Ear Cropping: The Painful Truth Behind This Cruel Practice

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and contributing authors were Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, and Petful editor in chief Kristine Lacoste. This article was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Elliott and was last updated July 4, 2024

ear cropping image
Though most American veterinarians don’t crop dogs’ ears anymore, the AKC thinks the practice is fine. Photo: Pixabay

Ear Cropping: Painful and Cruel

Ear cropping remains a controversial topic among veterinarians. Despite its declining popularity, some clients still request the procedure. However, the majority of veterinarians in America no longer perform ear cropping.

  • Opposition from Veterinarians: Many veterinarians, including Dr. Mike Paul, DVM, have long opposed cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking.
  • Veterinary Education: The procedure has not been part of veterinary education for many years.
  • Popularity in the U.S.: Despite the opposition, ear cropping remains popular for certain breeds in the United States, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) supports it.

History of Ear Cropping and Reasoning

A nonscientific poll of veterinarians across the country revealed the following:

  • Benefits to Dogs: Ear cropping does not benefit pet dogs in any way, with a minority trying to make a case for hunting dogs.
  • Prevalence: 98% of veterinarians surveyed do not crop ears.
  • Reasons for Persistence: The procedure is still done because people prefer the look of cropped ears in certain breeds, and the AKC supports ear cropping in 20 breeds.

Origins and Historical Reasoning

  • Ancient Practice: The exact origins of ear cropping are unknown, but it may date back to ancient Turkey.
  • Historical Reasons: Originally, ears were cropped to prevent ear injuries during wolf attacks, dog fighting, and fly strike of injured ears during hot months.
  • Modern Relevance: These historical reasons do not apply today.
Sometimes Dobermans have their ears cropped. The practice of ear cropping is cruel. Photo: YamaBSM

Pain and Suffering

Although some veterinarians still crop ears and dock tails, supported by the AKC, the tide is turning against these procedures.

  • Veterinary Opposition: Most veterinarians hope to follow Europe’s example and ban ear cropping.
  • Disconnect with the AKC: There is a significant disconnect between the general sentiment of veterinarians and the AKC’s official position. The United States and the AKC lag behind on this issue.
  • European Regulations: In Europe, ear cropping is prohibited in all countries that have ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons considers tail docking to be an unjustified mutilation and unethical practice, banning it in 1998.

The AKC’s View on Ear Cropping

Globally, procedures like ear cropping, tail docking, dewclaw removal, and debarking are often referred to as “convenience” surgeries. This term suggests they are convenient or aesthetically pleasing for humans rather than beneficial for the animals.

  • Veterinary Consensus: The general veterinary consensus is that these procedures cause a significant degree of pain and suffering for the animal.
  • AKC’s Position: The AKC disagrees with this opinion and seeks to “dispel the myths” about any pain, suffering, or convenience associated with these procedures. They do not consider them surgeries of convenience.

AKC’s Claims:

  • Tail Docking and Dewclaw Removal: “Tail docking and dewclaw removal are performed shortly after birth when the puppy’s nervous system is not fully developed … the puppy feels little to no pain.”
  • Veterinary Perspective: Contrary to the AKC’s claims, puppies scream and cry during these procedures. Medical evidence suggests lasting neurological and psychological damage can occur.
  • Ear Cropping: “Many believe these procedures are painful, performed purely for convenience or cosmetic reasons. This is completely false.… Each of these procedures is a safe, humane standard practice … and in the case of ear cropping, preserves a dog’s ability to perform its historic function.”
  • Veterinary Rebuttal: From a veterinarian’s perspective, these claims are inaccurate and misleading.

For more information on the inhumane nature of debarking, visit Petful’s article on debarking.

Puppies may whimper or scream during an ear cropping procedure. Photo: Winsker

The Reality of Ear Cropping Procedures

Ear cropping involves several painful and distressing steps for puppies:

  • Metal Rods and Tape: Metal rods are attached with large amounts of tape, and tampons are inserted into the ears to make them “stand.”
  • Frequent Vet Visits: Puppies require frequent visits to the vet for bandage changes, which inhibits their playful behavior and joy of living.
  • Adhesive Tape on Wounds: Adhesive tape is applied to open wounds on the edges of the ears. Removing the tape from these wounds can be excruciating, causing puppies to whimper and scream.
  • Risk of Infections: There is a high risk of incisional infections, non-healing wounds, and complications from the fishing line used to suture the ears.

These puppies lose weeks of their happy puppyhood due to this cosmetic surgery. The final insult is that sometimes people are dissatisfied with the appearance of the ears and want the procedure redone.

For more on why puppies whimper and scream, visit Petful’s article on puppies crying at night.

The Hidden Consequences of Cosmetic Procedures

On the Street

In a recent walk through New York, I observed numerous dogs with cropped ears. I approached people with Dobermans, German Pinschers, Miniature Pinschers, Schnauzers, and Boxers to ask about their dogs.

