Study sheds light on demographics of ear-cropped dogs in the UK

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Staffordshire bull terrier Rocky's owner was prosecuted for removing his ears with knife.

A study by the University of Liverpool’s Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET), published in the Veterinary Record, has shed light on the breeds, ages and geographical origins of ear-cropped dogs in the UK.

While ear cropping has long been illegal in the UK as well as the EU, animal welfare organisations have raised the alarm several times about the growing numbers of cropped dogs in the UK. The growing trend is believed to have been fuelled by the glamourization of dogs with cropped ears through the social media accounts of celebrity dog-owners.

Using electronic health data from SAVSNET’s network of more than 500 UK veterinary practices, researchers identified “a total of 132 dogs that had cropped ears between 2015 and 2022, with rates peaking in 2021”. Breeds such as the American Bulldog, Dobermann, Italian Mastiff (Cane Corso), Bulldog and Mastiff were all “significantly over-represented”.

Affected dogs were mostly aged one or younger, and significantly less likely to have been neutered than the control sample

A lack of import regulations allows the import of cropped dogs from abroad, as well as providing a convenient smokescreen for people who crop puppies’ ears in Britain. In a recent case, a convicted couple attempted to claim their cropped pup had gone through the procedure abroad, although no proof was found that the dog had at any point left the UK.

According to researchers, in 84 per cent of cases examined there was “evidence of importation, most commonly from countries where cropping is also illegal including Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Spain, Poland, and Ireland”. A minority of dogs appeared to be cropped illegally in the UK; affected dogs were mostly aged one or younger, and significantly less likely to have been neutered than the control sample.

Lucy Norris, a veterinary student at the University of Liverpool who carried out the project work, said, “I was acutely aware of campaigns by the RSPCA and others raising awareness of the rise in reported cases of ear cropping. This new SAVSNET study provides important new insights into the demographics of affected dogs that could help inform both policy and targeted education to tackle this growing problem.”

A ban on the import of ear-cropped dogs in the UK is part of the Kept Animals Bill, which has been stuck in a limbo for well over a year and has yet to receive its third reading in the House of Commons.

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, said, “The latest SAVSNET research provides essential information on breeds, ages and origins of dogs with cropped ears in the UK which will be extremely useful in helping to target education to the public about the cruelty and impact of this practice.

“Despite ear cropping being illegal in both the UK and the EU, we are seeing increasing numbers of dogs who have been subjected to the unnecessary procedure both in the media and through our rehoming centres. There is no medical reason to crop a dog’s ears. The process can be extremely painful, result in complications and can cause long term issues such as inhibiting a dog’s ability to communicate. Education is key to stopping this abhorrent practice.”

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