Why Do People Cut Their Pitbulls' Ears?

Imagine you're the proud new owner of a playful pitbull puppy, your companion's eyes full of trust and curiosity. As you marvel at their natural beauty, a question arises: ad

Do you wonder why people opt for this procedure? Is there a medical benefit, or is it purely cosmetic? And most importantly, could it cause harm or discomfort to your furry friend?

This article addresses these questions, exploring the historical roots, medical implications, and ethical considerations of ear cropping in pitbulls, guiding you to an informed decision for the welfare of your new companion.

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What Is Ear Cropping?

Ear cropping is a surgical procedure that involves removing part of a dog’s ears, typically done when the dog is between 9 and 12 weeks old. This surgical procedure is only done on puppies, never on adult dogs.

The goal is to make the ears stand erect, which is considered by some to be a desirable trait in certain breeds, including pitbulls. 

Historical Beginnings

Let's roll back the clock to ancient Rome, the birthplace of ear cropping. This wasn't a fashion statement back then but a practical move.

Those floppy ears were a liability if you were roaming with your dog in the wild, making them easy targets in a tussle with wild animals.

Cropping was less about aesthetics and more about giving your loyal four-legged companion a fighting chance in the rough terrain.

As time passed, and unfortunately, dog fighting became a thing, so ear cropping took on a new role. It wasn’t just practical; it became part of the dog's "fighter" image. Cropped ears were thought to make dogs look more intimidating in the ring and reduce the risk of ear injuries.

These days, we've thankfully moved past the era of dog fighting, but the legacy of ear cropping as a style choice stuck around.

It morphed from a necessity to a trend, especially in breeds like pitbulls. It's an old-school tradition that’s hung around, a nod to a more rugged past, but now sitting in the realm of personal preference and breed aesthetics.

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Reasons for Ear Cropping

Aesthetic Appeal

For some, it's all about the look. Cropped ears give pitbulls that sharp, alert, and muscular appearance that's become synonymous with the breed.

It's a style thing - a way to adhere to a certain image that's been popularized over the years. In the world of dog shows, this look can sometimes be a game-changer, setting standards for what a 'champion' breed should resemble.

Cultural and Tradition

In many circles, ear cropping is a tradition, a rite of passage for the breed. It's a practice passed down through generations, often viewed as a way to maintain breed identity. It's not just about making a style statement; it’s about preserving a piece of history, a link to the breed’s past.

Perceived Health Benefits

There's a common belief among some owners that cropped ears lead to fewer health issues, like reduced risk of ear infections and improved hearing. While these claims are debated in the veterinary community, they continue to be a driving factor for some who choose to proceed with the procedure.

Personal Preference and Peer Influence

Let's not overlook the power of personal preference and social influence. Seeing other dogs with cropped ears can be a strong influence for a new pitbull owner. It’s about fitting in with what’s seen as the norm in their community or circle of dog enthusiasts.

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Medical and Ethical Considerations

From a health standpoint, vets often question the necessity of pitbull ear cropping. While proponents argue it prevents ear infections and enhances hearing, many veterinarians dispute these claims.

The surgery has risks: anesthesia complications, infection, and prolonged pain during the healing process. There's also the psychological aspect to consider – the stress and discomfort a young pup goes through post-surgery can't be ignored.

Ethically, ear cropping is a minefield. For many animal rights advocates, it's a clear-cut case of putting aesthetic desires above an animal's wellbeing. It raises fundamental questions: Should we alter an animal's natural appearance for human preferences? Where do we draw the line between owner's rights and animal rights?

The Procedure

First things first: ear cropping is a serious surgical procedure and not just a quick snip. This operation must be carried out under full anesthesia for the dog's comfort and safety. Only a licensed veterinarian, preferably one with experience in ear cropping, should perform this surgery, which typically takes 30 to 45 minutes.

Surgical Details

During the procedure, the pinnas, or the visible parts of the ears, are carefully cut to a predetermined length. The goal here is to shape the ears so they stand upright. Once the cutting is done, the edges are meticulously sutured to ensure proper healing.

Post-Surgery Care

After the surgery, the real challenge begins. The dog's ears are wrapped in bandages to hold them in the desired erect position. This bandaging can last from several days to months, depending on how the ears are healing.

Recovery and Pain Management

It's important to understand that this isn’t an easy recovery. The dog’s ears will be sensitive and, yes, painful for several weeks following the procedure. Vets usually prescribe medications to manage the soreness and prevent infections, but it's a period that demands patience and careful attention from the owner.

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Ear Clipping Around The World

Many countries are taking legal steps to restrict or outright ban these practices for non-medical reasons.

Take the European Union, for example, which, under its Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, prohibits surgeries like ear cropping solely for cosmetic purposes. Israel has a similar stance against tail docking, and Scotland has been enforcing a complete ban since 2003.

Even in North America, where these practices were once more common, there's a change in the air.

Leading organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) openly oppose ear cropping and tail docking for cosmetic reasons.

Reflecting this stance, some regions in Canada and the U.S. have introduced laws against these practices. This includes provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, and states like Pennsylvania and Maryland. [2]

Pitbull looking out a window

Moreover, the veterinary community is also moving away from these practices. This shift is evident in the fact that many veterinary textbooks have stopped including procedures for ear cropping.

To Cut Or Not To Cut?

Interestingly, 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. [1]

“Ear cropping and tail docking are historical procedures performed in some breeds

for over 100 years, that can help dogs better and more safely perform the functions for which they were originally bred.”

So, one could reason that clipping a pitbull’s ears helps preserve the breed's character, but on the other hand, do pitbulls who are beloved household pets need clipped ears to perform “functions for which they were originally bred?”

Another consideration is what image you want to portray. We all know pitbulls have a bad rap for being aggressive and untrustworthy. Is that the image you want to portray by cropping your pitbulls ears?

If the answer is yes, be realistic about the fact that you will have to deal with a fair amount of dirty looks from passers-by.

Pitbulls with cropped ears can be negatively perceived by the public, and in turn, this negative perception is reflected in their owners. So, while the pain caused by the procedure may pass, the perception and arguably treatment of these individuals is affected for their entire life. [2]

White pitbull with black ears standing outside


As we conclude this exploration into the practice of ear cropping in dogs, particularly in breeds like pitbulls, it's crucial to acknowledge the complexity and varied perspectives surrounding this topic.

Ear cropping, a procedure with deep historical roots, continues to stir debate among dog owners, veterinarians, and animal welfare advocates.

On one hand, ear cropping is seen by some as a means to maintain breed standards, potentially reduce certain health issues, and uphold a tradition that dates back centuries.

For many, it's an aesthetic choice, deeply ingrained in the culture of certain dog breeds. This perspective often considers the procedure as a continuation of a legacy, aligning with specific breed images that have been established over time.

On the other hand, the procedure is not without its challenges and potential risks. These include the pain and discomfort associated with a surgical intervention, the risk of infection and improper healing, and the possible impact on a dog’s behavior and communication.

The increasing shift in societal views towards prioritizing animal welfare has led to questioning the necessity of altering a dog's natural appearance for cosmetic reasons.

Ultimately, the decision to crop a dog's ears rests with the pet owner, ideally made after thorough research, consultation with veterinarians, and consideration of the dog's best interest. It's a decision that goes beyond aesthetics, touching upon ethical, medical, and welfare considerations.

This article does not seek to advocate for or against ear cropping but rather aims to present a balanced view of the practice.

It encourages readers to delve deeper, understand the various facets of this procedure, and make an informed choice that reflects their values and the well-being of their canine companions.

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1 - https://www.akc.org

2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov