Ear Cropping Is On the Rise – Why This Procedure Must Stop · The Wildest

Skip to main content

“It’s Absolutely Barbaric”: The Rise Of Ear Cropping In The UK

There's no good reason to ever do this to your dog

by Jess Commons
7 May 2024
picture of pit bull with cropped ears and bandages

It’s painful, illegal and can cause long-term social and physical problems for your dog. And yet, ear cropping isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s actually on the rise.

The number of reports of ear cropping made to the RSPCA leapt by 2,493% over the last seven years from 14 in 2015 to 363 in 2023, which is extremely concerning, especially since ear cropping has been banned in the UK since 2006 under Section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act.

“Some reports could be in response to our own campaigning efforts,” Explains Dr Sam Gaines, Head of the Companion Animals Science and Policy department at the RSPCA. “But I think it’s highly likely that those numbers are going to be an underestimate of what the total is because there are some individuals that don’t know it is illegal. And because it is illegal we don’t necessarily have full knowledge of where it’s happening. It’s much more likely to be far more common than we expect.”

Because although it’s illegal to crop a dog’s ears in the UK, it is not illegal to import dogs who have been through the procedure. This makes it harder to get a real understanding of how often the procedure is being performed in the UK as suspected individuals are able to claim their dog was imported. There is currently a bill going through parliament that will prevent dogs with cropped tails and other surgical mutilations like docked tails from being brought into the UK. “What we then hope is that we can really crack down on the people that are doing it illegally,” says Dr Gaines.

Ear cropping is a totally unnecessary surgical procedure in which a dog’s ears are removed or altered. It has no benefits for the dog (despite what some people might claim) and can cause permanent damage. It is generally performed on young dogs (under 12 weeks) and is popular on certain breeds including American Bullies and Cane Corsos. 

“What is particularly sad about this is that the age at which a dog normally gets their ears cropped is at time when they should be exposed to as many positive variances as possible to give them the best possible chance to grow into happy, healthy dogs.” Explains Dr Gaines. “And instead, they’re having these unnecessary and horrendous procedures that are really impacting on their experiences that should be positive but actually become really negative.”

Ahead, Dr Gaines explains more about the rise of ear cropping and the long term impacts it can have on dogs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is ear cropping on the rise?

What we’re seeing is the impact of social media and celebrity culture, and just an increase in popularity of particular breeds as well. Ear cropping is associated with certain dogs. We know that there are individuals in society that are always going to be attracted to a particular type of dog. Some people want a dog who looks intimidating and aggressive, and cropping ears does fulfil that particular appearance. Unfortunately, we have some celebrities, and some very well-known celebrities, who own these dogs. This means we end up in a situation where the look is normalised because we’re seeing so many images of it on social media. The fact that they’re celebrities glamorises it as well. Because there’s ignorance around what cropping actually involves it does mean that some people think, “This is what a Cane Corso should look like, this is what a Doberman looks like.” But all of these dogs are naturally born with a normal ear carriage.

What impact does ear cropping have on a dog?

Depending upon the extent to which the ear flap is altered, it’s going to impact their ability to signal. If you remove their ear flaps, they’re going to have no way of signalling whatsoever. Dogs use different parts of their body language to communicate whether they’re feeling angry, whether they’re happy, whether they want to play... Ears play a really important role. Fearful or anxious dogs will change the ear carriage so their ears are flat against their head and if you remove them then it becomes really difficult for the dog to signal their intent. This can then be misleading and confusing to other dogs who would read those signals. It puts both dogs in a more vulnerable position.

What about physical effects?

It depends on how the procedure is being carried out. Some of these procedures are done in such a crude way – using kitchen scissors for example. Unfortunately, you can still buy DIY cropping kits on the internet as well. Getting access to pain relief or anaesthesia is really difficult so it’s not always done. Depending on how much hygiene was taken into consideration these dogs can be exposed to infection and that can have a long-term impact – especially if they’re not given post-operative treatment antibiotics. It’s absolutely barbaric. It’s completely unnecessary. There is no benefit at all and the consequences can be really long lasting.

It’s not illegal to adopt a dog with cropped ears, right?

We urge people not to buy a dog with cropped ears. Report anything like that to us. We do have dogs in our care looking for new homes that will have cropped ears but the benefit of adopting them from the RSPCA is that we will have worked with that dog to understand their personality and behaviour.

If there is anything the adopter needs to be aware of regarding how the dog might respond because of the ear cropping then we can give them sufficient information to help. We work very hard with dogs that have had these sorts of procedures and are worried about having their head touched. We can’t solve all their problems because we can’t help them with their signalling. That’s ultimately what we need to be aware of: in some cases, it can be more difficult for these dogs to communicate with other dogs so adopters may have to work hard to understand what their dogs are saying and advocate for them in some situations.

So what needs to be done to cut down on ear cropping?

So much of it is around awareness, societal change and then the legislation that allows us to prevent dogs from coming into this country who have had the procedure. Oh also, when people see what they perceive to be illegal activity, please report it to us, because that’s the only way we can take action.

girl with blonde hair with ginger cat on her lap

Jess Commons

Jess is a writer, editor and former global lifestyle director at Refinery29 with previous stints at ITV, Grazia, The Debrief (RIP) and more. She is a sucker for an older gentleman cat with A Past and spends most of her time being told what to do by her toddler and her three-legged rescue cat, Mac.

Related articles