Puppy plastic surgery on pets is a booming business

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More and more dogs across the country are going under the knife
for plastic surgery, but when Spot gets a tummy tuck, it’s not
just to look good at the local dog park.

Veterinarians say more pets are undergoing cosmetic procedures
in order to relieve painful medical issues, particularly in
popular breeds like French bulldogs, pugs and Shar-Peis.
Procedures that may be seen as frivolous in humans like eyelid
lifts and tummy tucks can often have important medical benefits
in pets.

“When it comes to animals, the plastic surgery we do is not
necessarily for cosmetics,” Dr. Jeff Werber of Los
Angeles-based Century Veterinary Group told Jo Ling Kent on
TODAY Thursday.

“It’s more for what we call function. These are animals that
are coming in for problems that are persistent – infection,
inability to breathe, eye problems.”

Among the most common procedures are tummy tucks to prevent
bacterial infections, eyelid lifts to avoid scratched corneas,
and laser nostril procedures to help dogs with wrinkled noses
breathe easier.

Americans will spend an estimated $69 billion on their pets
this year, according to the American Pet Products Association. People
spent $62 million on plastic surgery for their pets in 2011,
per animal insurance company Petplan. Procedures can cost
anywhere from $150 to $200 for an eyelid lift to several
thousand dollars for more complicated surgeries, Dr. Werber
said.

Breeding for specific physical attributes desired by consumers
has also caused persistent medical issues requiring cosmetic
surgery.

“It’s our fault,” Dr. Werber said. “And I think the more we
breed in, with the pugs and the Boston terriers and the French
bulldogs, those pushed-in faces, the more problems we’re going
to have with the nares (nostrils), the nose and the elongated
palate.”

In the case of dog owners Christy and Trevor Gale from Venice
Beach, California, plastic surgery was crucial for their
1-year-old French bulldog, Tonka.

The couple had spent between $15,000 and $20,000 on medical
bills, hospitalizations and medications for a respiratory
blockage in his snout until Tonka finally went under the knife.

“Every time we would feed him, he would regurgitate his food,”
Christy Gale told Kent. “He was in a lot of pain, you could
tell. He had no energy whatsoever.”

“We were freaked out,” Trevor said. “We didn’t know what to
do.”

Cosmetic surgery fixed the issue for about $1,500 after they
had spent 10 times that amount trying to address the problem.

In some cases, pet insurance can cover the costs of plastic
surgery, but many procedures are often not covered, leaving
owners like the Gales paying out of pocket.

While some might question spending that much money on a pet, to
the Gales it was a no-brainer.

“It’s not just a dog,” Christy said.

“It’s our family,” Trevor said.

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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