Debarking dogs

Wednesday, June 26, 2002


By John Koch, DVM

Question: My next door neighbor has a dog that barks constantly. The dog spends most of his time in the back yard because my neighbor couldn't house train him. I really don't dislike the dog, and my neighbor is a good friend. We have talked about the problem, but have not come up with a good solution. Somewhere I heard that dogs could have their vocal cords removed. I told my friend that I would pay for the operation, if it would solve the problem. The barking is driving me nuts. Is a debarking operation a suitable answer to our problem?

Answer: The usual way to remove the vocal cords or to debark dogs is to approach them through the open mouth. A special instrument is inserted down the throat of the anesthetized patient, and the vocal cord is grasped and a section removed. The operation is not encouraged for a variety of reasons.

One of the problems is the approach makes the surgery difficult. From the mouth, it is hard to reach the folds located deep in the larynx. There is little room to maneuver so that the folds can be precisely grasped and cut. Although hemorrhage is generally not large, if it present it is hard to control because you are operating at the bottom of a long, dark and narrow hole.

The problems just mentioned are for the most part manageable; however, what scares most surgeons is the healing process. The surgeon has no control of this. The vocal folds can grow back and then the dog resumes barking. Owners are not happy with this result. The other problem is that with excessive scar tissue developed and blocks the animal's airway. This is a disaster because the animal can't breathe. The veterinarian, the owner and the dog are unhappy with this result.

For what hopefully are obvious reasons, most veterinarians discourage partial laryngectomy or debarking operations. Your best bet is to invest in a collar designed to eliminate barking. There are two that work with varying degrees of success. One sprays the dog with citronella, a sharp-smelling oil that is sometimes used in perfume. Supposedly it is disagreeable enough to prevent barking when the vibrations from the larynx trigger a spritz of the compound into the region of the face. The other collar provides a mild electrical shock when the vociferous pet interrupts silence. Although the shock is mild, some people still object, feeling that it is inhumane.

Dr. Koch is a Cape Girardeau-area veterinarian.

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