If your neighbour has a particularly pretty pooch, he may not be an adorable gift from nature. A fashion for designer dogs with squashed, wrinkly faces - such as pugs, bulldogs and shar peis – has led to breeders dangerously focusing on appearance at the expense of health, creating puppies with oh-so-cute wrinkles, but who can’t see through the layers of skin.
Dogs who suffer - quite literally – for their looks are being treated withcanine “facelifts”, a medical treatment that removes excess skin to prevent serious health risks, such as infections and trouble breathing.
But for those who are focused on canine chic, there are plenty of procedures designed to tweak a pup’s appearance. While looks-obsessed humans queue up for liposuction, the go-to dog op is“neuticles” – silicone testicles that are implanted in neutered dogs to help preserve their sense of masculinity.
More than 500,000 neuticles have been implanted in dogs from 49 countries, and the Kardashians' pet Rocky one high-profile fan. The implants range from petite to XXL sizes and are offered in three levels of realistic quality – the ultraPLUS version, which costs from $379, offers "qualities and features not available on human implants today".
Kim Kardashian with Rocky. PHOTO: Twitter/@KimKardashian
The company claims that neuticles help pets “retain their natural look, self esteem and aids the pet’s owner with the trauma associated with altering,” and testimonials published online are glowing. “He’s a guy and I wanted him to remain looking like one,” says Lane Hinderman from Louisiana, while Janell Sausser from San Lorenzo, California, says, “Frodo never knew he lost anything and is just a happier little dog since he's been neutered with neuticles.”
Other cosmetic options are more niche, though many of the plastic surgery procedures offered to humans are available to dogs – especially for owners who are willing to pay for private vets abroad.
Dr Edgard Brito, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is one of the leading canine cosmetic surgeons who specialises in Botox to perk up dogs’ ears, reduce wrinkles and correct eyebrow shapes. He often operates on dogs that compete in shows.
“You need to use a technique that the judges can’t feel or see,” Brito told Bloomberg. “Why not be beautiful? It’s very important. If the pet is beautiful, the owner is happy and wants to show their pet to their friends.”
Meanwhile, plumper pups who start to avoid those extra doggie biscuits and shed the pounds can turn to tummy tucks to remove excess skin. Last year, a slimmed-down dachshund who once weighed 77lb had more than 2lb of excess skin removed at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic of Tualatin in Oregon.
Obie, the Dachshund who used to be almost three times above his ideal weight, prepares for a skin removal and reconstruction surgery. PHOTO: Facebook/Obie Dog Journey
Chin lifts were once popular to prevent excess drooling and some looks-obsessed owners have shortened their dogs’ tails for the desired effect, but any procedure carried out purely for cosmetic reasons is considered a dangerous and unnecessary health risk.
Paul Manktelow, senior vet at animal charity PDSA, says “tail docking” should only be considered in working dogs, where a long tail could be a hazard.
“A dog uses it’s tail as expression and I view it as a form of mutilation,” he explains. “I’ve seen really bad examples when people have done tail docking themselves to puppies when they’re first born and they end up with horrible complications.”
Owners who alter their pets' looks for cosmetic reasons are putting their dogs at risk and are unethical, he adds. “They do it for appearance – that’s how they think a breed should look. Actually, a Rottweiler, for instance, should have a nice long tail which is uses to wag and express itself.”
Not for dogs only: Zeek, a male cockatoo, receives a botox injection to treat an abdominal condition while undergoing treatment at the Animal Medical Center in New York. PHOTO: Getty Images
The PDSA will fund skin-removal operations – which can cost anything from £200 to £2,000 at a private clinic – but only if there’s a genuine medical reason. When Manktelow was a senior vet at Newcross Hospital, he had to perform one or two of the operations every week because the focus on designer breeding has led to more dogs who look cute but have associated health problems.
“Some of these dogs are in a lot of pain – their eyelashes are rubbing against their eyes and it can cause quite a lot of damage,” he says.
Dogs with squashed faces can also have difficulty breathing, and may need palate surgery or an operation to enlarge nostrils – insurance company PetPlan reported that $2.5m was spent on “nose jobs” in 2010. And while veterinary surgeons have to cope with difficult procedures, canine dentists are left dealing with complex dental issues.
“When dogs are bred to have a flat face, everything in their mouth is squashed up. They often have overcrowded teeth which can cause a problem,” says Manktelow.
Petplan reported 220,000 claims for teeth-related issues in one year, and while vets will usually pull out problematic teeth, some dogs can be fitted with crowns. “I have seen braces being used, but it’s not common,” adds Manktelow. “It’s very expensive.”
A dog with train tracks is hardly the designer look - but once the awkward metal-mouth phase is over, your pup will be able to chew his toy and pose for family snaps with style.