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Overview of discretionary invasive procedures on animals

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Boxers with natural and cropped ears and docked tails.

Numerous procedures performed on domestic animals are usually more invasive than purely cosmetic alterations, but differ from types of veterinary surgery that are performed exclusively for health reasons. Such procedures have been grouped together under the technical term 'mutilatory' by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in a report describing the reasons for their being conducted and their welfare consequences,[1] and by others.[2][3]

The term mutilatory generally connotes some form of disfigurement or even maiming. There are multiple definitions and interpretations that carry varying degrees of emotional intensity. Merriam-Webster defines "mutilate" as "to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect", but gives a relatively mild example: "the child mutilated the book with his scissors".[4] Animal rights advocates often pejoratively refer to these procedures as mutilations.[5][6] PETA states that one issue with current forms of non-human animal treatment is that the animals "are mutilated and confined to tiny cages so that we can kill them and eat them."[7]

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons noted that the term mutilation is often an emotive one, having implications in common usage of maiming and disfigurement. They stated that there was no satisfactory alternative term that would suffice for their purposes. Their definition is a narrower one: "covering all procedures, carried out with or without instruments which involve interference with the sensitive tissues or the bone structure of an animal, and are carried out for non-therapeutic reasons."[1]


The following table contains procedures performed on domesticated animals that may or may not have a purported therapeutic purpose.

Invasive procedures on animals
Species Procedures
Laboratory mice

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Tail nicking' in dogs involves cutting the retractor muscles below the tail to affect the carriage of the tail.
  2. ^ Removing the anal scent sac to reduce animal odor
  3. ^ 'Pin firing', sometimes called 'firing', is a therapy that uses a small, red-hot probe to cause cauterization (burning) of tissue in horses with chronic injuries to produce an abundant, serous inflammatory process.
  4. ^ 'Tail blocking' involves injecting the major motor nerves of a horse's tail with alcohol to affect the horse's ability to lift, or even move, its tail.
  5. ^ 'Tail nicking' in horses involves cutting the retractor muscles below the tail to affect the carriage of the tail. For some breeds, the tail is then placed in a tail set to shape it into an artificial position.
  6. ^ 'Tail clipping' in mice involves the removal of a section of the tail for tissue required in the development of genetically altered strains.
  7. ^ 'Toe clipping' in mice involves the full or partial amputation of one or more digits as a means of permanent identification.
  8. ^ 'Blinders' or 'spectacles' are included as some versions require a pin to pierce the nasal septum.
  9. ^ 'Desnooding' is the removal of the snood, a fleshy appendage on the forehead of turkeys.
  10. ^ 'Dubbing' is the procedure of removing the comb, wattles and sometimes earlobes of poultry. Removing the wattles is sometimes called "dewattling".
  11. ^ Pinioning is the act of surgically removing one pinion joint, the joint of a bird's wing farthest from the body, to prevent flight.
  12. ^ 'Marking' is the simultaneous mulesing, castration and tail docking of lambs.
  13. ^ 'Mulesing' is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent flystrike (myiasis)
  14. ^ 'Eye ablation' is the removal of one or both eyestalks to improve reproduction in female prawns/shrimp.
  15. ^ The various list contains procedures that may be performed on many animals including the animals listed, or procedures performed on animals not listed.


  1. ^ a b "RCVS Report on Animal Mutilations". 2018-09-02. Archived from the original on 2018-09-02. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  2. ^ "Pain in animals". Archived from the original on 20 May 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  3. ^ "Defra codes of recommendations" (PDF). Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  4. ^ Definition of "Mutilate", merriam-webster.com
  5. ^ "Foster Farms". Compassion Over Killing. Retrieved 2019-11-09.
  6. ^ "If You Eat "Humane" Meat Because You Love Animals, Guess What? You Got Conned". Mercy For Animals. 2017-01-26. Retrieved 2019-11-09.
  7. ^ "Animal Issues". PETA. Retrieved 2019-11-09.
  8. ^ "Devocalization fact sheet" (PDF). Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Dog Pawse". Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Mark A.; Tully, Thomas N. (2009). Manual of exotic pet practice. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 372. ISBN 978-1-4160-0119-5.
  11. ^ "The Horse". Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  12. ^ a b "The Perfect Horse". 26 June 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  13. ^ "Sheep dentistry, including tooth trimming". Australian Veterinary Association. Retrieved 1 May 2013.