State Laws Governing Elective Surgical Procedures

Updated September 2019

Several states regulate veterinary procedures such as tail docking, ear cropping and devocalization. The following is a summary of those state laws and regulations that AVMA research has identified.

Tail Docking

(see AVMA policies: Tail Docking of Cattle, Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs, Docking of Lambs' Tails, Tail Docking and Teeth Clipping of Swine)

There are currently 21 states that regulate tail docking in some form. Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Washington prohibit the docking of a horse's tail. Connecticut, Michigan and South Carolina prohibit tail docking of a horse unless it is determined to be medically necessary by a licensed veterinarian. In New Jersey, cattle tail docking is permitted only upon the determination by a veterinarian for individual animals.

In New Hampshire, permission must be granted by the state veterinarian before a licensed veterinarian may perform a tail docking procedure on a horse. Illinois prohibits the tail docking of a horse unless it is proven to be a benefit to the horse and California prohibits the docking of horses' and cows' tails except in emergency situations. Rhode Island prohibits tail docking of cows unless done under certain circumstances for veterinary purposes.

Ohio allows tail docking of livestock with some restrictions. However, as of January 1, 2018, tail docking can only be performed by a licensed veterinarian and if the procedure is determined to be medically necessary.

Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Texas allow tail docking of cattle only if the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian. However, Texas law stipulates that cosmetic tail docking is not allowed for appearance purposes only.

Maryland and Pennsylvania are the only states that have provisions restricting the tail docking of dogs. Pennsylvania prohibits the docking of a dog's tail that is over 5 days old. The law does not prohibit a veterinarian from performing a tail docking procedure if the dog is at least 12 weeks old and the veterinarian is using anesthesia. Between 5 days and 12 weeks of age, tail docking may only be performed if it is deemed medically necessary by a licensed veterinarian. Maryland law provides that only veterinarians may perform the procedure using anesthesia and only when it is appropriate.

Alaska, Louisiana, and West Virginia allow tail docking to be performed as long as the procedure is done in a sanitary manner, minimizes the animal’s pain and distress, and is done in a timely manner.

Ear Cropping

(see AVMA policy)

There are currently nine states that specifically regulate ear cropping of dogs. Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania all prohibit ear cropping except by a licensed veterinarian while the dog is under an anesthetic. Maryland law also stipulates that the ear cropping must be "appropriate on the animal". Illinois prohibits animal torture but makes an exception for alteration of an animal done under the direction of a licensed veterinarian. Maine prohibits mutilating an animal by irreparably damaging body parts but makes an exception for conduct performed by a licensed veterinarian. Massachusetts prohibits ear cropping except when performed by a licensed veterinarian and Washington prohibits ear cropping except when it is considered a customary husbandry practice.


(see AVMA policy)

There are currently six states that have laws prohibiting devocalization of dogs under certain circumstances. Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey prohibit devocalization except in cases where it is medically necessary as determined by a licensed veterinarian. Pennsylvania prohibits devocalization of any dog for any reason unless the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian using anesthesia. California and Rhode Island make it unlawful to require the devocalization or declawing of animals as a condition of real estate occupancy.

Cat Declawing

(see AVMA policy)

In 2009, California enacted legislation making it unlawful for a city, county, or city and county to prohibit a healing arts licensee from engaging in any act or performing any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that licensee. This bill became effective on January 1, 2010. Ordinances adopted prior to that date remain in effect, including West Hollywood’s cat declawing ban, which led to the adoption of the state law.

In order to beat this enactment deadline, the following municipalities in California adopted cat declawing bans in late 2009: Berkley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Monica. A similar measure was proposed but ultimately defeated in Malibu.

In 2012, California enacted another law prohibiting a landlord from advertising or establishing rental policies in a manner that requires a tenant or a potential tenant with an animal to have that animal declawed or devocalized as a condition of occupancy. In 2013, Rhode Island adopted a similar law.

On July 22, 2019, New York became the first state in the country to ban cat declawing. The law went into effect immediately and makes exceptions for medical purposes. Performing the procedure on a cat for any other reason could lead to a fine of up to $1,000.

Piercing and Tattooing

In 2014, New York enacted legislation prohibiting companion animal piercing and tattooing except when performed by a licensed veterinarian or under his or her supervision in conjunction with a medical procedure for the benefit of the animal. Tattooing is permissible for identifying a companion animal. The new restrictions do not prohibit ear tags on rabbits and cavies.

Source: Staff research, AVMA State Advocacy Division
Contact: State Policy Analyst, AVMA State Advocacy Division