Welfare Implications of Ear Cropping-Dogs

Literature Review

March 13, 2013

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THE ISSUE

Some breeds of dogs in the United States customarily have their ears reduced with a blade or scissors to modify their shape and, in some cases, allow a naturally drooping ear to stand upright. Cropping is performed when dogs are between 6 and 12 weeks old depending on breed and body
condition. In larger breeds, after surgery the ears are positioned with tape, bandages or other devices to encourage an upright position.1,2,3  Well-controlled studies addressing the animal welfare implications of
cropping dogs’ ears do not exist. However case studies support certain risks associated with the
 procedure.

WELFARE CONCERNS—RISKS

General anesthesia—Cropping should always be carried out under full anesthesia, which itself has associated risks.4

Postoperative Care—Dogs will experience some discomfort during healing, stretching, re-taping and bandaging, and other manipulations after surgery. Some will need their ears bandaged or taped upright for days to months, and they may be isolated from other dogs during this period.

Potential Complications—As for any incision, cropped ears may become infected.  Cropped ears may also fail to stand or have a distorted shape or position potentially leading to subsequent operations.5,6,7 

REASONS GIVEN FOR THE PRACTICE

Animal Benefits—It has been suggested that dogs with cropped ears are less likely to suffer from infections of the ear canal. Although the development of some serious infections has been linked to the presence of a heavy hanging ear8, there is no evidence that cropping prevents or successfully treats these infections. It has also been suggested that cropping avoids later ear injury9 or improves hearing, but no evidence is available to substantiate these claims either. 

Human Benefits—Ear cropping produces an alert expression in dogs used for security or guard work and may contribute to the distinctive appearance of a pedigree breed.10

LEGISLATION AND ACCEPTABILITY

The American Kennel Club supports owners who choose to crop: “…ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health.”11 However, dogs with cropped ears may not compete in United Kingdom Kennel Club events.12
Many veterinary organizations, in addition to the AVMA, oppose cosmetic cropping including the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA),13 Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA)14 and Australian Veterinary Association.15 Individual veterinarians differ in their perspectives (e.g., letters 9,16,17,18).
Cropping has been deemed unacceptable in the United Kingdom for more than a century19 and is currently prohibited in Australasia and most European and Scandinavian countries.

SUMMARY

Ear cropping is a cosmetic procedure with potential negative outcomes for the animal. 

REFERENCES
1. Jensen HE. Ear Trimming. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1950;116:428-31.
2. Leonard HC. Ear Cropping by Triangulation. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1958;133:108-10.
3. Hancock WB. Ear-cropping Technic. Vet Med Small Anim Clin 1968;63:860-865.
4. Brodbelt D. Perioperative mortality in small animal anaesthesia. Vet J. 2009;182:152-61
5. Vine LL. Corrective ear surgery. Vet Med Small Anim Clin 1974;69:1014-1020.
6. Sauer BW. Correction of faulty ear carriage in the dog with porous polyethylene implants. Vet Med Small Anim Clin. 1976;71:1071-1075.
7. Burns CC. Surgical technique for correcting ear trims. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1951;118:93-5.
8. Harvey C. Ear canal disease in the dog: medical and surgical management. J Am Vet Med Ass 1980;177:136-139.
9. Jacobs FS. Ear trimming in dogs [letter] J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990;196:679-680.
10. Stone RW. More on ear cropping and neutering [letter] J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;216:174.
11. American Kennel Club. Government relations Position Statements:  http://images.akc.org/pdf/canine_legislation/position_statements/Ear_Cropping_Tail_Docking_and_Dewclaw_Removal.pdf  Accessed February 4, 2013
12. The Kennel Club. Competing with docked or cropped dogs in the UK. Available at: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/979 .  Accessed February 4, 2013.
13. AHAA Reference detail. Ear Cropping/Tail Docking Position Statement. Available at: https://www.aahanet.org/Library/CropDock.aspx  Accessed February 4, 2013.
14. CVMA Policy on Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs. Available at: http://www.cvma.net/doc.asp?id=21252  Accessed February 4, 2013
15. Australian Veterinary Association, Surgical alteration to the natural state of animals. Available at: http://www.ava.com.au/policy/31-surgical-alteration-natural-state-animals Accessed February 4, 2013
16. Longair JA. A plea against ear cropping [letter] Can Vet J 1980;21:280.
17. Humble JA. More comments on letters about JAVMA cover art [letter] J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;221:1382
18. Connell DL. More comments on letters about JAVMA cover art [letter] J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;221:1382.
19. Hobday FTG. Surgical Diseases of the Dog and Cat 1906; Baillière, Tindall and Cox: London

This information has been prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare Division. Redistribution is acceptable, but the document's original content and format must be maintained, and its source must be prominently identified.