Pitbull Ear Cropping: Purpose, Procedure & Pros vs Cons

Some people know Pitbulls as cuddly dogs with tiny, floppy ears that sit awkwardly on top of their heads. Others know them for their pointy, alert ears that make them look intimidating.

These two appearances are very different, but somehow are the same dog breed!

Floppy ears and pointy ears are not caused by genetics. A pitbull with pointy ears is the result of a medical procedure known as ear cropping or ear clipping. This surgery involves cutting most of the outer ear for cosmetic reasons.

This is a painful procedure that can lead to many health and behavioral issues. So why do so many dog owners pay money to crop their pitbull’s ears?

There are many myths surrounding the ‘benefits’ of pitbull ear cropping. In this article we debunk those myths and discuss if this procedure is unnecessary and cruel.

Pitbull Ear Cropping
Pitbull Without Cropped Ears

When Pitbulls are born they have what is known as rosebud ears. This is the same ear shape that Labrador puppies have. They have soft, folded ears that are slightly lifted up which makes them seem inquisitive.

These puppies have the appearance of Dumbo, with ears far too big for their tiny heads! This makes them absolutely adorable.

As they age and grow, their heads become large and block shaped, which helps them fit into their large ears much better. Some adult Pitbulls can have heads so big that their ears look tiny on the top of their head.

Adult Pitbull ears are not as floppy as when they were puppies, so they are not considered rosebud shaped anymore. They stand up slightly, but the bottom half of the ear still folds over the top.

The floppiness of the ear depends on if it is a purebred Pitbull or a mixed breed.

For example, if your Pitbull is mixed with a German Shepherd, they could likely have the erect, pointy ears that are so typical of Shepherds. Or, if your puppy is mixed with a Basset Hound, their ears could be much longer and floppy to the point that they drag on the ground when they walk!

The outer ear that we love to scratch and rub on a dog is known as the pinna.

This part of the ear is important to keeping debris/water out of a dog’s inner ear and also helps them communicate with people and other dogs.

The endearing floppy pinna that Pitties are famous for is cut during the procedure. The goal of this surgical alteration is to produce a sharp, pointed shape that makes these dogs look constantly alert.

The History Of Ear Cropping

Cropped Ears

Ear cropping originated in Ancient Rome when dog fighting and bull baiting were popular forms of entertainment.

Floppy ears posed a threat to fighting dogs because another animal could latch on to their ear and rip it off. To avoid this, the Romans began cutting off most of the pinna. The pinna is the floppy part of the ear we see on the outside of a dog’s head.

Clipping also gave their dogs a ‘ferocious’ look that made them more intimidating. This helped to make bull baiting more exciting for audience members to watch.

Many dog owners today still crop Pitbull ears, but not for the purpose of dog fighting.

People who support and advocate for this procedure have many ‘justifications’ that they use to defend their decision to clip their dog’s ears.

Why Do People Crop?

Red Nose Pitbull With Cropped Ears

Appearance

One of the most common reasons dog owners defend cropping pitbulls’ ears is because they like the appearance. Many owners adopt this breed because of their tough muscular body, despite their cuddly personalities.

This breed is falsely perceived as a ‘manly’ dog that can intimidate intruders and ward off danger. Yet, they are not guard dogs.

Owners seem to like it as this makes them even more intimidating.

Although changing the ear shape of a Pitbull does not actually change their behavior, it changes the perceptions of this dog. Dogs with pointy ears are often labeled as ‘aggressive’ or ‘dangerous’.

This reasoning further emphasizes the negative stereotypes that Pitbulls have been falsely labeled with. Making these dogs look more aggressive will continue to enforce the belief that they are ‘dangerous’ dogs.

If Pitbull owners want to change the negative perception the public has on these wonderful dogs, they should not elect for procedures that make their dog look scarier.

Breed Standards

Another common reason people choose to crop pitbull ears is for show purposes.

