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New trend sends pets under the knife for plastic surgery

Stephanie Graham and Tom Murray

New trend sends pets under the knife for plastic surgery

CREATED Jul. 29, 2013 - UPDATED: Jul. 29, 2013

MILWAUKEE - Pet 'braces', cosmetic eye replacements, and tummy tucks.  Believe it or not, these are real procedures. Some owners are putting their pets under the knife to give them a new look.

Kaiser the doberman is recovering from 'ear implant' surgery for perfectly upright ears. 

His owner is Heather Hughes, who is also a vet.  She says, "The cartilage has not stiffened all the way, so his ears did not stand up completely."

Mesh implants for ear 'lifts' are one of the many new advancements in pet plastic surgery.  The cosmetic changes are happening in and out of the operating room.  There are even pictures online of dogs with pierced ears and artsy tattoos, and ads for implants to 'help' neutered pooches. 

It's something veterinarian Chris Bern has already been asked about in his practice.

"I think it is becoming more common for clients to pay for cosmetic surgeries," he says.

Make no bones about it, purely cosmetic procedures can be expensive, sometimes costing hundreds to thousands of dollars.  Pet insurance doesn't typically cover it, and many vets, like Dr. Bern, says they won't even do it.  "I don't think it's worth putting them through the pain and the recovery and the risk for our perception of how they're supposed to look."

The American Veterinary Medical Association is also against performing surgery for only cosmetic reasons.  So is Kristen Thiesen with the Humane Society of the United States.

"Sometimes people don't think very hard about the inherent risks that are involved in anesthesia for one of our pets."

There are many cosmetic procedures that are done for health reasons, like an extremely obese dog named Obie.  After he was adopted, he was put on a special diet and lost massive amounts of weight but was left looking with his skin dragging on the ground.

"Even when the fat is gone, the skin still stays extended out," Dr. Bern explains.

A recent tummy tuck surgery definitely changed things.  If your pet has a bad 'bite', there's even orthodontists to help straighten teeth that become painful.

Dr. Bern says before an owner considers a cosmetic procedure they should ask one question: 

"Are we improving the health and the life of that pet?  And if we are, then we have justification to do it."

Dr. Hughes made sure Kaiser was healthy enough to undergo the procedure, and chalks it all up to owner preference and she prefers his ears straight up.

"It's really an owner preference and a breed standard kind of thing," she says.

Some pet insurance plans do cover cosmetic procedures that have a health benefit for the pet or corrects a problem.