Welcome to Buckley Veterinary Hospital’s monthly pet care column. Cosmetic or plastic surgery is a hot topic for humans, but increasingly so in pets as well. Is it medically acceptable to implant fake silicone testicles in a dog? Is it ethical to debark, crop ears or cut off a tail on dogs or declaw a cat?
Plastic surgery is meant to enhance appearance through surgical and medical techniques. Other procedures may be considered cosmetic, but they are really meant to fix medical issues. This month we are here to shed light on several medically-indicated examples with the help of Dr. Phil Zeltzman’s (diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons) insight.
Rhinoplasty, or the “nose job”
Many dogs with a flat face, called brachycephalic breeds, have tiny nostrils. So small, they can barely breathe through their nose and they often have to pant to get enough oxygen on board.
This makes this condition extremely stressful. At worst, some patients suffocate, “turn blue,” as we say, and pass out.
Common dog breeds include bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs and Pekingeses. Some cat breeds can be affected as well: Himalayans and Persians are brachycephalic breeds.
Narrow nostrils can lead to other problems: the soft palate in the back of the throat can become too long and cause the pet to snore. Treatment involves surgery to trim the soft palate. Also, the saccules, two small fleshy pieces of tissue in the larynx or voice box, can get enlarged, stick out and decrease air flow. They are called “everted laryngeal saccules.” They also can be removed surgically.
If the nostrils are too narrow, a common procedure called a “rhinoplasty” can be done to enlarge them. A wedge of an appropriate size and shape is removed. A few small stitches are placed. Rhinoplasty can be a preventive surgery early on or a big help later in life. Either way, it can make a dramatic difference in the pet’s quality of life.
Nasal Fold Surgery
Still in the nose department, brachycephalic dogs and cats can have a skin fold across their nose. This can cause two sets of problems: skin irritation or infection and eye problems. The hair on the skin fold can rub against the eye, causing all sorts of problems and pain. The treatment consists of removing just enough skin to address both issues.
No, we are still not talking about California-style makeovers. Cats and dogs can have an eyelid that rolls in (entropion) or out (extropion).
With entropion, the eyelids roll inward and the eyelashes rub against the eye, causing irritation and pain. This can be seen in share pies, chow chows, bulldogs, retrievers, rotties, and setters and less commonly among other breeds.
With ectropion, the edge of the eyelid rolls out. Its lining, or conjunctiva, appears red. Constant exposure causes irritation (conjunctivitis) or infection. Common breeds include bloodhounds, mastiffs, great Danes, Newfies and St. Bernards.
In either case, just enough skin needs to be removed to correct the problem. Because these conditions are considered inheritable, affected pets should be neutered to avoid spreading the bad genes.
Why would dewclaw removal be “medically indicated?” The dewclaw is the end of the first toe, or the equivalent of your thumb, in the back leg. Some breeds (great Pyrenees, briards) even have a double dewclaw. Some people have them removed to prevent trauma since these toes are loose and can easily get caught. This is not only painful, it can be quite bloody. Dewclaws are typically removed in very young puppies, or later on at the time of neutering, under the same anesthesia.
There are several other less common surgical procedures that are cosmetically altering, but medically recommended for certain situations.
As you can see, “cosmetic” surgery may be medically recommended to actually address a medical condition.
If you believe your pet would benefit from one of these procedures, you may want to ask your veterinarian at your pet’s next appointment or schedule a specific consult for one of these issues.
Thank you to our readers. We welcome you back next month. As always, send questions, comments, or suggestions for future columns to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.