Update 29th June 2010 (figures updated 2nd July)

Dogs with docked tails significantly less likely to sustain tail injuries says Veterinary Record

Dogs with docked tails are significantly less likely to sustain tail injuries, finds research published in this week’s Veterinary Record.

Among the 138,212 dogs seen by vets at the 52 practices during the study period, 281 were treated for a tail injury.

The owners of 224 of these injured dogs, as well as a random sample of 799 owners whose dogs had not been treated for tail injury were sent a questionnaire on dog tail injuries and docking.

Only 97 of the owners whose dogs needed treatment and 227 of those whose dogs had not been injured replied.

But their responses indicated that around one in three tail injuries (36%; 35 cases) had occurred at home as a result of the dog knocking its tail against a wall, kennel wall or other household object.

A further 17.5% (17 cases) were sustained outdoors, while 14.4% (14 cases) were caused by the tail being caught in a door. In 15 (15.5%) other causes were cited; and in 16 (16.5%), the cause was unknown. Almost half of the injuries (44%) were recurrent.

Over half the cases were treated with drugs and dressings, but in almost one in three cases, amputation was required. Eleven dogs did not need any treatment.

Certain breeds seemed to be more at risk, with springer and cocker spaniels almost six times as likely to sustain a tail injury as labradors and retrievers.

Greyhounds, lurchers, and whippets were almost seven times as likely to do so, possibly because of the lack of protective hair on their tails, say the authors. Dogs with a wide angle of wag were also almost four times as likely to be injured in this way, while dogs kept in kennels were more than 3.5 times as likely to sustain a tail injury.

Only 35 owners said their dogs had had their tail docked, and on the basis of their overall findings, the authors calculated that tail docking would reduce the risk of injury by 12%.

PLEASE REMEMBER that the 281 dogs with damaged tails were from just 52 veterinary practices. According to the RCVS there are 3000 verified vet practices in the UK. If these 52 were representative of them all, then circa 16,000 dogs would have suffered tail injuries in the UK for that 12 month period and circa 5,000 would have undergone adult tail amputation! Even if it were 50% of this figure, this is nothing short of a scandal, resulting from an Act of Parliament that was designed to protect the welfare of animals.

The full official study in pdf format can be viewed here

The CDB responded as follows;

The Council Of Docked Breeds would like to congratulate the team on undertaking what appears to be an excellent study. We ourselves appreciate that collating worthwhile data from dog owners who are experiencing tail damage is not a simple task, due to their minds being concentrated on getting the dog well again and not on filling out paperwork. The data available to the research team is impressive.

Having said that, the timing of the research seems to be too early to establish the true effect of the tail docking ban which came into force early 2007. The research was carried out during March 2008 and March 2009 and tail damage cases were defined as any dog presented to veterinary practices within the previous 12 months (just as the ban had begun). The mean age of the controls was 4.2 years old and of the tail damage cases 3.8 years old, so the majority of dogs recorded were born before the ban came into force, when tail damage cases are expected to be far lower than since the ban.

It is our experience that damage is less likely to occur in undocked dogs before they have reached the age of twelve to eighteen months. Traditionally docked breeds ceased being docked early 2007 and the number of undocked examples being born slowly increased initially. At the time of the research, the new influx of previously docked breeds were still too young to add to the number of tail damage cases to get a true picture. The study accepts that it does not reflect differences in the risk due to the legislation.

We also note that there were 281 tail injuries recorded from a population of 138,212 dogs attending the 52 participating practises. From this it was deduced that the risk of tail damage was just 0.2% or that 500 docked dogs would only prevent 1 tail damage case. Unfortunately, this simply shows the risk as a percentage of the total dog population and does not represent the risk to undocked dogs in previously docked breeds. Conversely, a number of breeds shown to damage their tails were breeds which have NOT historically been docked.

We read with interest that undocked dogs were most likely to damage their tail in the home and that dogs which were NOT worked would be just as likely to damage their tails, both points have been put forward by the CDB for many years.

To gauge the full effect of the legislation, a repeat study would be required comparing only dogs in those breeds which were traditionally docked before the ban, were born AFTER the ban and the percentage of those that required veterinary attention to their new long tails.

This study was a giant leap forward but unfortunately, not breed specific and too early to evaluate the extent to which tail docking reduces the risk of tail damage in Great Britain, one of its primary aims.