog is mutilation. As far as I know I have never heard of any issues circumcision has caused and is said to be a positive thing as it is more hygienic. . Whereas, debarking is seriously dangerous to a dogs life. These people who are spending thousands of dollars for this procedure are cruel and lazy. For that amount of money, they can find a professional trainer to teach the dog when it is time to bark. Dogs are extremely smart creatures and can be taught to do almost anything. If anyone loves their dog as much as I do, I would move before debarking my dog. There are children and babies in particular who incessantly cry and scream and throw temper tantrums...should these people go de-vocalize them? No, we teach them and we educate them, just like the dog should be and can be taught. It is mutilation, it is dangerous and it is wrong.

November 13 2012 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrsdelorio's comment
Kate

Do you even know what you are talking about??!!! Debarking a dog is NOT mutilation; any more than a tonsillectomy is, and is also no more dangerous than a tonsillectomy.

When a dog barks and barks, and barks, it is scared. The barking becomes a frenzy of sorts, and further elevates the out-of-control fear. The family cannot hear themselves think, let alone stop the barking frenzy. Rolled up newspapers slapped into a hand or object may make a noise that will startle the dog to stop it from barking.... for a moment, but now that poor dog has the added fear that it's loving family is now, NOT loving, during the barking frenzy. We see this is many smaller breed dogs, and it becomes a viscous circle of raised blood pressure, anger and frustration from the owners, and elevated fear from the dog.

When a dog is debarked, the dog still has a voice; just not such a loud, piercing voice, and in time, the bark does come back a bit louder, but again, it is not that piercing, frenzy bark any more.

Years ago, we had a Pomeranian; a sweet, sweet little family member, but she was a chronic barker. Any time anyone came to the door, she became an explosion of bark, we became a livid family, and the guest was literally attacked with the barrage of noise, till they left. It was terrible! Nothing we did, not even picking her up to hold her calmed her down, and in fact, everyone's blood pressure was elevated, including hers. She was to become a pound puppy, and we were to become a very sad family over losing her to her barking behavior. Then we heard about debarking, and we couldn't get her in fast enough to have the procedure done.

WOW! Having her debarked changed our family, and she was so, so much happier. When someone came to the door, she could bark to her heart's content without interrupting conversations, and she became a "Cute little barking dog." As a result, her barking would subside, because she was no longer getting the feelings of disapproval from her loving family, and guests were no longer giving out the frustration she got from them before. Her own bark no longer startled her, and it became more of an announcement than a fear barking frenzy.

She was a MUCH more secure, and happy little sweetheart, and everyone lavished so much love towards her, that she eventually lost her fears of visitors. She lived a long life of happiness, and finally died of old age, at the age of 21 years. Honestly, I think she lived longer because of the debarking result of calm, that gave her a happier life.

March 23 2013 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Patricia McCann

This is a very safe procedure when it is performed by a competent licensed veterinarian. Yes, it can have complications just as any surgery can. Yes, it can save a dog from certain death. Yes, it works and is effective for a dog that barks outdoors chronically--often because he has been teased by neighbors or even by squirrels that take great pleasure sitting atop a fence and inviting the attention. But why is AVMA taking issue with this procedure and not with spay/neuter??

Yes, it is a surgery of convenience to an owner just as spay/neuter surgery is also a convenience to an owner who considers supervising an intact dog to prevent breeding. The latter is wholeheartedly endorsed for the lazy owners around the country by AMVA as well as many dog organizations, yet the fact of the matter is that the long term negative effects of spay/neuter surgery in dogs has been documented in the 2007 summative report by Sanborn. That report shows the health risks from spay/neuter surgery include far more frequent occurences of serious health issues: among them are for males
On the negative side, neutering male dogs
• if done before 1 year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer); this is a
common cancer in medium/large and larger breeds with a poor prognosis.
• increases the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6
• triples the risk of hypothyroidism
• increases the risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment
• triples the risk of obesity, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems
• quadruples the small risk (5; this is a common cancer and major cause of death in some breeds
• triples the risk of hypothyroidism
• increases the risk of obesity by a factor of 1.6-2, a common health problem in dogs with many
associated health problems
• causes urinary “spay incontinence” in 4-20% of female dogs
• increases the risk of persistent or recurring urinary tract infections by a factor of 3-4
• increases the risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially for female dogs
spayed before puberty
• doubles the small risk (

