The government is to consider banning the import of dogs with cropped ears after vets said buyers were using it as an excuse to mutilate their puppies.

The procedure, which government sources called an "abhorrent mutilation" is undertaken on puppies by owners who want their dog to look more intimidating. Bulldog breeds are at the highest risk.

Currently, it is illegal to crop dogs’ ears in the UK, but Russia, the USA and some European countries allow it, making it an attractive choice for potential owners to import cropped dogs from there.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The practice of mutilating dogs’ ears is abhorrent and has rightly been banned in the UK for 15 years.

“We already have some of the world’s highest animal welfare standards. Now we have left the EU we have the opportunity to manage our own rules applying to pet travel movements into Great Britain including considering the ban of imports of dogs with cropped ears.”

Ear cropping is becoming more of a trend in the UK, as celebrities and sportspeople share pictures of their cropped dogs on social media.

A spokesperson from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) explained: "A rise in celebrities and sportspeople in the UK owning and sharing images of these breeds on social media [is fueling the rise]. For example, Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Geordie Shore’s Aaron Chalmers, Love Island’s Jack Fincham and some leading footballers all own and regularly share photos of cropped dogs." 

There is no suggestion any of these celebrities have had their dogs cropped illegally.

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A post shared by Jack Fincham (@jack_charlesf)

Daniella Dos Santos, the Vice President of the BVA said she has seen cropped puppies in her own practice and that it makes her "uncomfortable."

She explained: "Ear cropping is carried out purely for cosmetic reasons, to make dogs look ‘harder’ or ‘tougher’. I want to be clear that there is no benefit to the dogs involved. In fact, it severely compromises their welfare. The procedure itself is painful, as it cuts through cartilage, and it can take weeks to heal, with pain every time the bandages are changed. There’s also a risk of the puppy catching an infection during the process. "

Ms Dos Santos added that she wants a ban on importing the dogs, so it does not provide a cover for those who wish to mutilate puppies in the UK.

She said: "We know there will be some cropped rescue dogs being given a new home in the UK, or families who own cropped dogs relocating here. But these are small numbers, and our concern is that these excuses are being used as a veil by unscrupulous sellers. A lot of the cases we see in practice are very young puppies – so they are either being moved illegally (the legal import age is 15 weeks) or buyers and vets are being lied to.

"Recently it’s come to light that unscrupulous breeders are carrying out this abhorrent procedure illegally in the UK, using crude instruments or DIY ear cropping kits bought online, likely without any anaesthesia or pain relief. And for what? A tough looking dog with little regard for the pain and suffering it causes them."

There are concerns that owners are also sending their puppies abroad to have their ears mutilated.

The RSPCA has seen a 236 per cent increase* in the number of reports of ear cropping and cropped ears during the last five years.

While in 2015 they only saw 14 dogs with illegally cropped ears, the number rose each year until it reached 47 in 2019. There are worries this number could continue to rise without government action.

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A post shared by Leigh-Anne Pinnock (@leighannepinnock)

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Ear cropping is a painful and unnecessary practice  in which a dogs’ ears are removed or surgically altered. It does not benefit the dog in any way and can actually be detrimental to their health, behaviour and welfare. 

“While we do have concerns that ear cropping is being carried out illegally, and underground, in this country, we suspect that the majority of dogs with cropped ears are being sent abroad to have the procedure done or are being bought and imported deliberately from countries with less stringent animal welfare laws and regulations than here.  

“Dogs should never be mutilated for cosmetic purposes and, while this practice has been illegal in this country for a long, long time, we’d like to see more regulation to ensure that it’s no longer possible to get a cropped dog in England and Wales, unless rescuing through a reputable organisation.”