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a vet’s perspective on tail docking and ear cropping

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


Specific characteristics of certain dog breeds make them instantly recognizable (and lovable).  Selective breeding over centuries has enhanced breed characteristics, shaping and crafting dogs into the perfect specimens of today.  There are 178 dog breeds that are recognized by the American Kennel Club, and each is unique in their own way.  Take, for instance, the deliciously wrinkly Shar Pei.  Or the hang-dog look of the Bloodhound.  Or the elegant grace of a Shih Tzu as she floats by, as if on a cloud. 

There is a controversial side to the way some of these dogs look, though; many breed standards include tail docking and ear cropping in their descriptions.  The breed that most often comes to my mind is the Doberman Pinscher.  The classic look of a Doberman is one of erect, pointed ears and a short tail, but the dog was not born with those features.  Instead, when the puppy was just a few days old, his tail was cut off.  And then, when he was between six and twelve weeks old, the shape of his ears was modified with a scalpel so that they would stand up straight.

This is a hard subject to write about, both because it’s a controversial topic and because the procedures are difficult to think about.  Essentially, these are cosmetic surgeries to alter the way a dog looks with no medical benefit to the dog.  But not everyone agrees (especially breeders and dog show aficionados).

The American Veterinary Medical Association does agree, though.  This organization represents over 84,000 veterinarians in this country, and it opposes ear cropping and tail docking in dogs when done for purely cosmetic reasons. The AVMA also “encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.”  In fact, since as far back as 1976, the AVMA introduced policy that recommended that the American Kennel Club and other breed associations “delete the mention of cropped or trimmed ears from breed standards for dogs.” 

The American Animal Hospital Association has opposed the procedures since 2003, and the procedures are banned outright in the UK, Australia, and much of Europe.

The problem many veterinarians have with the procedures is twofold.  First, they are painful.  Most tail docking is done without anesthesia.  Four day old puppies are helpless as they have their tails cut off and the stumps sutured shut.  Ear cropping is always done with anesthesia, but the post-operative recovery is painful.  Multiple dressing changes and ear taping can go on for weeks, adding to the pain.

Secondly, these procedures put our dogs at risk – the risk of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection are all real and present. And all for an elective cosmetic procedure.

Proponents of the procedure claim that dogs are less likely to get ear infections when they have cropped ears, but I haven’t seen evidence of this.  In all of my years of practice, I have seen ear infections all kinds of dogs, cropped ears or not! 

I think it’s pretty clear where I stand on the issue, and many veterinarians (not to mention whole countries!) agree: ear cropping and tail docking are cosmetic procedures with the potential for a negative outcome.  Why take the chance?

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Comments
Posted by Denise LaChance
on December 01 2013 21:36

Thank you for this. I lived with someone who worked with a responsible and recognized breeder of English Cocker Spaniels years ago. I love her and her dogs, but was always horrified at the tail docking. I told her I wanted to have a Cocker Spaniel with a tail "the way God made them" (which is, of course tongue in cheek, because there is a lot of human contribution to their features). How wonderful it would be if the Kennel Clubs would end this cruelty. I adopted a senior American Cocker Spaniel who lived with me for years and loved him dearly, but I always thought he would be even more handsome iwth a tail.

Posted by Mary a Klein
on November 20 2013 19:57

I completely agree. This is a form of animal cruelty. There is no reason to put dogs through painful surgeries and recoveries for no medical reason, just so they look the way someone thought they should. I think these procedure should be removed from breed standards.

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