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Pitbull Ear Cropping: Why Is It Done and Is It Cruel?

A brown American Pitbull standing on the road

While people have different beliefs on the topic of ear cropping, we do not advocate this practice. This article is meant to explain and not encourage ear cropping.

Pitbull ear cropping is a controversial topic. Some people think that it’s barbaric and cruel, while others think that it’s an acceptable procedure. While we don’t advocate ear cropping, we will take a look at a few of the reasons that it’s done today.

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What Is Ear Cropping?

Ear cropping is performed on Pitbulls when they are between 6 and 12 weeks old. This is often done by a veterinarian on an anesthetized dog. Unfortunately, especially in underground dog fighting rings, the ears of the dogs will be cut off by people using knives, razor blades, and scissors without the dog receiving any anesthetic. The ears will usually heal unevenly and look lopsided when this is done. Sometimes, the ears are cut so close to the head that the dog looks like they don’t have any. Performing this procedure unprofessionally on dogs that are over 12 weeks of age can cause lasting damage and extreme pain and force them into a longer recovery. Unprofessional procedures also mean the desired effect may not even take place once the ears heal. They can still flop and not stand up straight.

When this procedure is done properly by a professional, the floppy part of the ear, called the pinna, is cut off to make the ears stand up straight. The cut ears are then taped to a hard frame around the ears for several weeks so the ears heal in an upright position.

Finding a veterinarian to do this procedure may not be easy. This technique is not taught in veterinary school. Veterinarians who wish to perform this procedure will have to learn from other vets either by assisting in surgeries or watching them being done. That means there isn’t a universal way to do this, and one dog’s cropped ears may look different from another’s.

Natural Pitbull Ears

Pitbulls naturally have ears that resemble those of Labradors. The ears may become more erect as the dog gets older, and they have little curls at the top, giving the dog a happy, inquisitive look. Some people prefer the natural look of the ears.

Ear Cropping History

Ear cropping is said to have started in ancient Rome, when dog fights would result in ear injuries. By cropping the ears, they couldn’t be damaged as easily. Since ears are easy targets, they were often torn or bitten off, causing tremendous pain to the dog and causing them to lose the fight. Today, the practice is still used for this purpose even though dogfighting is illegal in many areas.

Ear cropping was also performed on working dogs that guarded livestock or hunted prey. If the dog may have to fight with a predator, cropping their ears was a way to avoid injury to them.

It’s also said that cropping would enable the dog to avoid ear infections, although this has not been proven to be true. Dogs can get ear infections whether they have cropped ears or not.

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Why Is Ear Cropping Done Today?

The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping. However, the practice is still done today for various reasons.

Appearance

Some people prefer the look of cropped ears and think that they make the dog look more aggressive. If they are using their Pitbull to try to protect themselves or their property, they may want a vicious-looking dog. Floppy ears won’t always accomplish that look.

Cosmetic reasons are the driving force behind most ear cropping procedures performed on dogs today. If the dog is a family pet, the historic reasons for getting the ears cropped are no longer necessary.

Breed Standard

When it comes to cropping ears, some Pitbull owners feel they don’t that have a choice. They think that ear cropping must be done in order to have a “true Pitbull.” The American Kennel Club (AKC) approves of ear cropping, stating, “The American Kennel Club recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health. Appropriate veterinary care should be provided.”

Some dog shows won’t allow a dog to compete unless the ears are cropped. The AKC will allow dogs with cropped or uncropped ears to be shown, depending on the breed.

pocket pitbull
Image Credit: casso, Shutterstock

False Beliefs

Dog owners believe that dogs with cropped ears have better hearing, fewer ear infections, and better ear health. None of these things have been proven to be true.

Sound is supposed to be better able to reach the ear canal of cropped ears without the pinna blocking any of it, enabling dogs to be more aware of predators. But floppy ears don’t block the ear canals of Pitbulls, and there’s no evidence of dogs with cropped ears being able to hear any better than those with uncropped ears.

