AVMA position on ear & tail docking

Cosmetic surgery : Ear Cropping and Tail Docking

AVMA Position

“Canine cosmetic surgery has reached epidemic proportions. Over 130,000 puppies undergo an unnecessary cosmetic surgery in the United States each year. This article will describe the procedures of tail docking and ear cropping, the history of the procedures, their place in modern veterinary care, and discuss the positions of advocates both for, and against these procedures. Additionally, this article will explain the ways in which the law is being used internationally in preventing these unnecessary procedures, and the ways that current and future American anti-cruelty laws can be used to put a stop to this epidemic.”



In July of 1999, after a great deal of debate, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) approved a resolution regarding the issues of ear cropping and tail docking. In short, the resolution addresses requests from veterinarians and veterinary students for their professional organization to clarify its position on these surgeries. First, the resolution itself, then some discussion.

The AVMA resolution reads as follows:

“Ear cropping and tail docking in dogs for cosmetic reasons are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient. These procedures cause pain and distress, and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection. Therefore, veterinarians should counsel dog owners about these matters before agreeing to perform these surgeries.”

Unless you work closely with animals, you may not be familiar with how contentious this issue has become. Breeders, some dog owners, and breed registry organizations argue that ear cropping and tail docking maintains the unique qualities of a given breed; some believe that these procedures contribute to the health and/or safety of the dogs (for instance, an upright/docked ear may reduce the risk of infection, or a guard dog with cropped ears may appear more threatening and thus decrease the likelihood of an intruder getting close enough to harm the dog or its owners). Others feel that the use of cropping and/or docking is an arbitrarily applied form of mutilation and has no bearing on the well-being, function, or value of the dog.

As with any emotional issue, there’s no clear compromise between the two extremes. Even within the AVMA, opinion was divided. The final vote for approval was 315-259, far from unanimous. The problem was most likely not a question of whether these surgeries are medically beneficial (I’ve seen no evidence that they are), but more whether they should be regulated and whether the AVMA should be the organization to make a statement. On one hand, members view the AVMA as a source for ethical guidance for veterinary students; on the other, there has always been resistance to the AVMA dictating specifics about how veterinarians should practice. While most veterinarians do not like to perform these procedures, a concern with a restrictive resolution was that banning these surgeries would result in people without proper training performing them.

The AVMA resolution, in the end, is a reasonable effort by a quality organization to take a stand on a difficult issue without passing moral judgement on people who continue to advocate these procedures. For more on the AVMA you can look at their web site at www.avma.org. To look at breed standards, go to the American Kennel Club site at www.akc.org.

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