Tail Alteration of Horses – Position Statement

March 20, 2013

Position

"The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) is opposed to the surgical alteration of the tail of the horse for cosmetic or competitive purposes. This includes but is not limited to docking, nicking and blocking. These procedures do not contribute to the health of the horse and are used primarily for gain in the show ring (nicking, blocking and docking) or because of historical custom (docking). Surgical alteration of the tail must only be performed when it is deemed medically necessary by a veterinarian (e.g. injury)."

Background 

  1. Horses require their tails for a number of reasons including protection from insects, thermal regulation and behavioral purposes. Amputation may lead to infection, pain, neuroma or phantom pain.
  2. The CVMA opposes surgical alteration of any animal for purely cosmetic reasons (1). Tail docking in horses is the surgical removal of the tail. It is performed almost exclusively in draft breeds (2). One possible rationale for this procedure has been for safety reasons, to prevent the horse’s tail from becoming caught in a working harness. Despite the historical rationale there is no evidence to support the assertion that tail docking is necessary or improves safety or animal welfare (3, 4).
  3. Tail blocking is a procedure that involves chemically altering the nervous supply to the tail, the purpose of which is to create a more desirable effect of a flatter tail in the show ring. Tail nicking involves cutting the horse’s tail tendons to create an artificially higher tail carriage (4-6). 
  4. Tail blocking and nicking are veterinary procedures that are disingenuous to the trust that society places in the profession. They use specific skills and knowledge of the veterinary profession for the purpose of misrepresenting the quality of an individual animal.
  5. The CVMA encourages horse owners and veterinarians to realize that long standing customs are not necessarily in the best interests of their animals (docking) and that surgical alteration to enhance prospects of winning in the show ring is unprofessional conduct. 

References 

  1. CVMA Cosmetic Surgery Position Statement. Revised November 2007. Available at http://canadianveterinarians.net/documents/cosmetic-surgery
  2. Nebergall SA. How to perform surgical tail docking in draft horses. Proceeding Amer Assn Equine Pract 1999;45:113-114.
  3. Cregier, Sharon E. Shocking docking: mutilation before education? Equine Vet Sci 1990;4:252-255. 
  4. Lefebvre D, Lips D, Ödberg FO, Giffroy JM. Tail Docking in horses: a review of the issues. Animal 2007;8:1167-1178.
  5. Lowder MQ, Bridges ER, Gutierrez A, Padmore CL. Tail blocking in a quarter horse. Equine Practice 1991;13:17-19.
  6. Colter SB. Tail alterations in show horses. In: Current Therapy in Equine Medicine L. Mills (Ed) 1992 WB Saunders, Philadelphia, pp 579-581.

(Revised March 2013)