Nip, Snip, Clip, Crop, Slice, Tack, Glue, Tape, or Tuck? ... Dog Ears, of Course

Patty Khuly, DVM
Written by:
Published: March 25, 2010
Nip, Snip, Clip, Crop, Slice, Tack, Glue, Tape, or Tuck? ... Dog Ears, of Course

OK, so here’s another post where I ask for your opinion on a touchy topic and tell you how I handled it. This time on a subject we’ve tackled here before: Ears!

Every in-the-know pet owner knows it’s contentious, this issue of ear cropping for non-therapeutic reasons. In Europe it’s banned. Walk a Dobie with a crop down any street in Dusseldorf and you’re likely to earn yourself some cold stares — or worse. In the rest of the world it’s not illegal, but neither is it communally sanctioned the way it was before the ’60s and ’70s when animal welfare issues began to take firmer hold on our cultural conscience.

But the holdouts are firm. They say there are plenty of good reasons to crop a dog’s ears. Sure, it’s all about a big nod to the breed’s original purpose. But in a world where cropped dogs rarely work, and where form is no longer legitimately derived from function, detractors say the point of a crop is more about fashion than anything else. And fashion is no good reason to inflict unnecessary pain.

Still, the AKC (American Kennel Club), and plenty of other breed clubs remain staunch in their opposition to a ban: It’s a slippery slope, they say. What’s next, the gene police?

Enter The Miami Herald, and a recent column I wrote for it. In it, I’d pushed pretty hard on the issue of cosmetic ear manipulation, which bought me a talking-to from some of my readers.

Read for yourself, and see if you agree with their take:

Q: My male German shepherd will not keep his ears up all the time like his brother does. He is capable of getting them standing, and this occurs when he's swimming or playing with his favorite toy. Someone suggested I get an implant to make it stand or some cartilage removed so the ears won't be so heavy. Can you help me?

A: I’d love to help but you’re probably not going to like what I have to say. Here goes, anyway:

If having perfect hip conformation were as important to German shepherd owners as having great ears we’d have done away with hip dysplasia long ago. But it’s not just German shepherds I plan to pick on here. After all, lots of breeds come attached to owners who demand aural perfection.

So here’s where I have to ask: What is it about ears that leads so many well-meaning, otherwise rational owners to want to snip, crop, tape and glue them? If the ears don’t stand like they should there are probably as many ways to deal with them than there are breeders to recommend them.

I’ve seen owners use moleskin, plumbing insulation, industrial glues and solvents, Scotch tape, duct tape, plumber’s tape and even Crazy glue to get ears to stand or bend just right. Which means I’ve also seen weeping sores, infected ulcers and chronic skin irritation — all in the service of the almighty perfect ear.

Worse still are the surgical approaches. As if it’s not bad enough that we humans feel compelled to crop our dogs’ ears (and justify the act based on its historical significance). The idea that an implant might be necessary to turn an ear just so is repulsive — more so should you happen to be the veterinarian who treats these patients after their “repairs” have gone all wrong.

The ear of an animal is a delicate structure with a definite purpose. Just because we’ve bred our dogs in such a way so that their ears take on a specific shape does not alter this fact. Further manipulating it with surgical techniques, external support to help it stand, or fixatives to help it bend “correctly” should not be undertaken unless the stress and physical repercussions of doing so are negligible. Period.

So let me recap: Whoever suggested your puppy’s ear deserves either an implant or any less cartilage is a) wrong, and b) offering morally reprehensible advice. Don’t even consider it.

So what do you say?

Well, in any case here’s what was alleged:

Readers complained that it was not a fair and balanced response to a legitimate question. That’s an attack, they said. You should apologize, they added. Also, people should have the right to make up their own minds based on science, and not because you happen to be an animal rights activist up on your bully pulpit.

For the second time this week I’ll agree to being less diplomatic than I could have been. But this time I’ll stand firm: The science is pretty clear. There is no research to support the need for non-therapeutic ear procedures, surgical or otherwise. I mean, that’s the definition of “non-therapeutic,” isn’t it?

But you’re always free to disagree. So fire away and tell me whether you think I was evenhanded … or too tough for mainstream print …


Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: dogear by lucianvenutian. I especially like his image (of what I suspect is an uncropped ear) because the artist explains the photo itself was totally uncropped while literally "shooting from the hip." That's how it happened and that's how it remains. Love the poetry of the single ear. The irony is that I cropped it for the title shot.

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