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Friday, November 14, 2008

Cropping--The Ears Have It

Here is another controversial issue (never say I stay away from these topics). Ear cropping. For those who aren't familiar with the term, this is the surgical removal of part of the ear flap (pinna) on dogs. Most of you know the results of this. Look at the slim, pointed, upright ears of boxers, doberman pinschers, schnauzers, pit bulls, and many other breeds. These are not naturally occurring ears, but achieve this shape only through surgical alteration. Many countries have outlawed this surgery, and the US is one of the few where it's still legal. Even here there are many vets who refuse to do the surgery, and that number is increasing.

I'm one of those. As a vet, I totally and completely am opposed to ear cropping, and do wish that it would be removed as a breed standard in the US and be outlawed. Why do I feel this way since I'm willing to do declaws? It's because of what goes into the surgery.

Ear cropping has no medical value whatsoever. If ear cropping was medically necessary, then we would probably crop every cocker spaniel. The breeds that are commonly cropped have no health benefit from the procedure. This was originally done to help protect the ears of dogs who would fight, removing the floppy pinna that could be grabbed by another animal. This reason is irrelevant anymore, as fighting dogs against other animals is no longer morally acceptable in the Western world. In modern times, ear cropping is performed only because people have grown to expect it as a breed standard. It is done for human preference only, and is purely a cosmetic surgery.

Cropping requires general anesthesia. During the surgery, part of the pinna is removed, the amount depending on the breed. This is more art than science, as the surgeon is basically reshaping the ear into a different shape and size. Afterwards, the ear must be glued or taped in an upright position to cones or boxes. As the pinnas heal, they should scar in a way that the ears will remain upright. On the surface, this sounds pretty straightforward. However, there are many problems. This is not a surgery taught in vet school, so the doctor must find someone in practice who knows how to do it and will teach him or her. This means that there are rather loose standards of how the cropping is done, and again is more art than anything else, similar to plastic surgery in humans. The ears must be taped or glued for anywhere from several weeks to several months. This is not a quick and easy surgery. A declawed cat is usually fully recovered in a few weeks. For a spay or neuter the recovery time is less than a week. But ear crops can take months. Even then, there is no guarantee that the ears will stand up as intended. I've seen ear crops done properly, and the ears flop over at some point.

So basically, we're taking a beloved pet and forcing them into a medically unnecessary surgery that can take months to recover and may not even work. All because of how we as humans have decided that we prefer their appearance. Spaying and neutering have health benefits, as well as keep stray populations down. Declawing could be argued to have a limited set of circumstances where it may be indicated due to behavioral problems that some people can't control. Ear cropping never, ever has any merits or benefits beyond physical appearance.

That's why I have never learned this surgery, and always strongly try to talk clients out of doing it. Now, I'll admit that doberman pinschers look a bit goofy with natural ears, but all other breeds look better to me uncropped. And even in dobies I disagree with it. I realize that there are still some vets who support it, but they are in the minority and their numbers are shrinking every year. Hopefully enough breeders will pressure the AKC to disallow cropped ears in shows, especially as they find fewer vets to do the surgery. Only in this way will we move permanently away from doing this to our pets.