November 03 2012 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jess Ruffner

Both of these very same procedures, through the side of the neck or through the mouth, are virtually identical to the procedures used for a dog suffering from laryngeal paralysis, where the larynx becomes progressively paralyzed and the dog becomes unable to breathe. The only difference is that in bark softening, part of the vocal folds are excised, and for laryngeal paralysis, the fold on one side is tied back with sutures. The through the side of the neck procedure is preferred by specialists because the rate of complications is far lower. Go ahead and look it up, there are plenty of veterinary surgical texts on Google books, and even some studies on Pubmed.

By all means, let's OUTLAW a surgical procedure that has more than one application and saves lives. That makes perfect sense. Unintended consequences, anyone?

November 02 2012 at 5:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jess Ruffner

Both of these very same procedures, through the side of the neck or through the mouth, are virtually identical to the procedures used for a dog suffering from laryngeal paralysis, where the larynx becomes progressively paralyzed and the dog becomes unable to breathe. The only difference is that in bark softening, part of the vocal folds are excised, and for laryngeal paralysis, the fold on one side is tied back with sutures. The through the side of the neck procedure is preferred by specialists because the rate of complications is far lower. Go ahead and look it up, there are plenty of veterinary surgical texts on Google books.

By all means, let's OUTLAW a surgical procedure that has more than one application and saves lives. That makes perfect sense. Unintended consequences, anyone?

November 02 2012 at 5:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lois

We are not talking about debarking all dogs. Most dogs do not need it. We all love when our dogs bark, they let us know someone is coming. They talk to us. They let us know when they need to go out or come in. We are talking here about dogs that bark loudly all the time. It can drive you crazy. It will for sure drive your neighbors crazy. Debarking will quiet the dog and save sanity. It is not a painful procedure if done correctly. They still bark just as much, but only a little noise comes out. Listen to the vets on this board. They have mentioned dogs being poisoned because of barking. Look at both sides of the issue very carefully.

November 02 2012 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ellen

What a horrific thing to do to a dog !!! DeBarking should be totally stopped and a felony if
done to a dog... its like taking out a persons vocal cords because they talk too much !! its
an insane thing to do...

November 02 2012 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ann_nonymous

I am a vet. I perform rare devocalization surgeries. You failed to mention that the first technique you described is much less likely to result in scar tissue and complications. The second procedure is largely looked on as inhumane and often unsuccessful. If debarking is made illegal, God help the dogs who will be debarked by untrained hacks.

Sadly, the most common reason that I have had to treat dogs who are the victims of deliberate poisoning is because of chronic barking. To save a dog from a torturous death by poison by a neighbor driven to the brink of rational thought: yes, I will perform a debarking in a safe and humane manner.

Debarking should remain legal, safe and rare.

November 02 2012 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ann_nonymous

You failed to mention that the first procedure that is described is also much less likely to cause the formation of scar tissue and subsequent complications!! I am a vet and I have performed a rare number of devocalizations because sometimes, truly, nothing else will work. I will also add that on the (fortunately rare) occasions when I have been presented with a patient that has been deliberately poisoned, it has occurred because the dog was a chronic barker. I don't advocate for debarking, but to save a dog's life from the torturous death by poisoning by a neighbor driven to the brink of rational thought, I will not hesitate to perform this procedure in a safe and humane manner. Debarking should remain legal, safe and rare.

November 02 2012 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dawnierenee

Anyone who would rather go this route than try something that will work for their animal is lazy and has no business owning an animal in the first place. Training works. There are bark collars, there are other more humane ways to take care of this pesky problem. Did you not read where it said that they could develop scar tissue (true of any surgery on any body part, in fairness) and can make it hard to eat, swallow or even breathe? Knowing those risks, how could you put your animal through it? No, I would never do that to my dog, just as I wouldn't declaw my cat. Those are also defense mechanisms! Would you do this to your CHILD if they decided to talk way too much and annoy other people? And YES it IS the same thing. If you bring an animal into your home as a "pet" and not a "family member" then you shouldn't have a pet.

November 02 2012 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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