Animal rights-oriented people and those that care for animals do not always agree.
Some advocates would stop all animal research. Others, including some pet owners and professionals, believe that animal research plays an invaluable role in finding the cure for cancer and other life-threatening diseases in humans and animals.
Some people promote animal rights to the point of condemning the practice of keeping zoo animals in captivity. Other animal lovers support breeding and displaying some species of animals in hopes that it will help that species survive. Seeing animals in well-run facilities can help raise awareness of animals in the wild.
There are some issues, however, on which animal rights advocates and most veterinarians would agree, such as ear cropping surgery. I and many other veterinarians believe that ear cropping is a cosmetic surgical procedure based on fashion, and it is not in the best interest of the dog.
When I first started practice, the veterinarian I worked for was an expert and would crop ears of various breeds. As the new associate, I taped the ears after surgery to help them stand properly. Dogs would require multiple visits and suture removal after surgery. Although I never did the surgery myself, I decided to not offer that service as part of my new practice and took a position that this surgery was not necessary.
Ear cropping was done originally to decrease the risk of ears being torn or grabbed in hunting and fighting dogs. Today, there is no real medical reason to crop a dog's ears. Certain breeds are cropped for fashion and to make the dog look more aggressive and sharp. The argument that cropping will decrease ear infections is not based on sound science.
There are significant medical reasons to not subject young dogs to this type of surgery. The standard time to crop ears is 8-10 weeks of age. Medically, dogs are not fully immunized at this age, and unnecessary surgical stress adds some risk for infectious diseases like parvovirus and respiratory disease. Psychologically, dogs are still in their imprinting stage and the stress of surgery has the potential to damage their future behavior and emotional development.
With any surgery, other risks can include infection, pain and bleeding. England and many European countries have eliminated ear cropping in all breeds of dogs for show purposes. Ear cropping is not taught in veterinary school and is only learned from existing practitioners.
The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes. It also encourages eliminating these features from breed standards for shows. Dog show judges must ultimately make selections based on body confirmation and condition rather than the look of ears that stand erect.
The only reason for veterinarians to crop ears is that otherwise non-veterinarians would perform the procedure poorly and illegally. The real answer to the problem is for owners to decide to leave their dog's ears intact. If there was no consumer demand, this surgery would no longer be done.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email email@example.com. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.