Full drop floppy ears are undesirable in the show ring. Most owners looking to show this breed in a conformation show will likely have their dogs’ ears cropped.

Surprisingly, the breed standard for the American Pitbull Terrier includes pricked, erect ears that are cropped.

Many kennel clubs such as United Kennel Club and the British Kennel Club do not support this painful procedure.

Myths Behind Pitbull Ear Cropping

Cropped Pitbull Ears

Many owners claim that cropping a Pitbulls’ ears has multiple health benefits.

Reduced Infections

They believe that because dogs with floppy ears often develop ear infections, if you cut off the floppy portion (i.e. pinna), your dog will not have infections anymore! This sounds like a valid point; however, is not true. It has been proven that cropping a dogs’ ears does not decrease their risk of developing infections.

Pitbulls are prone to chronic ear infections because of their allergies, not ear shape.

Clipping pitbull ears can make infections worse, not better.

The pinna is important to keeping debris/water out of a dog’s inner ear. Your dog will have no protection of their ear canal to keep dirt, bugs, and water out.

Better Hearing

There are also owners that claim that by getting rid of that floppy ear portion, you improve your dog’s hearing! But again, this is false.

Clipping does not improve your dog’s hearing in any way.

The overall message is that none of these benefits have any scientific support or evidence.

There are no benefits to your dog to have their ears cropped. This surgical alteration is purely cosmetic and is only done because owners like the way it looks. A large majority of vets will not do this procedure.

Pitbull Ear Cropping

Pitbull Clipped Ears
Blue nose Pitbull Clipped Ears

The process of cropping pitbull ears is performed on puppies, rather than adults.

Vets that perform ear cropping recommend that your puppy is between 9 and 12 weeks old when they are brought in for this procedure. At this point, their cartilage is thinner and less developed, so it is “less painful”.

Cropping after 12 weeks of age can often lead to non-erect ears because their ears are more developed and sturdier. Because of this, there is an age limit for cropping pitbulls ears.

Most veterinarians will refuse puppies that are over 16 weeks of age or over 20 pounds.

Styles

Vets can cut off different amounts to achieve different clip styles. The four styles are:

  1. Battle Crop – shortest style and removes the majority of the ear, leaving your dog most susceptible to insect and debris invasions.
  2. Short Crop – most reliable when it comes to ensuring that the ears stand erect.
  3. Show Crop – most common and leaves 2/3 of the original ear. It is selected for dogs who are going to perform in conformation shows.
  4. Long Crop – leaves ¾ the original ear and is the longest option, resulting in a tall ear that looks like a Doberman Pinschers.

Procedure

Before surgery begins, the vet will mark where they will cut the dog’s ear. Once outlines have been drawn, the puppy is put under anesthesia and given antibiotics and painkillers to reduce pain and risk of infection. The ears are thoroughly cleaned and then the vet will cut along the drawn lines to create the style of ear crop the owner requested.

The edges of the ear that are now open are sutured shut and the ears are disinfected.

Their ears are typically bandaged to keep the ears in an upright position.

The entire procedure last 30-45 minutes.

Although care is taken to disinfect the ears and antibiotics are given, infections can still occur. In addition, young puppies may react poorly to the anesthetic administered; a complication that could be fatal.

Price

Pitbull ear cropping is a cosmetic procedure that can cost $150-$600 but averages around $250. Lower prices can be found if an owner goes through a breeder. However, this is much riskier and not recommended.

Owners must find certified veterinarians who are willing to perform this procedure; many will not because of ethical issues. Using someone other than a vet is illegal in some states.

Effects

Ear clipping creates unnecessary pain for your puppy and can lead to many further health complications. Infections are the biggest concern. Complications like this can occur to any puppy regardless of how qualified the veterinarian is.

Aftercare is complicated and involves cleaning your dog’s ears frequently, removing scabs, and monitoring for infection.

