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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.


  1. Back sorry been one of those funny weeks. I wont comment on cats claws as l feel that FUS is just one of the many problems.
    As to getting run over or other risk that is a risk l feel is better than being locked up inside 24/7. Again l won't go there.

    On the ear crop side we both agree l hate it. In Tenerife. there was one dobie lived in the flat below us. He had bandages for over a year on his ears.

  2. Ehhh... I know this is old but my dog is in the recovery process right now and she doesn't seem affected. On the same day as surgery, she was running and playing catch without a flinch. I thin people like to let there emotions get to them they start thinking, Oh man that must hurt so bad when looking at it. When in reality, dogs have less nerve ending toward the outer part of the ear, this is why when scuffling with other dogs they don't seems affected if their ear is bit.

    1. Actually, there are just as many nerve endings at the edges as towards the center. If you have reliable information to the contrary I'd love to hear that. Dogs may not always seem affected when being bit, but that is not because of a lack of nerve endings or an inability to feel pain. Some of them just chose to ignore the pain.

      Additionally, cropping ears is not just cutting some skin from the edge. It's amputating part of the cartilage of the ear and sometimes it involves removing the majority of the ear flap. Feel your own outer ear. Do you think it would hurt if a surgeon cut away a large chunk of that harder part of the ear? How would you feel if someone did that against your will merely because they wanted you to look differently? That's exactly the situation when you make a decision to have your dog's ears cropped.

      I have seen many, many dogs have their ears cropped during my over 30 years in this profession. Every single one of them felt some degree of pain. Some of them still didn't have their ears stand up properly. And none of them had any real medical reason to have the ears cropped. It's a completely unnecessary procedure that is performed merely because of human whim.

  3. I have a question about my 12 week old Doberman. When I unwrap his ears they stand...but he also lays them down on and off. I feel like he is controlling them going up and down. Should I continue? Is it normal for them to go up and down all day long?

    1. This is the problem with such procedures. There is never a guarantee that they will always stand, and at that age the cartilage is still maturing. Upright ears are NOT natural for a Doberman, and by cropping or taping their ears we are trying to force them into a position and structure which was never meant to happen.


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