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Debarking a Dog

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Your neighbors are complaining that your dog barks incessantly when you are gone and although you have tried a few suggestions from friends on how to stop the barking, nothing has worked well enough to fix the strained relations between you and your neighbor. Desperation is setting in and you are now looking for a quick fix before your neighbor goes so far as to report you dog to the local authorities.

You have heard about debarking surgery and it sounds like the quick fix you require but is it? Will it really fix the problem or will is there a better route?

What is Debarking?

There are several methods of debarking however, in general, is surgery to either damage or remove the vocal chords of a dog, lessening, dulling or eliminating its bark entirely.

The procedure is done under a general anesthetic and, if done properly, has few complications although problems can develop as the dog ages.

There are several types of debarking surgery. The most common is to use a punch to put a hole in the vocal chords, lowering the tone and the volume of the bark. Some veterinarians use an electric cauterizing machine to burn the vocal chords although this is less common and considered old school. As a last resort, some vets will surgically remove the vocal chords, stopping the ‘bark’ entirely.

Risks of Surgical Debarking

All surgery has inherent risk to it and anytime an owner considers having elective surgery performed on their dog, they should weigh the value or necessity of the surgery versus the risk of the surgery.

Debarking has an additional surgical risk not realized by many owners and often not explained by the veterinarian. During all general anesthetic procedures, an endotracheal tube is placed in the throat to administer oxygen and mixed with the inhaled anesthetic. These are the same tubes you see placed in humans during emergencies - watch an episode of ER or Gray’s Anatomy and you will see the procedure acted out at least several times. The reason for the endotracheal tube is ensure an airway but also to prevent anything being ‘aspirated’ or sucked into the lungs by accident, often causing aspirated pneumonia. During surgery, the most common concern is the person or animal vomiting and then aspirating the vomit into the lungs. This is not a common occurrence in canine surgery as, like humans, drugs are given prior to the procedure to calm the stomach and lowering the chance of vomiting while under the anesthetic.

Unfortunately, during a debarking surgery, that endotracheal tube must be removed to access the vocal chords. Although it is not a major risk, there is a chance of the dog vomiting or blood to be sucked into the lungs causing, potentially causing aspirated pneumonia.

The risks post-debarking surgery are minimal. Swelling of the surgical site, namely the throat, can be a concern but is uncommon and controllable if the patient is still at the hospital.

As the dog ages there can be problems with the scar tissue causing problems with breathing and swallowing, especially in brachiocephalic, or short-muzzled breeds, that already have a compromised airway.

Points to Consider about Debarking Surgery

Many people feel that debarking is cruel and inhumane, much like declawing a cat. Others consider debarking a sometimes life-saving procedure. Before deciding whether you want to debark your dog, there are some points to consider:

  • If a barking dog is really a problem for you or you live in an apartment, consider a breed that does not bark by instinct. For example, Shetland sheepdogs herd and protect sheep by barking so they are considered an instinctual barker. To purchase or adopt a Sheltie and then complain about its barking is foolhardy. Do your research before you bring your new dog home.
  • Debarking does not remove the entire bark and often what remains is more annoying then the original bark. Ask your vet or visit a dog show to meet other dogs that have been debarked so you can hear how their ‘voice’ changed after the procedure and whether it is an improvement.
  • Debarked dogs often relearn how to bark and end up able to make just as much nuisance noise as they did before the surgery. Research various vets and ask about their background in the procedure.

Is Debarking Cruel?

No, debarking is not cruel. Most dogs that are debarked are actually happier post-surgery because they are not always being told to ‘be quiet’ or ‘no bark’ or, worse, ‘SHUT UP!’. The one bone of contention their owners may have with them disappears…is that cruel?

This does not mean that debarking should be advocated in all cases - it should always be a last case scenario. After all else fails in teach a problem barker not to bark, surgically altering their vocal chords may be the only thing that saves them from being re-homed or destroyed. Like all things controversial, there are strong arguments for both sides.

If your dog is a problem barker and you have tried all the training methods available with no success, talk to your vet about surgical debarking. It may save your relationship with your dog and possibly even save your dog’s life.

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