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Is It Legal to Crop a Dog's Ears?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

For many pet owners, "cropping" or surgically snipping a dog's ears can be a big decision.

Opponents of the practice argue that it's unnecessary and inhumane, but is cropping a dog's ears illegal?

No Nationwide Ban on Cropping

Unlike many other countries, the U.S. government has not passed any law regulating the practice of cropping a dog's ears. Most laws regulating the treatment of animals as pets (i.e., not as livestock or research subjects) are left to the states.

Notably, ear cropping is illegal in some parts of Canada, and all of Australia, New Zealand, and in Scandinavian countries, according to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Despite the international disagreement over the practice, both the Canadian and American Kennel Clubs encourage and may even require cropping for show dogs.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not support claims that cropping ears serves to prevent medical issues in dogs, and the practice seems mostly to be for aesthetic purposes in certain pedigree breeds.

State Laws on Cropping

While a handful of U.S. states do have rules about ear cropping, there are no states that have an outright ban. So while it may be legal to crop your dog's ears anywhere in the United States, you may need to follow a specific procedure.

The AVMA reports that there are only eight states where cropping has been regulated. Here are a few examples of those states' laws:

  • Pennsylvania. In 2009, Pennsylvania passed a law making it evidence of animal cruelty for persons other than vets to crop a dog's ears. This law requires dogs to be anesthetized during a cropping procedure.
  • Washington state. Cropping is exempted from animal cruelty laws as long as it's in line with "accepted husbandry practices." Since the American Kennel Club requires cropping for many breeds to show, cropping may be legal if performed by licensed breeders for certain pedigrees in addition to vets.
  • Massachusetts. Non-vets who crop dogs' ears can be slapped with a $250 fine.

Even if your state is not among those that have specifically regulated cropping, it is highly recommended to take your dog to a vet for the procedure. The AVMA reports that like any incision, cropping increases the chances for infection.

Bottom line: Going to a vet for cropping can reduce your dog's risk of infection and give you the option of anesthesia -- which may be required in a handful of states.

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