Ask the Vet: Better Treatments For Nuisance Barking Than Devocalization
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 may 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 may require brief hospitalization to relieve her constipation, determine its cause and, if she's dehydrated, to normalize her hydration.