Banned Practice

Ear cropping is banned in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe. The practice is regulated in the United States in Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington State.

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Controversy

Some people, including animal rights activists, equate ear cropping to torture and mutilation. Since the procedure is mainly done today for cosmetic purposes only, they don’t see any valid reason for ear cropping to happen at all.

Since the AKC is not opposed to ear cropping, it perpetuates this controversy. Those against ear cropping are given the argument that if the AKC is for it, then it must be acceptable.

Crop Styles

Ear cropping isn’t all the same. You can choose from four different styles.

Battle Crop

This is the shortest crop style and the ears sit close to the head. This is an aggressive look. While there are arguments for ear cropping saying that it keeps ear infections away, this style of the crop could cause more ear infections. The ear canal is exposed and has hardly anything to stop debris and moisture from entering.

This option doesn’t always result in erect ears either. With this style, the ears could flop over onto the head. There’s always a chance with any crop procedure that the dog’s ears won’t have the look that you desire.

American pitbull terrier_David Robert Perez_Shutterstock
Image Credit: David Robert Perez, Shutterstock

Short Crop

These ears are left a little longer than the Battle style and look like two small points on each side of the dog’s head. Since Pitbulls have blocky heads, this style is a favorite look.

Show Crop

Since there’s no guarantee that the ears will stand up straight after a crop procedure, the Show Crop is often selected because it has a high chance of producing erect ears. More of the ear is left in place and the ears look like two triangles on the dog’s head.

Long Crop

The Long Crop leaves the largest portion of the ears on the head while still giving them a pointed look.

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Ear Cropping Pros and Cons

Deciding whether to crop your dog’s ears is a personal choice. While we don’t advocate ear cropping, there are pros and cons to the procedure that should be taken into consideration before the decision is made.

Pros
  • Pitbulls look good with or without cropped ears. Their natural ears are adorably floppy, and cropped ears suit their head shapes well.
  • If you want to show your dog, cropped ears are usually favored among dog show judges.
  • Some say that ear cropping is good for the dog’s health.
Cons
  • It’s painful. Not only do the dogs have to endure healing from a surgical procedure, but they also have to go through the discomfort of having their ears taped for several weeks afterward. This can cause stress to the dog and change their personality. Your once carefree, happy dog could become depressed and sad.
  • No scientific proof exists to definitively show that ear cropping is beneficial to the dog.
  • Cropped ears usually signal to others that the dog is aggressive and mean. While some dog owners might enjoy this, it could be dangerous for your dog if they are viewed as vicious. If your dog should happen to get loose and walk down the street, people may fear that the dog is going to hurt them and will hurt your dog first as a way to protect themselves. People don’t need reasons to think that your dog is going to harm them. Your sweet dog could be injured or worse because of an altered aggressive appearance.
  • It can be expensive.
  • Since puppies are put under anesthesia for the procedure to occur, they could have reactions to it and become ill or not wake up at all. Approximately one in 100,000 animals will have adverse reactions to anesthesia. To put your dog under for a cosmetic procedure is to put them at unnecessary risk.

Is Ear Cropping Cruel?

Ear cropping certainly can be cruel if it’s done after the dog is 12 weeks old and by someone who is not a veterinarian. Cutting off a dog’s ears is barbaric and completely unnecessary. This is done repeatedly by illegal dogfighters who want their dogs to be and look as mean as possible.

When done by a professional who administers anesthesia and pain medicine to the dog, it’s not as cruel. They are still arguments to be made on whether it’s necessary, however.

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Conclusion

The decision to crop your dog’s ears has to be made by you, but it shouldn’t be made until you have all the facts. Know the pros and cons of the procedure, and speak to your vet about it if you have any questions. Weigh the reasons that you want to crop their ears against the pros and cons, and see if this is still the right decision to make.

We love natural dog ears and don’t encourage ear cropping. However, understanding why it’s done and what is involved with the surgery can help you make an informed decision about what is best for your dog.

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Featured Image Credit: KruBeer Photo, Shutterstock

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