Trimming vocal cords in dogs a humane procedure

  • Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 3:00 p.m.

QWe have an approximately 6-year-old beagle named Lilly. We found her on the road four years ago, and she appeared to be lost hunting dog.

Her condition was horrible. So bad, in fact, that although she had on a collar, we never considered trying to send her back to wherever she lived.

Our problem is this. Being a beagle and a former hunter, she occasionally lets go with her melodious baying. But to our neighbors, it is not at all appreciated.

Now the condo association has said the barking cannot be tolerated any further. So we are faced with a choice, have her “de-barked,” or find her another home. It seems cruel to do this procedure, but it appears that it is the only way we can keep her. What do you think about this, and how is it done?

A: I had a client recently in a very similar situation. She, too, had community pressure to stop the barking “or else.”

She relayed that she had desperately inquired at several veterinary clinics and received a frosty response from all of them.

One receptionist responded judgmentally, “We don’t do that,” to which my exasperated client responded, “Well I don’t “do that” either! I have to do it or I have to get rid of my dog.”

In my exam room, she was clearly feeling a lot of guilt about this. It struck me as odd that we seem to have little problem with removing a healthy uterus, or castrating a dog, in the name of reducing the homeless population of dogs and cats.

But so many react with shock at the idea of a procedure that quiets a dog’s bark, when the alternative may mean a trip to the animal shelter, or at least to another home. We also accept declawing a cat who is shredding the furniture if that cat is faced with becoming an outdoor pet or finding another home.

I am certainly in favor of spaying and neutering, and in some cases, declawing. Personally, if faced with a choice of being neutered, having my fingertips removed, or having my vocal cords trimmed, I’d have to go with the third choice.

The procedure is called a ventriculocordectomy, which means removing the vocal cords. These are two small bands of tissue that resonate like a reed instrument as we exhale, creating our voices, or in the case of dogs, barking. Voice production is also called phonation.

There are essentially two techniques to performing this procedure. The oldest technique, and probably a major reason this procedure is so widely panned, is the intra-oral approach. In this technique, the vocal cords are accessed through the mouth and are removed with a long handled pair of scissors. It takes about 30 seconds to perform. This is the cheapest way to do this, but I do not recommend this technique and I do not perform it.

The problem is that although you can reach and cut these cords through the mouth, one cannot then close the wounds that have been created.

This leaves the possibility of excessive scar formation, which can result in regaining some or all of the voice in approximately 50 percent of cases. This scar formation can also result in “webbing” or a scar that reaches across the larynx and impairs the ability to breathe.

With such serious complications and a high failure rate this procedure should be avoided.

The second, and preferred, technique, is the intraglottic approach. This procedure is a bit more surgical than the first, but much more effective and far safer.

The larynx is opened from underneath the neck and the folds are removed. The wounds are then sutured closed, eliminating the possibility of regrowth or web formation.

These dogs will still go through the motions of barking, as before, but the volume is approximately 20 percent of normal. I have never seen, or heard, that a dog appeared to be adversely affected psychologically by this procedure.

I have never seen a case where their behavior changed significantly in any way, or that they even appeared aware that the voice was reduced.

I do not pretend to know all that is going on in the mind of a dog. We can only speculate and interpret, based upon what we observe. I have seen dogs at Pet Helpers or The Charleston Animal Society that have been relinquished by their family for behavior issues, including excessive barking and noise. It’s a sad sight to say the least. I can only imagine that the psychological impact of that abandonment far exceeds any that may occur from a debarking procedure.

Is this surgery something that I would do or recommend for any dog? No. But when faced with losing its family and place, I feel it is a very reasonable and humane procedure.



Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.

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