‘Debarking’ surgery to silence dogs risks their lives and sometimes doesn’t work

Q: We live in an apartment complex where many dogs bark. Some of the tenants want to require the owners of these dogs to have them “debarked.” What do you think about this?

A: I am against it, and because it’s widely considered to be inhumane, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association have taken stands against “debarking.” Moreover, it’s illegal in some states.

In my opinion, the only reason a dog should undergo any surgery is if the benefit to the dog outweighs the risk and pain associated with the procedure. Clearly, that’s not the case here.

“Debarking” surgery, or devocalization, entails removing the parts of the dog’s throat that produce the bark. The dog is left with a hoarse bark that is softer than normal. Devocalization robs the dog of an important method of communication, preventing the dog from engaging in a normal canine behavior.

In addition, debarking surgery causes pain and carries risks associated with anesthesia, bleeding, airway swelling and infection. Delayed risks include coughing and gagging, scarring and narrowing of the throat, breathing difficulties, exercise and heat intolerance, aspiration pneumonia and collapse.

Inexplicably, a normal bark returns within months in some dogs.

Nuisance barking can result from boredom, social isolation, external stimuli, territorial protection, poor training, separation anxiety, cognitive decline or any of a number of other triggers. It is best addressed through changes within the home, doggy day care, training, behavior modification and, sometimes, medication.

I suggest the apartment tenants with dogs hire a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or a canine behaviorist with a master’s or doctorate degree to educate them about ways to manage nuisance barking. Then each tenant with a barking dog should make an appointment with the behaviorist for individual therapy.

Q: Joy, my 12-year-old cat, is constipated. Her stools have become harder and drier over the past year, and she now strains to push out what look like little rocks. What do you recommend?

A: I advise you to make an appointment with Joy’s veterinarian. Once her vet determines the cause of her constipation, an appropriate treatment can be started.

Joy could require brief hospitalization to relieve her trouble, determine its cause and, if she’s dehydrated, to normalize her hydration.

A common cause of constipation is decreased motility of the large intestine, also called the colon.

Normally, as the muscular wall of the large intestine contracts to move fecal material along, the colon absorbs water from the feces back into the body to help maintain hydration. This process transforms wet feces into the healthy bowel movements you’re accustomed to seeing in the litter box. But if the colon’s motility is slowed, the feces remain there longer than usual, getting abnormally dry and hard.

Another cause of Joy’s constipation could be chronic kidney disease, which reduces the kidneys’ ability to conserve water and prevent dehydration. The large intestine compensates by absorbing even more water from the feces, leaving them excessively dry and hard.

Lack of exercise, obesity and conditions that cause pelvic pain, such as arthritis or an abnormal growth, can also induce constipation.

Depending on the cause of Joy’s constipation, treatment can include giving her medication, increasing the fiber in her diet, adding enough water to her canned food to make it soupy, offering broth, providing a water fountain or administering a sterile electrolyte solution under her skin.

Without treatment, Joy could develop megacolon, a serious and painful condition in which the colon is dilated and unable to contract normally.

When Joy visits her veterinarian, take along a fecal sample. The vet will likely want to do blood and urine testing to help determine the cause of Joy’s constipation and recommend effective treatment.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at


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