Should Dogs Lose Their Voice? The Controversial Debate Over Debarking

Introduction

Debarking, also known as devocalization, is a surgical procedure performed on dogs and sometimes cats, where tissue is removed from the vocal cords to reduce the volume of the animal’s bark or cry (American Veterinary Medical Association). The surgery intends to soften or eliminate vocalization from the animal. This has become a controversial topic, as some view it as an acceptable solution for addressing excessive or nuisance barking, while others see it as an inhumane procedure.

a dog barking loudly

Pros of Debarking

One potential advantage of debarking is that it can eliminate excessive or nuisance barking in dogs (https://www.elocal.com/resources/pets/veterinary/faq/should-you-debark-dog/). For owners who live in close proximity to neighbors or who have received noise complaints, debarking may seem like an appealing option to stop problematic barking. The surgery reduces the volume and frequency of a dog’s bark, which proponents argue can make the dog easier to live with.

In particular, debarking aims to address nuisance barking by removing parts of a dog’s vocal cords or altering the structure of its larynx. This stops or muffles excessive barking that owners find disruptive or bothersome. So for those struggling with an overly vocal canine, debarking may appear to resolve the nuisance barking issue.

Cons of Debarking

Debarking a dog is considered inhumane by many animal rights groups and veterinarians. The procedure involves surgically removing a dog’s vocal cords or cutting their vocal tract, which reduces the volume of their bark. This permanently takes away a dog’s natural ability to communicate through barking.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, debarking is an unnecessary procedure that can lead to chronic pain, infection, and emotional trauma for dogs (source). The surgery requires general anesthesia and carries risks of bleeding, swelling, scar tissue build up, and ongoing pain or sensitivity in the throat. As dogs age, scar tissue from debarking can make swallowing difficult.

Critics argue the surgery is purely for human convenience and does not address underlying behavioral issues that cause excessive barking. Debarking takes away a dog’s primary means of expression without their consent. Dogs may become more anxious or frustrated when unable to communicate through barking. The procedure has been banned in many European countries on animal welfare grounds.

Alternatives to Debarking

a dog being trained not to bark excessively

While debarking is still performed by some veterinarians, many experts recommend considering alternatives to this invasive and controversial procedure first. Some humane alternatives include training, anti-bark collars, and addressing the underlying cause of excessive barking.

Training can help curb demand barking through positive reinforcement techniques, as demonstrated in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si-yk1LtZEg. With patience and consistency, dogs can learn to be quiet on command. Obedience training is another option for establishing better behavior and reducing barking.

Anti-bark collars provide negative reinforcement by emitting an unpleasant stimulus like citronella spray or an electric shock when the dog barks. According to experts at the Veterinary Information Network, electronic anti-bark collars from reputable brands have proven effective for consistency and safety. However, they should be used cautiously and under supervision.

Finally, identifying and addressing the root causes of excessive vocalization, such as anxiety, boredom or separation distress, can reduce the urge to bark. Solutions may include exercise, environmental enrichment with toys, or medications to treat anxiety recommended by a veterinarian.

Debarking Techniques

There are two main surgical techniques used for debarking dogs:

Ventriculocordectomy involves removing a dog’s vocal cords either partially or completely through the mouth under general anesthesia. This stops the vocal cords from vibrating and limits the dog’s ability to bark (Souce).

Ventriculectomy is considered less invasive and involves surgically removing portions of the vocal cords through an incision in the neck area while the dog is under anesthesia. This limits but does not eliminate the dog’s bark (Source).

The amount of vocal cord removed depends on the desired softness of bark. Complete removal risks long-term breathing problems.

Recovery Process

a veterinarian performing debarking surgery on a dog

The typical recovery time after debarking surgery is 1-2 weeks. The dog will initially have some throat pain and raspy breathing for the first few days. Pain medication is given for several days to manage discomfort. The dog is advised to rest and limit activity and excitement during initial recovery. After about a week, most dogs are back to normal activity levels.

While serious complications are rare, some potential issues include:

  • Excessive bleeding or infection at incision site
  • Scarring or narrowing of airway
  • Aspiration pneumonia if food/water enters airway
  • Hoarseness or change in bark tone
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

Proper aftercare and limiting activity is important to prevent complications. Most dogs fully recover within 2 weeks with no long-term issues. But owners should monitor the dog closely and contact their vet if any concerning symptoms arise post-surgery.

According to this source on debarking recovery care: https://loslunasanimalclinic.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Debarking_Info_and_Aftercare.pdf, the throat is painful for 5-7 days, and dogs should avoid excitement, running, jumping, or straining on a leash for 2-3 weeks after the procedure.

Legality

Debarking dogs is an extremely controversial practice and illegal in some areas. According to Wikipedia, in 2000, anti-debarking legislation was proposed in California, New Jersey, and Ohio.[1] It is currently banned in Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey except in cases where it is medically necessary, as determined by a licensed veterinarian.[2] According to the AVMA, Maryland law specifically prohibits debarking dogs “unless the procedure is deemed necessary for the health and welfare of the dog.”[3] Essentially, the procedure is only allowed in certain areas for medical reasons, otherwise it is prohibited due to ethical concerns.

Ethical Considerations

a protest against debarking surgery on ethical grounds

Debarking raises significant ethical concerns, primarily regarding animal cruelty. Many animal rights groups argue that debarking is an inhumane procedure that destroys a dog’s primary means of communication and expression (https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/cruel-practices/debarking/). They contend that debarking does not address the root cause of barking and that dogs will continue to engage in the same barking behavior, just without making noise. This leads to significant frustration for the animal.

Critics argue that debarking should be banned as an elective procedure, as it provides no medical benefit to the dog and only serves human convenience (https://www.newsweek.com/debarking-dog-devocalization-health-risks-1705591). They believe debarking is a form of mutilation done only for the benefit of owners bothered by noise. Many view the practice as unethical and an act of cruelty toward man’s best friend.

Owner Testimonials

Many owners who have chosen to debark their dogs share positive experiences with the procedure. For example, one owner said “Debarking significantly reduced my dog’s barking and made him much easier to live with. I wish I had done it sooner” (Source). Another owner commented “The debarking process was quick and my dog recovered fully within a week. Now he can still make sounds but can’t excessively bark at the mailman anymore” (Source). Many owners emphasize that debarking does not completely remove a dog’s voice, but simply softens their volume to reasonable levels.

However, some owners express regrets about debarking. One owner said “I regret debarking my dog. She seems depressed now and doesn’t have the same personality” (Source). Another owner reported “The surgery left my dog with ongoing throat irritation and coughing fits.” (Source).

Overall, owner experiences with debarking are mixed. Those considering it should carefully weigh the potential benefits and risks.

Conclusion

In summary, there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the devocalization debate. Those in favor point to it as a last resort to manage problem barking when other methods have failed. They argue it can improve quality of life for dogs and owners in certain cases. However, critics cite the risks inherent in any surgery, question its long-term effectiveness, and see it as an unethical way to deal with behavioral issues. Most experts agree devocalization should only be considered after exhausting all alternative training options, and must be performed by a licensed veterinarian for medical rather than convenience reasons. There is ongoing debate regarding the procedure’s ethics and impacts on animal welfare. While it remains legal in many places, increased scrutiny and regulation reflects shifting societal attitudes on the proper treatment of pets.

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