The Unpleasant Truth About Cropping Puppy Ears


One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen was a Doberman whose ears had been cropped to the point where it wasn’t even possible to keep a collar on the dog – every time the dog bent forward, the collar would simply slip off. The cropping of his puppy ears hadn’t been done by a veterinarian – it was a botched “at home” job.

But should people consider procedures like cropping puppy ears even if it’s performed by a veterinarian? My take on it is “no,” but I have to admit that I don’t exactly come into this debate with hands that are 100% clean. That’s because as I acknowledged in Elective Surgery and Your Dog, when Janice and Leroy present me with litters, I dock the puppies’ tails. Is it necessary? No. It’s cosmetic. I just happen to prefer the look of a docked tail on some breeds. So why am I opposed to cropping puppy ears? It’s because a tail dock, using the bloodless method, is neither painful nor harmful. Ear cropping is a whole different thing.

How Do People Justify Cropping Puppy Ears?

You may have heard it said that ear cropping isn’t just cosmetic – it’s actually a way of preventing ear infections. I call bullshit.

Ear cropping may prevent a very, very small percentage of ear infections – the ones that occur in the ears of dogs whose owners are too lazy to check them for redness, itching and other signs of infection. Also, the breeds that are most often subjected to docking (Great Danes, Dobermans, and Pit Bull types) are not the ones that typically suffer from ear infections in the first place.

Ear infections are usually due to a genetic predisposition in certain breeds of dogs other than the ones just mentioned. For instance, Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels are very prone genetically to ear infections, and yet we would never think of cropping their puppy ears.

It’s also worth pointing out that only about 20% of dogs ever develop an ear infection – and that’s 20% of all dogs, regardless of whether or not their ears are cropped. And even if it were true that cropping prevents ear infections in some dogs, the fact is that in ALL dogs, cropping increases the risk of injury to the ear canal as well as rendering the delicate tissue inside the ear far more vulnerable to insect bites.

So, sorry, but the health justification simply doesn’t wash. It’s about appearance, pure and simple. People who are hell bent on cropping their puppy’s ears could at least admit their reason for doing so.

How It’s Done

Now that you know why it’s done – for misguided aesthetic reasons– let’s talk about how it’s done. I think that most people who have seen an ear cropping procedure, and the aftermath thereof, wouldn’t recommend it.

Unlike tail docking, there’s no bloodless method. It’s a surgical procedure in which a puppy (usually between the ages of six and twelve weeks) has about 75% of his ear flap cut off. In the case of the unfortunate Doberman I mentioned above, I’d say it was more like 90%.

When a veterinarian is cropping puppy ears, the procedure is at least done in sterile conditions, with the animal fully sedated. Once the puppy has been immobilized, the vet marks the ear before making the incisions. Following the removal of a portion of the ear flap, the ears may be sutured, or not – it’s up to the vet. Then, the ears are “posted” – in other words, taped to a brace so that they stand upright. And finally, the ears are bandaged.

Okay, that’s your best case scenario.Usually, the worst case scenario will occur with a “home cropping,” although that’s not necessarily etched in stone – sometimes vets can get the procedure wrong, and sometimes (often through sheer luck) “home croppers” will achieve decent results. If any result that involves cropping a puppy’s ears can legitimately be termed “decent.”

Results notwithstanding, the biggest problem with home docking is that the “surgeon” will not likely have access to anesthetic. So, they attempt to numb the puppy’s ears using ice or a topical preparation like Orajel. Neither method is particularly effective. The surgery itself is usually performed using sterilized scissors or a craft knife. Then, the wound is cleaned and dusted with antiseptic powder – most of the time.

Cropping puppy ears at home is, quite simply barbaric. It can place the puppy at risk of being disfigured (as was the Doberman I’ve referenced), developing an infection if the surgery is done in less than sanitary conditions and the ear not treated following surgery, and even dying from an untreated (or improperly treated) infection. There’s also the possibility of the knife or scissors slipping and causing serious injuries, since it’s pretty much a given that the puppy (whose ears are NOT properly numbed) will be squirming about.

Simply stated, cropping puppy ears issurgery. It’s not a DIY project, and it should never be attempted by someone who is not a professional – and that means a veterinarian, not a breeder.

The Controversy

As you might expect, there’s lots of controversyon the subject of cropping puppy ears. It’s an elective procedure, and for that reason, it’s frowned upon by most animal welfare advocates, and by veterinarians as well. The practice has even been banned in some parts of Canada, and in all Scandinavian countries as well as in Australia and New Zealand. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) are both opposed to the practice, citing the possibility of adverse outcomes along with the fact that the surgery is purely cosmetic.

Breeders and owners who want to continue with the practice of cropping puppy ears often try to justify it by comparing the practice to spaying and neutering, which they point out are elective procedures. And it’s true that in most cases, the decision to spay or neuter is elective. There are exceptions, though – if your male dog develops testicular cancer, then depending on his age and other medical considerations, neutering can very well a medically necessary procedure. In a bitch with pyometra, spaying is elective only in the sense that you can elect to have the surgery performed, or elect to have her die.

Even in the absence of medical issues, there are other benefits to spaying and neutering – the foremost being the prevention of unwanted litters that are likely to end up in animal shelters.

Comparing cropping puppy ears with spaying and neutering is just patently absurd. Nearly 2 million dogs are euthanized every year across the country because shelters are unable to place them. If nobody spayed or neutered, the number would be astronomically higher. So, harm can come from afailure to spay or neuter our dogs. I fail to see what kind of harm could result from a failure to crop ears!

I don’t imagine that those who are vehemently in favor of cropping puppy ears are likely to back down anytime soon. However, I would like to believe that there are more people on the side that oppose the practice, and that in the face of condemnation from animal rights groups and veterinary governing bodies, it may become less common.

The Final Word

Cropping puppy ears is something that people do for their own benefit, not for that of their dog – unless, of course, they want to make the argument that if they’re throwing their dog into a pit to fight another of his kind for the amusement of a bunch of sickos, then it’s best if his ears are cropped. After all, that way the opposing dog has less to grab onto!

Cropping is not a health issue – it’s done simply because some people think upright ears look better than floppy ears, or more imposing, or some such foolishness. I don’t understand why anyone would want to put an animal through a surgical procedure for something that’s purely cosmetic. And as I’ve stated, it IS invariably a surgical procedure – there is quite simply no bloodless method for ear cropping.

Put yourself in a dog’s position – do you suppose you’d be thinking “Oh boy, they’re cutting my ears off! I’m so glad, because I know I’ll look so much better without these long, floppy appendages!” Or would you be scared and confused before and after having the procedure done at a veterinary hospital? Even worse, how would you feel about the terror and pain involved in a home cropping, which can’t be done using anesthesia?

You can choose whether or not to have cosmetic surgery. Your dog can’t make that choice – you’re the one who makes that type of decision for him, and based on your particular aesthetic preferences. I hope that you will consider the potential harm to your dog, both in terms of emotional trauma and the possibility of botched surgery, and that you will decide against cropping puppy ears.