Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Can we improve the welfare of flat-faced dogs?
Dogs continue to be the UK’s most beloved pets, with 26% of UK households having at least one pet dog in 2017/18. As with fashion and music, dog breeds are subject to shifts in popularity with some breeds surging and others at risk of disappearing every couple of years, and over longer periods of time.
One of the most popular dog breeds to have recently grown in popularity is the French bulldog, which in both the UK and in America has increased consistently between 2013 and 2017. Brachycephalic or ‘flat-face’ dogs (as seen in comparison to a long-nosed or dolichocephalic dog in figure 1 below) have been steadily increasing in popularity over the last 10 years, particularly for the pug, even with an overall decrease in toy breed popularity.
What is the nation’s obsession with little, flat-faced dogs? It starts with an innate obsession with ‘cute’ features – big eyes, round face etc., and spreads from there. Popularity of any entity relies on how ‘good’ it makes one look and social media can easily help a trend go viral; there is no exception with dog breeds. There are dedicated lists online showcasing celebrity flat-face pets[10,11,12], and social media accounts[21,22,23] with millions of collective followers showcasing these bug-eyed phenomena, as seen in figure 2 below[13,14].
As demand for flat-faced dogs has increased, so has the knowledge surrounding the problems that have been bred into these dogs for the sake of aesthetic. Studies have shown that owners of brachycephalic dogs pay more attention to looks, forsaking health when choosing these breeds as pets. Unfortunately, these health issues include breathing difficulties, dental problems, ear canal issues, recurring skin infections, eye problems, birthing problems, temperature regulation problems, spinal issues and nervous problems[17,18], all which cause physical stress, even when performing ‘normal’ behaviours including exercise. If a child sounded like a pug after running around a field, you’d take them straight to the doctor; no, it’s not normal! Common diseases are also more likely to be seen in these flat faced breeds, versus non-brachy dogs as shown by Australian pet insurance company PetSure, illustrated in tables 1 and 2 below.
Table 1: The prevalence of PetSure insurance claims relating to common diseases in non-brachycephalic breeds from 2013-2017.
Table 2: The prevalence of PetSure insurance claims relating to common diseases in brachycephalic breeds from 2013-2017, to compare to the previous table
It is an issue that the media are referring to as an ‘animal welfare crisis’, following the warnings and pleas from veterinary professionals to stop the breeding of these flat-faced dogs. With all the associated health issues and the rampant amount of common problems seen in flat-faced dogs, it is no wonder that veterinarians and welfare experts are trying to educate the public, as well as put pressure on leading organisations to improve welfare of these dogs. But what is actually being done, and what else can we do for these suffering animals?
The kennel club have published that they have invested £170k into researching brachycephalic syndrome and developing better treatments, along with educating breeders, reviewing breed standards and overall raising awareness of the problems as to promote genetic diversity[26,31]. The University of Cambridge has developed a screening process, known as the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme, to help promote responsible breeding. The RVC has a dedicated unit of 8 surgeons that perform around 200 operations a year on brachy dogs just to assist their breathing. The AVMA published a ‘responsible breeding’ policy.
There are plenty of articles and publications stating that change is needed[33,34,35,36], yet the figures speak for themselves]5,6,7,8] and flat-faced dogs remain as popular pets. Education is a powerful tool against the ignorance of choosing an animal for looks over health and sharing researched facts will help ensure the right information about brachy breeds gets out.
1. Statista (2018) Leading pets, ranked by household ownership in the United Kingdom. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/308218/leading-ten-pets-ranked-by-household-ownership-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/ Accessed: 02/02/2019
2. D’Souza, K. (2014) The History of Fashion: Most important style moments of the 20th century. Available at: https://www.slice.ca/fashion/photos/history-of-fashion-most-important-style-moments-20th-century/#!history-of-fashion-feathered-hats Accessed: 02/02/2019
5. Crufts (2019) Comparative tables of registrations for the years 2009 – 2018 inclusive (toy breeds). Available at: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/129017/10yrstatstoy.pdf Accessed: 02/02/2019
6. American Kennel Club Staff (2018) Most popular dog breeds – full ranking list. Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/most-popular-dog-breeds-full-ranking-list/ Accessed: 02/02/2019
7. Crufts (2019) Comparative tables of registrations for the years 2009 – 2018 inclusive (utility breeds) https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/129029/10yrstatsutility.pdf Accessed: 02/02/2019
8. Crufts (2019) Comparative tables of registrations for the years 2009 – 2018 inclusive (working breeds) https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/129025/10yrstatsworking.pdf Accessed: 02/02/2019
11. Bellassai, M. (2019) 41 Reasons why pugs are the most majestic creatures on Earth. Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/byfrenchielove/celebrities-who-own-french-bulldogs/?lp=true Accessed: 02/02/2019
12. Morawetz, K. (2017) Famous Frenchies: Celebs who love French bulldogs. Available at: https://etcanada.com/photos/95157/famous-frenchies-celebs-who-love-french-bulldogs/#image-317471
13. “Coleen” (2017) Top 10 most popular French bulldogs on Instagram. Available at: https://celebritypets.net/top-10-popular-french-bulldogs-instagram/ Accessed: 02/02/2019
14. Doug the Pug (2019) Social media page on Instagram. Available at: https://twitter.com/itsdougthepug?lang=en Accessed: 02/02/2019
15.BVA (2017) Owners of brachycephalic dogs pay more attention to looks than health. Veterinary Record, 180(533). Available at: https://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/180/22/533.1.info Accessed: 02/02/2019
16. Bartels, A., Martin, V., Bidoli, E., Steighmeier-Raith, S., Brüschwein, A., Reese, S., Köstlin, R and Erhard, M. (2015) Brachycephalic problems of pugs relevant to animal welare. Animal Welfare, 24(3). Available at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ufaw/aw/2015/00000024/00000003/art00010 Accessed: 02/02/2019
17. Waters, A. (2017) