AVMA gets mixed reaction to ear-crop policy

AVMA gets mixed reaction to ear-crop policy

Opposes cosmetic procedures, urges AKC clubs to change standards
Jan 01, 2009

Cosmetic surgery policy: a timeline
National Report — The AVMA Executive Board's recent decision asking breed clubs to eliminate ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards earned praise from animal-rights groups but sharp criticism from the American Kennel Club (AKC).

The policy, which is reviewed every five years, now states: "The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes. The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards."

Gail Golab, head of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, says the policy adopted in late November is consistent with the approach the AVMA has taken since at least 1976. "Philosophically there is no change," she says. "We've never come out with a statement in support of ear cropping and tail docking."

Still, the American Kennel Club (AKC) blasted the AVMA for the revision.

"Mislabeling these procedures as 'cosmetic' is a severe mischaracterization that connotes a lack of respect and knowledge of history and the function of purebred dogs," according to the AKC.

Golab wasn't surprised.

"We've revised our policy in the past, most recently in 1999, and they had a similar reaction at that time and in 1976," she says. "They feel strongly about their breed standards."

AKC breed standards

Breed standards are established and maintained by AKC parent clubs. Each of the 158 AKC registered breeds is stewarded by a breed-specific parent club, and the AKC believes owners, in consultation with their veterinarians, have the right to make decisions regarding appropriate care and treatment of their pets, including ear cropping and tail docking.

Currently, 13 breeds are routinely cropped, while tail docking is common in 48 breeds, according to the AKC. Eleven breeds are subject to both.

AKC's policy on ear cropping and tail docking states:

"The American Kennel Club recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking and claw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health."

It's a policy the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would like to see changed.

The groups praised the AVMA, but urged it to go further by strengthening its positions on declawing and devocalization. They also called on the AKC to change its breed standards.

"We are very happy that they (AVMA) have come out with a much stronger statement than the previous one," says Barbara Hodges, DVM, MBA, a veterinary consultant with the HSVMA. "The piece of the puzzle in their statement that has been missing is their encouragement of the breed clubs to eliminate ear cropping and tail docking from breed-club standards. This gives veterinarians some back-up for not performing these procedures. It stimulates a re-examination of some people's perspectives."

The issue has been a hot-button topic for years within veterinary medicine. A VIN Tips feature in the June issue of DVM Newsmagazine sparked several Letters to the Editor and heated debate among veterinarians.

"I think a number of veterinarians have been uncomfortable with these procedures for a long time," Golab says. "A lot of the feedback we've been getting has been from veterinarians who are very relieved the AVMA made the revision because it gives them back-up for a decision they're already making."

Of 70 veterinarians who responded to a DVM Newsmagazine online poll, 80 percent say they are in favor of banning cosmetic surgeries.