The cruelty and illegality of cropping dogs’ ears | Alison Bezzina

Ear cropping for cosmetic purposes is a painful procedure performed on young puppies who are still developing both physically and emotionally

The cruel practice of cropping dogs' ears, a surgical procedure performed to alter the appearance of certain dog breeds, has often sparked significant controversy.

The practice has been illegal since 2014 and anyone caught breaching this law can face a fine from €2000 up to €65,000, up to three years imprisonment, and a temporary or permanent ban from living under the same roof as animals.

In Malta, it is also illegal to buy or sell a dog with cropped ears, and dogs with cropped ears that cannot be legally justified, cannot be admitted to shows, and competitions.

Understanding ear cropping

Ear cropping involves the surgical removal of a portion of a dog's ear flap. Sometimes this is followed by bandaging and subsequent posting to shape the ear as it heals.

The procedure is typically performed on specific breeds for aesthetic purposes, often with the intention of conforming to breed standards or achieving a desired aggressive appearance.  But, unless the surgery is performed by a certified vet for curative (medical) purposes, it is illegal and downright cruel.

Unnecessary pain and distress

Ear cropping for cosmetic purposes is a painful procedure performed on young puppies who are still developing both physically and emotionally. The surgical removal of a part of the ear causes acute pain and discomfort.

Given its illegality it is highly unlikely that a veterinary surgeon would risk performing such surgeries, which means that ear cropping for cosmetic purposes is often performed by people with no surgical or veterinary training and without proper access to surgical tools and medication.

As a result, dogs can be traumatised during the surgery itself and experience ongoing pain during the healing process, leading to prolonged distress and potential complications.

Impact on communication and sensory abilities

Dogs use their ears as vital tools for communication, expressing emotions, and interpreting their environment. Ear cropping diminishes their ability to communicate effectively through ear movements, leading to potential misunderstandings between dogs and their human or canine companions.

Additionally, the surgical alteration can impair their hearing and disrupt their natural ability to localise sound.  Cropped ears also give dogs an aggressive look which can lead to unjustified human perceptions and fear.

The illegality of ear cropping

Malta’s laws recognise that ear cropping for cosmetic alteration has no medical or functional benefit to the dog, and as such, it is prohibited.  Historically however, enforcement of this law has been weak, with authorities and even kennel clubs closing an eye to cropped ears.

The Commissioner for Animal Welfare insists that this practice should be stopped and that defaulters should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Last year a man was banned by the courts from owning dogs and fined €2000 after he admitted in court to having illegally carried out an illegal ear-cropping operation on his dog.  

Adoption of breed standards

Breed standards need to evolve to prioritise health, temperament, and functionality over cosmetic features. The Commissioner for Animal Welfare encourages breeders and kennel clubs to revise standards to contribute to a more responsible and humane approach to dog breeding and not to keep closing an eye to the cruelty involved in ear cropping.

According to the Commissioner for Animal Welfare, those who close an eye to this cruelty and any other animal cruelty are accomplices.

The Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare was set up by Chapter 439, the Animal Welfare Act, with the task towards projecting a higher deserved status to Animal Welfare issues and matters related there to.

The ultimate mission of the Commissioner’s office is to promote and advocate for the animal welfare and the highest standards of health, keeping and treatment of animals.

The promotion of compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, enhancement of cooperation between entities and persons advocating for animal welfare and the formulation of recommendations for the implementation of matters touching upon animal welfare.