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How to Evaluate Cosmetic Otoplasty (Ear Crop)

Mother of Dobermans
How To Evaluate Cosmetic Otoplasty
by Yelena Lapova, DVM, BS
January 17, 2017
Ears, ears, ears. They can make or break the look of a traditionally cropped breeds like Doberman, Great Dane, Schnauzer, Boxer, and many others. How do we know what’s good and what’s bad? I want everyone to have a basic working knowledge and high standards for their crops! Keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everyone may have a different preference or purpose – yet symmetry, technique, beauty flow, and communication should always be top notch. This blog references mostly Dobermans, but key factors apply to every cropped breed. Remember, many Veterinarians crop ears – VERY FEW CROP THEM WELL! Spend some time researching your surgical team, and don’t just trust the puppy brokers. We repair many a horrible crop and wish we didn’t have to.
1. There are 3 lengths: military, standard, show. While all are somewhat subjective, a good Doctor will be not only familiar with them but also able to figure out which one will suit the dog, the purpose, and the cartilage. E.g. a working dog may not need a show crop – it’ll get in the way and takes a long time to stand, distracting from intense training. Thin cartilage has high chance of not standing, again making show crop a challenge. Communication is key, but so is knowledge and common sense.
2. There are 2 basic shapes: straight and curved. Curved is much more technically challenging and is my signature crop. However, again it’s your preference. Curve can be placed higher or lower, and it really depends on the Doctor. It’s important you like their style and review the portfolio. If you can’t agree on the crop, your Doctor may refer you to someone else. Occasionally, I will decline the crop if it doesn’t agree with my ethics (battle crops with the exception of correcting a home job; dog is too big or sick, etc.) or I do not have any confidence that the ears are strong enough to stand.
3. Symmetry. Those ears need to be a MIRROR IMAGE of each other. One should not be taller, wider or shaped differently than the other. Very hard to do, but that’s what separates the good cosmetic surgeons from the bad. Evaluate with the face squared to you, and look at the bases, middle, and tips. Also, evaluate from the sides and back. Occasionally the ears will not heal properly at the very tip, and that’s something outside the Doctor’s complete control, however it’s not very common.
4. Beauty flow. Do the ears belong on the dog, or are they disproportionately tall, short, wide, stick out like a sore thumb, etc.? Does the dog look like a Doberman or a fruit bat? Do the ears look like steak knives? Look at the Doctor’s portfolio! If they don’t have an esthetic, pleasing collection of patient images, chances are yours won’t be the first great one. Some Doctors are more old school and don’t really have many pictures, but I would personally try my best to find some or see if there is a patient coming into the clinic you can glance at. If you don’t like the style in portfolio, bring pictures of what you like and ask the Doctor if they are open to your preference. You don’t have to get their signature crop – although most people come exactly for that, which will be reflected in their portfolio. Most good surgeons are somewhat flexible, within limits, unless they have a personal or ethical reason to not perform certain crops.
5. Technique. Tissue handling is not the only one, but a major determinant of how badly ears will scar, how smooth the edge is, how well they blend into the head and neck, etc. Poor handling, inappropriate tools, too much suture, etc. will result in messy edges, ears that stick out from the head, tips that don’t match, etc. While some surgeons are very skilled with the laser, it is my opinion that surgical laser is a poor modality for the otoplasty, and can leave not only a jagged edge but hairs discolored white.
6. YOU are a huge factor in how they will stand or heal. It’s a commitment for weeks to years. The genetic makeup of the dog and aftercare are utmost important in standing. We only shape the ear, YOU do the rest. The only way a poor crop contributes to not standing is when it’s too top heavy. Most inexperienced croppers actually go too short and round. I have corrected some crops where too much tissue was left on, my guess is due to fear. However, vast majority of the time the ears don’t stand for genetic reasons, or poor aftercare. Hold your blame for non-standing, as the vet has very little to do with it in cases of good crops.
7. Communication with your Doctor and surgical Team is key. Seek proper education and risk:benefit assessment. What is the Doctor’s opinion on chances of standing, potential complications such as pockets, etc. Do they use a modern anesthetic and analgesic protocol? Are they open for follow up, will they support you with questions and concerns after the crop? Overall, everyone has a different idea of beauty and there’s nothing wrong with preferring one style to another. Symmetry, shape, beauty flow and technique- as well as quality anesthesia, pain control, educations and communication- are huge factors and you should have high standards for them.
I will keep updating this blog, as opinions and observations are never final. The day we stop learning is the day we should stop practicing. There is never enough to learn, observe, and improve about the art of cosmetic surgery, and we are grateful to all of you for your trust and time.