By Emily Gantt
Published: 08/25/2021, edited: 08/25/2021
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Cosmetic otoplasty, also known as ear cropping, is a controversial subject for pet lovers, and rightfully so. Ear cropping is the surgical removal of a dog's pinna or ear flap, giving the ears a short, pointy appearance. This procedure is commonplace for breeds like the Great Dane and Doberman Pinscher, though the ethics of this practice has come into question. So why do people crop dogs' ears, and how did the trend start in the first place? Read on to find out.
What is ear cropping?
Vets perform ear cropping when a dog is just a few weeks old, usually between 6 and 12 weeks. The only exception to this rule is for Boston Terriers, who undergo cropping when fully grown.
Ear cropping takes about half an hour to complete and is a fairly straightforward surgery. First, the vet will administer anesthesia to sedate the animal. Once the dog is unconscious, the vet will use a scalpel or laser to cut away the undesirable portion of the ear.
After removing the excess ear flap, the vet will tape the remaining portion of the ear in a way that keeps it upright. The ear is regularly retaped throughout the healing process to maintain the correct ear position. Bandages are removed and reapplied weekly for 4 to 8 weeks until the ears fully heal. Most puppies have to wear an Elizabethan collar for a few weeks until they learn not to mess with their ears since interfering with the bandages could cause infection or improper wound healing.
Complications due to ear cropping
As with any surgery, ear cropping comes with its share of possible complications. Allergic reactions and problems with anesthesia are always a concern when dogs undergo an elective procedure. If an allergic reaction is severe enough, it can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that can lead to respiratory and cardiac failure.
Reactions and allergies aren't the only medical risks when it comes to ear cropping. Having your puppy cropped at an early age can put them at risk of contracting parvo or distemper since dogs are often cropped before they're eligible for vaccinations.
Ear cropping can have psychological and social implications too. Experts suggest that the pain and fear from surgery at such a young age can traumatize puppies. What's more, ear cropping can also have a negative social impact on dogs since they use their ears to communicate. The erect appearance of cropped ears is easily misinterpreted as aggressive body language and may cause avoidable scuffles between dogs.
Why do people crop dog's ears?
The practice of ear cropping dates back to Roman times, when dogs were used for fighting. Romans thought that removing the ears when dogs were young would make them less likely to be injured in the fighting ring.
Romans weren't the only civilization that practiced ear cropping — shepherds in historic Britain, Turkey, and Russia practiced it too. Shepherds would crop herding dogs in an attempt to prevent swelling and infections of the ear. Another reason people cropped dogs' ears during this time is that they believed dogs could hear better without ear flaps.
In the olden days, cropping was a long and painful ordeal, and there was no anesthetic. Originally, ear cropping was done by contorting the ear and scraping it on a hard surface like a rock. In later years, people used shears to remove the pinna and would feed the dog the excised skin because they thought it would help them to heal faster.
Cropping is still commonplace in countries like America, where the procedure is unregulated. Tradition is a big reason this practice continues today, and some people feel that AKC standards pressure breeders and pet parents into cropping their dogs' ears. Many dog breeders feel like they have to crop their puppies' ears to meet the breed standards and for them to have a chance in the show ring.
Another reason for modern-day ear cropping is the belief that ear cropping can prevent ear infections later in life. However, many vets say this belief is misguided and that there is no definitive evidence that natural ears cause ear infections.
Other people crop their puppies' ears simply because they like the looks of it. Some people find that ear cropping makes their pooch look tough or wolf-like.
The ethics of ear cropping
The ethics of ear cropping is a hotly debated topic. Many countries — including Australia and the UK — have outright banned the practice, though ear cropping is still legal in all of the US.
Despite its legality, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is an outspoken opponent of ear cropping. Their stance on this subject was clarified in 2009 when the association released this statement: "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."
Many vets downright refuse to perform this procedure, which drives some people to seek out unlicensed practitioners, who perform this surgery in unsanitary and dangerous conditions. For this reason, some states have enacted a ban on ear cropping done outside of a vet's office. However, animal activists believe these bans don't go far enough and are urging lawmakers to outlaw ear cropping altogether.
Ear cropping is a purely cosmetic surgery and, some argue, an antiquated practice. There are 4 main reasons people practice ear cropping:
- Most often, people crop either because they like the look or because it conforms to breed standards.
- Animal rights activists argue that the AKC standards promote ear cropping and that parents of show dogs often feel pressured to have these modifications done.
- The third reason some people ear crop is in an attempt to thwart ear infections, though experts stress that cropping offers no medical benefits.
- Lastly, some people simply like the looks of cropped ears.
The decision to crop your dog's ears is a big one, and you should do your research before committing to this surgery. Talk to a vet about the pros and cons and potential risks of ear cropping.