What is Ventriculocordectomy?

Ventriculocordectomy is the technical term for the 'debarking' procedure. It involves a surgical operation to damage or remove the vocal cords and reduce the dog's ability to vocalize. 

Ventriculocordectomy is undertaken in first opinion veterinary practice, although many vets decline to perform the procedure for ethical reasons. 

Debarking is controversial because barking is normal behavior for a dog and an important way of communicating with those around them. Morally and ethically, the dog's welfare is best served in addressing trigger factors such as boredom, lack of exercise, or territorial behavior which are the root cause of the need to bark. 

In addition, the outcome from ventriculocordectomy can be disappointing from the owner's perspective. Rather than render the dog silent, debarking can alter the volume or tone of the bark. This can result in a dog who makes bizarre sounds when vocalizing and is additionally distressed by their lack of ability to sound an appropriate warning as they feel necessary. 

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Ventriculocordectomy Procedure in Dogs

There are two techniques, each with their advantages and disadvantages. 

Oral Approach

The dog is given a general anesthetic and lies on their brisket with the mouth held open. The surgeon uses a laryngoscope to gain accesses the larynx via the open mouth. They then use a crushing instrument to destroy the vocal folds on one or both sides. 

Laryngeal Approach

This is a more invasive technique. The dog lies on their back and the fur is clipped over the throat and neck. If the patient is anesthetized using an inhalational gas (rather than a continuous rate infusion of an injectable anesthetic agent) then a tracheotomy tube should be placed for the passage of anesthetic gases. A skin incision is made over the larynx and the surgeon dissects down to the larynx. The vocal folds are then trimmed away with scissors, and the tissue stumps sutured against the larynx. The skin is sutured and the patient woken. 

Efficacy of Ventriculocordectomy in Dogs

Whilst the oral ventriculocordectomy is a quick and relatively inexpensive procedure, it is often less effective than the laryngeal approach. Scar tissue can bridge the gap left by the crushed tissue, which then vibrates in the airway and creates a semblance of barking. This can necessitate repeat surgery, this time via the more effective laryngeal approach. 

The laryngeal approach has a better outcome, but is more complex and costly. It is also linked to a greater likelihood of infection, since the larynx is not a sterile site. Also, with part of the laryngeal structure removed, there is a greater risk of the dog inhaling food or liquid down into the lungs and setting up aspiration pneumonia. 

Ventriculocordectomy Recovery in Dogs

The larynx is sensitive and prone to edema (swelling) when handled. A swollen larynx can close over the airway and suffocate the dog, therefore close observation during the days following surgery is necessary. This can be done at home for indoor dogs, so long as the owner stays with the dog at all times to watch over them. 

Exercise should be restricted for at least two weeks following surgery. The skin sutures are removed after ten to fourteen days.

Cost of Ventriculocordectomy in Dogs

The simplest form of debark surgery cost from $100. The more involved surgical approach via the neck is more expensive, from around $300.

Dog Ventriculocordectomy Considerations

Any owner seriously considering debarking their dog needs to be aware that it doesn't 'silence' the dog. Instead, the dog is likely to sound hoarse or raspy, which some owners find more aggravating than the bark. 

The procedure is also linked to increased stress in the dog, because he is no longer able to exhibit a natural behavior, barking. It is also pertinent to note that barking is often due to underlying issues such as boredom, lack of exercise, separation anxiety, or challenges to their territory. A more rational approach is therefore to address these underlying causes so the dog no longer feels the need to bark. 

Ventriculocordectomy is also not without the risk of permanent physical impairment to the dog. It can cause swallowing difficulties, exercise intolerance, chest infections, and insecurity (as a result of not being able to warn about danger). 

Ventriculocordectomy Prevention in Dogs

Ventriculocordectomy is used to address an antisocial behavior: Excessive barking. However, there are effective behavioral strategies to reduce barking. Suggestions include: 

  • Adequate exercise: Giving the dog an appropriate amount of energetic exercise each day
  • Mental stimulation: Using puzzle feeders, regular obedience training, and play will help reduce boredom
  • Owner training: Learn what is the appropriate way to react to barking, so that they don't accidentally reward the barking and hence make the problem worse
  • Dog training: It is relatively simple to teach a dog to bark on command, and then put a "Quiet" command on cue in order to silence them