Frequency & Factors of Canine Ear Cropping

Zenithson Ng, DVM, MS, DABVP (Canine & Feline), University of Tennessee

ArticleLast Updated June 20233 min read
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In the Literature 

Norris LJ, Pinchbeck GL, Noble PM, Radford AD. Dogs with cropped ears in the UK: a population-based study using electronic health records. Vet Rec. 2023;192(5):e2483. doi:10.1002/vetr.2483 

The Research … 

Surgically altering a dog for cosmetic purposes is a controversial issue with significant animal welfare implications. Ear cropping has traditionally been performed to meet classic breed standards that result in upright, pointed ears, imparting a more imposing or aggressive appearance, especially in dogs used for protection and guarding. Proponents of ear cropping have argued the procedure can prevent ear infections and improve hearing, but these hypotheses have not been substantiated. Many countries have banned ear cropping, and although ear cropping has been banned in the United Kingdom since 2006, many dogs residing in these countries are still observed with cropped ears.  

Electronic medical records of dogs seen within a network of ≈500 clinics across the United Kingdom from 2014 to 2022 were searched to determine incidence and status of dogs with cropped ears. Out of >8 million records searched, 132 dogs had cropped ears unrelated to a medical issue and were included in the study. Breed, age, neuter status, and country of origin were recorded.  

Large-breed dogs were more likely to have cropped ears, with American bulldogs being most common, followed by Doberman pinschers and Italian mastiffs (ie, cane corso). Evidence of ear cropping was most often reported in dogs ≤1 year of age (60.6%). Frequency was similar between males (53%) and females (47%), and <12% of dogs were neutered. A majority of dogs with cropped ears were imported into the United Kingdom (63.6%), most often from Romania, where ear cropping is also illegal.  

Although incidence of ear cropping in dogs in the United Kingdom appears low, prevalence indicates the procedure is still being performed despite being banned. True incidence may be underestimated if the procedure was intentionally omitted from the medical record. Recording of ear cropping may be more likely when ears were recently cropped or descriptive characteristics are needed to identify the dog during import or export. Future work should investigate when, how, and why ears are cropped, particularly in the intact large-breed dogs most frequently affected.   

… The Takeaways 

Key pearls to put into practice: 

  • Ear cropping has not been proven to reduce the risk for otitis or improve hearing, and there are no medical benefits for its recommendation. Countries where the procedure is still permitted (eg, United States) will likely experience similar challenges with attitudes and adherence to law if the procedure is banned.  

  • Ears play a vital role in canine communication, as ear position, movement, and shape indicate emotional state and needs. Dogs and humans may be less able to accurately interpret the body language of a dog with cropped ears. 

  • Pet owners who want their dog’s ears cropped should elect for the procedure before the dog is 10 weeks of age and be aware of the reasons it is banned in many countries. If the procedure is performed in a municipality where it is legal, appropriate anesthesia and analgesia are necessary. In addition, frequent follow-ups should be provided to manage bandage and brace changes, as well as complications (eg, intractable pain, excessive bleeding, hematomas, infections, improper healing, disfigured cosmetic appearance).