Title: The South African Veterinary Council policy on tail docking in Dogs
The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) is the statutory body that regulates the
veterinary and Para-veterinary professions. The SAVC is empowered by the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary
Professions Act of 1982 to set and maintain professional standards for these professions. All veterinarians
are obliged by law to register with Council in order to work as veterinarians. Council is committed to the
promotion of health and well-being for all animals. The South African Veterinary Association (SAVA), on the
other hand, is a professional organisation with voluntary membership. The SAVA is officially represented on
What is tail docking?
Tail docking is the amputation of a dog’s tail at varying lengths to suit the recommendations of a breed
standard. Docking involves the amputation of the puppy’s tail with a scalpel. Sometimes rubber bands are
used, although this method has never been used by veterinarians. The cut goes through the skin, cartilage
and bone. This procedure is usually performed without any anaesthetic, or with a local anaesthetic, at three
to five days of age. A small number of dogs are born naturally without a tail.
What does the SAVC say about tail docking?
The SAVC has decided that as of I June 2008 it will no longer condone routine tail docking of puppies by
The reasons for the decision are as follows:
Tail docking, even if performed with local anaesthesia, causes pain and stress to young puppies. Recent
research in pain management indicates clearly that puppies, even at a few days of age, have a fully
developed nervous system and a well-developed sense of pain. Sometimes, tail docking results in serious
complications such as bleeding, infection and even the death of the puppy. There can also be complications
later in life such as neuroma (nerve tumour) formation. One of the complications of the tail docking is that
bitch licks out stitches in the act of anal stimulation for puppy defecation thus leaving an open wound which
heals with a sensitive stump.
Tail docking does not provide any benefit to puppies. Traditionally, some breeders considered a docked tail
necessary to fulfil the working functions of the dog. Today many working breeds are kept as house pets and
only a small percentage are used for field work, which is a recreational activity for people and not an
essential function. If dogs of breeds that are customarily docked are left with intact tails, they are not more
likely to get tail injuries than dogs of other breeds. Dogs need their tails for balance and body language. If a
procedure that causes pain has no immediate or future benefit for the animal and may lead to complications,
it is unnecessary and should not be performed.
The history of tail docking of puppies:
The practice of tail docking started hundreds of years ago, when people were far more complacent about the welfare of animals than they are today. It became common in the Middle Ages in Britain and Western
Europe. Many theories have been proposed for the beginning of the practice. This includes prevention of
back injury, increasing the speed of the docked dog and prevention of tail damage due to fighting and also to
prevent injury from thorny bushes. Hundreds of years ago a docked tail was an indication of a working dog
for the purpose of tax rebates. Some breeds are born without tails or with a stumpy tail due to a genetic
abnormality through artificial selection. Normal littermates of these breeds were usually docked to give the
breed a uniform appearance. Today, there is no justifiable reason to dock a puppy’s tail.
How do vets feel about tail docking?
Many veterinarians reluctantly perform tail docking in order to ensure that the procedure is at least done by
a veterinarian, and to minimise the pain and suffering caused to the pups. Some vets refuse to perform the
procedure because of welfare reasons; and on personal principle, while there are some vets still willing to
continue doing it. Most vets condemn the practice. Since vets have ceased to perform the procedure certain
unscrupulous breeders dock using elastrator bands and knives or blades.
What the decision means
Veterinarians who perform tail docking, unless for justifiable medical reasons, will be liable for prosecution
under the Animal Protection Act no 71 of 1962. Veterinarians found guilty under this act, will automatically
be investigated for unprofessional conduct by the SAVC under the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions
The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), as the body primarily responsible with applying the tenets of the
Animal Protection Act has in the past not enforced the relevant clause in the Act due to the fact that the
SAVC has in the past “condoned” the performing of the procedure. This created a legal loophole that would
have made successful prosecution of any person based on the Animal Protection Act unlikely to succeed.This has now changed with the SAVC decision. Although the SAVC decision only directly affects
veterinarians, lay people who perform the procedure will now also be liable under the Animal Protection
Why hasn’t the SAVC said anything about tail docking in sheep?
The SAVC has invited input from veterinarians on all procedures such as tail docking in other species,
dehorning, declawing, removal of vocal chords and other similar procedures. Each of these has different
risks and benefits, all of which will be carefully considered before the SAVC decides whether the procedure
should be condoned or not. If the benefit of a procedure outweighs the risk to the animal, then it is in the
animal’s best interest to have the procedure done. If the procedure provides no benefit or a very small
benefit compared to the risks, then the procedure should not be performed. Tail docking in sheep is done for
different reasons than in dogs, thus it cannot be judged on the same basis in different species.
How you can help
You can help the SAVC implement the decision by doing the following:
- Do not buy puppies without tails.
- Insist that the breeder from whom you buy your dogs does not dock tails.
- Encourage your dog club or organisation to stop advocating tail docking.
For more information, contact the SAVC at Tel: 27 (012) 342 1612 or email@example.com
The Australian Veterinary Association is acknowledged for use of material from their pamphlet on tail