  • Common Response: The almost universal answer was, “He came that way,” suggesting that the dogs had their ears cropped before their owners got them.
  • Question of Responsibility: If ethical veterinarians are not performing these procedures, who is?

This highlights a significant issue with ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal. When reputable veterinarians refuse to perform these surgeries, it raises the question of who is doing them and under what conditions.

The College of Veterinarians of British Columbia has also banned ear cropping: 

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Responsibility for Continuing Ear Cropping

The AKC and breeders are at huge fault when it comes to continuing ear cropping.

  • Public Responsibility: The American public is also at fault. Anyone who buys a dog with cropped ears or a docked tail is guilty of perpetuating an artificial idea of how the breed is “supposed to look.”
  • Natural Appearance: All breeds were born with their ears, tails, and dewclaws. It’s up to veterinarians and dog lovers to change America’s views on how a certain breed should look.
  • Veterinary Community’s Role: The veterinary community and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have not done enough yet to oppose these procedures and shift public perception.

If you support the banning of these procedures, it looks like the AKC is actually your biggest enemy.

Health Risks and Complications of Ear Cropping

Ear cropping poses several health risks and complications for dogs:

  • Pain and Discomfort: The procedure is painful and can lead to prolonged discomfort. Puppies often experience significant pain during and after the surgery.
  • Infections: The risk of infections is high, especially if aftercare is not properly managed. Infected wounds can lead to further health issues and require additional medical treatment.
  • Non-Healing Wounds: Some dogs suffer from non-healing wounds, which can result in chronic pain and necessitate further medical interventions.
  • Behavioral Issues: The stress and pain associated with ear cropping can lead to behavioral problems, including anxiety and aggression.
  • Long-Term Health Effects: There is evidence to suggest that ear cropping can cause lasting neurological and psychological damage.

Alternatives to Ear Cropping

There are humane alternatives to ear cropping that ensure the well-being of dogs while preserving their natural appearance:

  • Proper Training and Care: Focus on training and caring for dogs in a way that minimizes the risk of ear injuries. This includes regular grooming and providing a safe environment.
  • Protective Measures: For working dogs, use protective gear designed to shield their ears from potential harm without resorting to cropping.
  • Education and Advocacy: Educate dog owners about the importance of maintaining a dog’s natural appearance and the health benefits of avoiding cosmetic surgeries.
  • Veterinary Advice: Seek advice from veterinarians on how to best care for a dog’s ears without surgery.

Promoting these alternatives helps protect dogs from unnecessary pain and supports their overall health and happiness.

Global Perspectives on Ear Cropping

The stance on ear cropping varies significantly across the globe:

  • Europe: Ear cropping is prohibited in all countries that have ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. The practice is considered an unjustified mutilation and unethical by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
  • Australia: The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) strongly opposes ear cropping and advocates for its ban, citing significant pain and suffering for the animals involved.
  • United States: While the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) opposes ear cropping, the practice remains legal and is supported by the American Kennel Club (AKC) for certain breeds.
  • Canada: Similar to the United States, ear cropping is still practiced, but there is growing opposition among veterinarians and animal welfare organizations.

Understanding these global perspectives highlights the need for a unified approach to banning ear cropping and promoting animal welfare worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is ear cropping?

Ear cropping is a surgical procedure where a portion of a dog’s ears are removed to make them stand erect.

How much is ear cropping?

The cost of ear cropping can range from $150 to $600, depending on the veterinarian and the location.

How long does ear cropping take to heal?

Ear cropping typically takes about 6 to 8 weeks to heal completely.

References

  1. “Ear-Cropping and Tail-Docking.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/cruel-practices/ear-cropping-tail-docking/.
  2. AKC Communications. “AKC Statement on AVMA Crop and Dock Policy.” American Kennel Club. Nov. 26, 2008. https://www.akc.org/press-releases/akc-statement-on-avma-crop-and-dock-policy/.
  3. Paul, Mike, DVM. “Are Ear-Cropping and Tail-Docking Ethical? One Vet Weighs In.” Pet Health Network. Sept. 16, 2015. http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/news-blogs/a-vets-life/are-ear-cropping-and-tail-docking-ethical-one-vet-weighs.
  4. AKC Staff. “Issue Analysis: Dispelling the Myths of Cropped Ears, Docked Tails, Dewclaws, and Debarking.” American Kennel Club. May 22, 2013. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/issue-analysis-dispelling-myths/.
  5. “History of Policy on Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs.” American Veterinary Medical Association. https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Documents/tail_docking_history.pdf.
  6. “Ear Cropping.” RSPCA. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/health/earcropping
  7. “Ear Cropping in Dogs.” PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/ear-cropping-dogs
  8. “Backgrounder: Ear Cropping of Dogs.” AVMA. https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/dogs_ear_cropping_bgnd.pdf



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