Cropping puppy ears—otoplasty—refers to the practice of surgically altering the shape of the dog's external ear. The procedure may be done to correct congenital defects or damage from injury or disease.
Historically, ears were cropped on protection and “varmint” dogs to prevent ears from being mauled during fights with prey or each other. Also, erect “prick” ears are said to be healthier because they allow air flow that’s blocked in hanging or “drop” ear conformation of dog breeds like Beagles.
Truthfully, the procedure rarely is required for the puppy's health. Usually it’s done purely for cosmetic reasons to change a folded or hanging ear conformation to an erect look favored by dog show fanciers.
In the United States, ear cropping is historically performed on more than fifty breeds. These include Boston Terriers, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and Schnauzers to conform to the specific look of each breed standard.
Ear Cropping Surgery
The surgery is performed on eight to ten-week old puppies (Bostons more typically at four to six months of age). These early age surgeries create stress that can predispose at risk puppies to health problems like parvo or even distemper. Ear cropping requires general anesthesia and the expertise of a veterinary surgeon familiar with individual breed standards.
Various breeds standards dictate the preferred shape of the ear. A “show trim” often looks longer and more extreme on a Great Dane destined for the show ring than for a pet. And breeds like the Bull Terrier or American Pit Bull Terrier calls for shorter ear cropping.
Splinting and other specialized ear-bandaging techniques help form the puppy's ears for a week or more following the surgery and will need to be monitored and changed as the ears heal. Discomfort from the bandaging and wound can make healing a challenge since pups paw at bandages and shake heads to relieve the discomfort. Medication to relieve post-operative pain is recommended.
Is Ear Cropping Humane?
In recent years, the ethics of cosmetic ear cropping has been called into question both in the United States and abroad. The American Kennel Club breed club standards for these breeds generally include descriptions of both the ideal cropped, as well as a natural ear conformation. Some dog show fanciers believe cropped dogs do more favorably in competition and continue to crop in order to succeed in the show ring. Show dogs in some other countries may be disqualified if the ears are cropped.
The American Veterinary Medical Association passed the following policy in 2008: “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.” Shortly thereafter, some veterinary clinics including Banfield Pet Hospitals stopped tail docking and ear cropping altogether.
The practice of surgically altering the conformation of a dog's ears is expensive, painful, requires tedious owner follow up, and is not always successful. Changing the way ears look may also interfere with the dog’s body language. If conformation dog shows are not in your plans, there's no reason to put your puppy through ear cropping. Please consult with your veterinarian—and consider your own motives—before putting your puppy through this elective procedure.