The Painful Truth About Ear Cropping in Dogs

Though most American vets don’t crop dogs’ ears anymore, the AKC thinks the practice is fine. By: Free-Photos

Every time I think a controversial topic for veterinarians is truly on the downturn, what happens? A client makes a controversial request.

“Will you crop my pit bull’s ears?”

Oh boy. Here we go again.

“No, we don’t crop ears. Any ears.”

“Do you know who will?”

Happily, I don’t.

The great news is that a majority of vets in America do not crop ears anymore. The bad news is that cropping the ears of certain breeds is still highly popular in the United States — and the American Kennel Club (AKC) supports it.

History of Ear Cropping and Reasoning

I took a quick, non-scientific poll of veterinarians across the country. Here’s what I got:

  • Does ear cropping in pet dogs benefit the dog in any way? No. (A minority tried to make a case for hunting dogs.)
  • Do you crop ears? No. (98%)
  • Why is it still done? People like the look of cropped ears in certain breeds. The AKC supports ear cropping in 20 breeds.
  • Where did ear cropping originate? Unknown, but it dates back to ancient Turkey.
  • Why did they crop ears in ancient Turkey and elsewhere? To prevent ear injuries during wolf attacks, dog fighting and fly strike of injured ears during hot months.
  • Does this apply today? No.
Sometimes Dobermans have their ears cropped. By: YamaBSM

Pain and Suffering

Although there are veterinarians out there who still crop ears and dock tails — procedures all supported by the AKC — the tide is turning against these procedures.

Most veterinarians I polled hope we can follow Europe and ban ear cropping. Unfortunately, the latest news statement from the AKC (May 22, 2013) supports cropped ears (in 20 breeds), docked tails, dewclaw removal and even debarking.

There is a huge disconnect between the general feeling of veterinarians who are asked to perform these procedures and the AKC’s position. The United States and the AKC are so behind the curve on this issue.

In Europe, ear cropping is prohibited in all countries that have ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons consider docking of dogs’ tails to be an unjustified mutilation and unethical, and the practice was banned in 1998.

The AKC’s View

The world generally calls procedures like ear cropping, tail docking, dewclaw removal and debarking “convenience” surgeries, meaning they are convenient for the human or fulfill an aesthetic appearance for them.

The general veterinary consensus is that all these procedures carry a certain degree of pain and suffering for the animal.

The AKC disagrees with this opinion. It wants to “dispel the myths” about any pain, suffering or convenience, supporting all these procedures. They do not consider them surgeries of convenience.

AKC: “Tail docking and dewclaw removal are performed shortly after birth, when the puppy’s nervous system is not fully developed … the puppy feels little to no pain …”

What I know: They scream. They cry. There is medical evidence to suggest lasting neurologic and psychological damage can occur.

AKC: “Many believe these procedures are painful, performed purely for convenience or cosmetic reasons. This is completely false. … Each of these procedures is a safe, humane standard practice … and in the case of ear cropping preserves a dog’s ability to perform its historic function.”

What I know: Nothing could be farther from the veterinarian’s perspective.

Puppies may whimper or scream during an ear cropping procedure. By: Winsker

In fact, here’s what puppies go through when their ears have been cropped:

  • Metal rods are attached to large amounts of tape and tampons are stuck in puppy ears to make sure the ears will “stand.”
  • Puppies want to be puppies, but instead they are coming to the vet for bandage changes and having ears taped up for most of their puppyhood, inhibiting playful behavior and joy of living.
  • Adhesive tape is stuck to open wounds on the edges of the ears. Removing the tape from the open wounds can be difficult. Puppies can whimper and scream.
  • Incisional infections, non-healing wounds and fishing line are used to suture the ears.

These pups lose weeks of happy puppy life because they have gone through a cosmetic surgery of having their ears cut off.

And the final insult? Sometimes people are “unhappy” with how the ears look. They would like the ears “redone.”

Dr. Deb on the Street

I walked the streets of New York  this week searching for people walking dogs with cropped ears. I approached people with Dobermans, German Pins, Min Pins, Schnauzers and Boxers.

“Wow, what a nice dog,” said I. “Did you have his ears done?”

“No,” was the almost universal answer. “He came that way.”

So who did the surgery? This is another problem with ear crops, tail docks and dewclaw removal. If your local ethical veterinarian is not performing these procedures anymore, who’s doing these surgeries?

The College of Veterinarians of British Columbia has also banned ear cropping: 

The AKC and breeders are at huge fault when it comes to continuing ear cropping. The American public is at fault as well. Anyone who buys a dog with cropped ears or a docked tail is guilty of perpetuating an artificial idea of how the breed is “supposed to look.”

All breeds were born with their ears and tails and dewclaws. It’s up to veterinarians and dog lovers to change America’s views on how a certain breed should look.

I don’t think the veterinary community or the American Medical Veterinary Association have done enough yet. If you support the banning of these procedures, it looks like the AKC is actually your biggest enemy.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Aug. 15, 2018.

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