AVMA opposes cosmetic ear cropping, tail docking of dogs

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Note: this is a corrected version. The online story originally stated that Maine bans ears cropping for dogs.
Prior to 1997, the Maine Animal Welfare Act included in the definition of mutilation "cutting off the ear of a dog in whole or in part." In 1997, the specific reference to ear cropping was removed and the definition was changed to mean injuring or disfiguring by irreparably damaging body parts, with exclusions for conduct performed by a licensed veterinarian or conduct that conforms to accepted veterinary practices.

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The AVMA is calling on dog breed organizations to remove ear cropping and tail docking from their standards.

The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when performed for cosmetic reasons and calls on breed organizations to remove mention of the procedures from their standards.

The Association's Executive Board approved the revised AVMA Policy on Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs, Nov. 14. The statement reads:

Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs

The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes. The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.

The former policy, approved by the AVMA House of Delegates in 1999, pointed out that cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking afford no benefits for animal patients, and advised veterinarians that they should warn clients about related, inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection.

The AVMA Animal Welfare Committee recommended the revised policy, which makes the policy of the Association consistent with those of the American Animal Hospital Association and the Canadian VMA.

The committee explained to the Executive Board in the recommendation's background that there is little scientific evidence that the cosmetic procedures of ear cropping and tail docking convey benefits for dogs.

Prior to the vote, Executive Board member Dr. Larry G. Dee of District IV spoke in favor of the revised policy. "Leaders take risks, and there's a risk in approving this policy, but it's a risk worth taking," observed Dr. Dee, a small animal practitioner from Hollywood, Fla.

No board member spoke against the proposal.

The American Kennel Club said labeling the procedures as cosmetic is a "severe mischaracterization that connotes a lack of respect and knowledge of history and the function of purebred dogs."

Tail docking of dogs, with some exceptions for working breeds, is banned in the United Kingdom, as is ear cropping. Australia and much of Europe prohibit both procedures.

"Because the AVMA is an organization that has determined it will create animal welfare policies based on science, committee members believe there is no reasonable basis on which to continue support for these procedures being performed for cosmetic reasons," stated the Animal Welfare Committee in the background of its recommendation.

Another reason Dr. Dee cited for approving the revised policy is the growing number of veterinary students uncomfortable with what they see as needlessly painful surgeries. Student AVMA President Emi Eaton, who was present at the board meeting, agreed. "The veterinary profession has been evolving, and many of the younger student body are behind ear cropping and tail docking only for medical reasons," Eaton, a fourth-year student at the University of Illinois, said later.