More veterinarians in Canada are speaking out against pet cosmetic surgery such as removing the tails of puppies and cutting dog ears into points, but the pace of change is slow.
Ear-cropping and tail-docking are already prohibited in seven provinces either by law or regulatory bylaws.
The decision on whether to operate is left up to individual animal doctors in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, even though veterinary groups in those provinces oppose such procedures in principle.
Dr. Nicole Gallant, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, said vets are under pressure to perform cosmetic surgery.
Ending the practice will depend on reducing demand for dogs with unnaturally bobbed tails and pointy ears, she said. That involves breed clubs amending their standards so that dogs can be shown in their natural state without penalty.
People often refer to show dogs for how their pet is supposed to look.
"The changes have to come in the breed standards — and it is coming — but it just seems to be a really slow process," Gallant said.
Altered dogs seen as normal
"We have been just so programmed to see the altered dog as the normal. People have to expect unaltered dogs."
The College of Veterinarians of British Columbia recently voted to ban cosmetic ear-cropping. Other provinces that prohibit the practice include Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Ear-cropping and tail-docking have been banned in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Barb Cartwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, welcomes any move to abolish pet cosmetic surgery.
There is no justification for procedures that don't benefit animals and put them at risk, she said.
"It is a very important issue because it is only coming now into the public consciousness that it is cosmetic surgery. It causes pain and suffering and it is unnecessary," Cartwright said.
The federation represents 53 humane societies and SPCAs across Canada.
Surgeries popular despite pain
The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association has said cosmetic surgeries for pets continue to be popular with some owners despite the pain they cause.
Dr. Darrell Dalton, the association's registrar, said the organization officially opposes such procedures, but the decision is up to veterinarians.
"If you outlaw veterinarians doing it, which has happened in a number of provinces, dogs start to get their ears cropped on kitchen tables by non-veterinarians, and there are members of our organization who feel that is just totally unacceptable," he said.
"It is horrific with no proper anesthetic or pain medication afterwards."
Dalton said it is not fair to single out veterinarians to effect what amounts to a social change.
The Canadian Kennel Club opposes any ban on cosmetic surgery, but encourages dog breed clubs to not include ear-cropping and tail- docking in their breed standards, said spokesman Andrew Patton.
Of 67 breeds that have ear-cropping, tail-docking or the removal of dew claws mentioned in their standard, clubs for the Hungarian vizsla, Yorkshire terrier, Norfolk terrier and the American cocker spaniel have agreed to make tail-docking optional.
Patton said more breed clubs could follow.
"Our goal is to work with national dog breed clubs to ensure that owners of all dog breeds may show their purebred dogs in a natural state, without cropping or docking, alongside traditional dogs and be judged equally, ensuring choice for all dog lovers."
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies says ear-cropping is common among Great Danes, Dobermans, boxers and schnauzers.
Dogs that have their tails docked include spaniels, some pointers, terriers and some working and herding breeds.