A controversial procedure performed on dogs may be occurring more than many puppy owners realise, an Australian vet has said.
The comments come after the Pennsylvania SPCA took to Facebook last month to say it had rescued 15 puppies from an unlicensed breeder.
Three of the dogs were found to have been debarked, a process that involves damaging the puppy's vocal chords to quieten their barking.
A South Australian vet has since said he believes the practice may be happening on this side of the world too, 7 News reported.
"They [the owners] would notice their dog is quieter, but whether they know why is another story," Dr Andrew Spanner said.
While it was a "rogue minority" of breeders doing it, it was hard to quantify how often it occurred, he said.
Dr Spanner has personally come across two debarked dogs and encouraged people to "blow the whistle" if they're ever aware of it happening.
RSPCA Australia's Dr Jade Norris told Yahoo7 the procedure was harmful to dogs and "invasive".
"There can also be complications including bleeding, swelling and infection following the surgery," she said.
"In the longer term there can be scarring. It can also affect airflow and lead to coughing and swallowing issues."
The procedure was still legal in South Australia, and Dr Norris was concerned about the practice becoming widespread. Its laws state a vet can reduce the "ability of an animal to produce a vocal sound" if it's required for therapeutic purposes or if there is "no other reasonably practical means of preventing the animal from causing a nuisance by creating noise".
Debarking is only allowed in New Zealand as a last resort when a dog is facing euthanasia.