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Study helps clarify tail injuries in dogs

25 June 2010
Tail docking is a very emotive subject the world over. A new study will explain the scientific understanding of tail injuries and tail docking in dogs.

The paper by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Bristol seeks to quantify the risk of tail injury, to evaluate the extent to which docking reduces this risk and to identify other major risk factors of tail injury in a large sample of dogs attending veterinary practices in Great Britain.

Under recent animal welfare legislation tail docking for dogs has been banned outright for non- therapeutic reasons in England, Scotland and Wales, although in England and Wales exemptions are allowed for working dogs.

Dr David Brodbelt, Lecturer in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC, explained: “The practice has always generated strong opinions for and against, many of which are without scientific foundation.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Tail injuries requiring veterinary treatment were rare (prevalence of tail injuries was 0.23 per cent, one in 435 dogs).
  • English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Greyhounds, Lurchers and Whippets were at significantly higher risk when compared with Labradors and other Retrievers.
Spaniel with docked tail

The study, also found that, as expected, dogs with docked tails are significantly less likely to receive an injury. Essentially, approximately 500 dogs (unadjusted for breed) would need to be docked in order to prevent one tail injury.

Professor Sheila Crispin, co-investigator, from the University of Bristol‘s Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, commented: “While it is obvious that injury to the tail is impossible if the tail has been removed, the dog may have also lost an important means of balance and communication.”

The paper, which appears in the 26 June issue of Veterinary Record, is the latest example of effective collaboration between the RVC‘s Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health Group and the University of Bristol‘s Department of Clinical Veterinary Science. It was funded by the Welsh Assembly with some support from the Scottish Government and Defra.

Notes to editors

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's first and largest veterinary school and a constituent College of the University of London. It also provides support for veterinary and related professions through its three referral hospitals, diagnostic services and continuing professional development courses. www.rvc.ac.uk

The University of Bristol's Department of Clinical Veterinary Science is responsible for the clinical training of veterinary surgeons in companion animal medicine and surgery, farm animal science and welfare and veterinary public health. Clinical training revolves around animal patients that are referred to the hospitals and practices at Langford by veterinary practitioners in the south-west. The Department has dairy and sheep enterprises at the adjacent Wyndhurst Farm and these are used extensively in husbandry, welfare and clinical teaching. The Department has a major commitment to research projects aligned to animal welfare. www.bris.ac.uk

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Established in 1791, the RVC is the UK’s longest-standing veterinary college—with a proud heritage of innovation in veterinary science, clinical practice and education.

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