A veterinary dentist addresses canine disarming

Prior to arriving in Los Angeles, my experience with the practice of canine disarming for the treatment of aggressive dogs was minimal, and over the years, my continuing education with this procedure has been on the job. My feelings regarding this practice have fluctuated from being adamantly opposed to performing it on occasion, justifying it as a desperate approach to addressing the problem of dog aggression for clients who have exhausted all measures and are truly on the brink of euthanizing their dog.

The recently published article "Cotton's New Bite" [July 25] has stirred my opposition to this procedure, motivated me to collect my thoughts, as a board-certified veterinary dentist and as someone who has performed these procedures in the past.

Although there certainly are no guarantees with any treatment, I can never again in good conscious send home a patient that has had a disarming if, even for a split second, it creates an atmosphere of complacency, an assumption that a bite from a disarmed animal is any less damaging than a normal bite. Anecdotal reports do exist that describe disarmed dogs as compensating for the absence of these strategic teeth by biting with even greater force, once they realize they no longer have the normal use of these teeth.

Many clients considering the disarming procedure for their dog have never been introduced to the option of a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. Simply put, disarming a dog does not address the cause of the aggression; appropriate behavioral modification instituted by a veterinary behaviorist is an essential component of any treatment plan for aggression.

There are no scientific reports documenting the efficacy of disarming. Unlike a true "surgical" disease -- for example, a torn cruciate ligament of the knee -- where there are established surgical techniques for repair, the technique of canine disarming differs in its definition from veterinarian to veterinarian, even among veterinary dentists. Disarming can mean anything from removal of teeth, to reduction of the height of teeth, to even application of a bite guard.

All disarming techniques also risk procedural failure, including infection, even jaw fracture -- sources of pain that in themselves may be expressed in an animal as aggression.

My goal in this brief communication is to emphasize the paucity of scientific information regarding disarming, bring to light the false sense of security associated with it, and hopefully discourage the practice of this disfiguring procedure by suggesting a reasonable alternative in the form of veterinary behavioral modification.

Anson J. Tsugawa, VMD

Culver City

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