The recovery period after this procedure is around 14 days. This may not seem long, but to a young puppy, this is a long period of time to endure constant pain.

Because your puppy will have open wounds, their ears may bleed, itch, develop scars, or become infected. This can be extremely irritating. They will likely have to wear a cone during this time to prevent them from scratching and making the pain even worse.

The pain worsens as scabs begin to develop which the owner has to individually remove.

When in pain and trying to heal, your Pitbull puppy is missing out on critical time to socialize.

Your puppy will be delayed in meeting other dogs and learning play behavior, because they must first recover from this procedure.

In addition to the pain and side effects, cropping also affect your dog’s ability to communicate with other canines. Dogs use many aspects of body language, including ear position, to “talk” to other dogs.

Why You Shouldn’t Crop Their Ears

Pitbull Without Cropped Ears

Pitbull ear cropping causes unnecessary pain and suffering. This is a surgical alteration solely for the purpose of satisfying an owner’s desired appearance. A responsible owner should not put a puppy through this procedure.

There are no true health benefits associated with the process of pitbull ear clipping.

Owners have claimed that it leads to fewer ear infections and improved hearing, but there is no evidence to support these claims.

There are no health benefits and plenty of health risks associated with ear cropping.

Botched surgeries can lead to life-threatening infections or further surgeries that result in the complete loss of your dog’s outer ear. These complications can be extremely painful for your dog.

Trauma of a major surgery at such a young age can be scarring for a puppy. They may become overly fearful of their owners and develop behavioral issues.

Finally, erect ears also contribute to the negative stigma regarding Pitbull type breeds.

With all of the cons that exist regarding ear clipping, it is hard to believe that it is still supported.

The American Kennel Club states the cropped ears are part of the breed standard. Unfortunately, breed standards are used by conformation judges to adhere to. This can result in people docking tails or cropping ears to win.

Places Where It Is Illegal or Banned

Pitbull Ears

Pitbull ear cropping has been deemed an inhumane practice and is outlawed in many countries around the world. Nearly all European countries, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and the majority of Canada all outlaw this procedure.

With all of the reasons not to crop a Pitbull’s ears, it is unclear as to why this procedure is still legal in the United States. Ear cropping is still legalized in the United States and is even endorsed by some Kennel Clubs.

Within the U.S., only 9 states have any regulations regarding ear cropping.

Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, and Washington all have formally outlined that ear cropping is only legal when performed by a licensed veterinarian.

41 states do not have any laws.

In states without regulation sometimes breeders will crop their puppies’ ears. There is a much higher risk of infection and more extensive surgery may be needed if done incorrectly. They will also not have access to any of the painkillers or antibiotics that vets have access to.

Summary: To Crop or Not

Ear cropping is a medical procedure with deep historical roots. This surgery has been performed since Ancient Roman times. It represents the Pitbull’s gruesome and cruel past of dogfighting.

Many owners claim that cropping has multiple health benefits.

There are no health benefits associated with this procedure. It does not reduce ear infections or improve hearing. In fact, this is a very inhumane practice that is illegal in most European countries, the UK, New Zealand and Australia. Surprisingly it is still legal in the U.S.

Owners seem to like clipped ears as it makes this breed more intimidating. Unfortunately, this further perpetuates negative stereotypes against these gentle, affectionate dogs.

Ear cropping causes harm to this breed’s reputation and inflicts pain.

ProsCons
Allows a Pitbull to compete in conformation shows – only applies to show crops. Battle crops or long crops are undesirable.Extremely painful and can lead to complications including ear infections and even total ear loss.
Gives the dog a desired intimidating appearance with alert ears.Enforces false beliefs that Pitbulls are dangerous dogs.
 Can hinder a dog’s ability to communicate with other dogs.
 Surgery is traumatic for a young puppy. Wounds take 10-14 days to heal and can be uncomfortable and itchy.

Would you crop your Pitbull’s ears? Let us know in the comment section below.

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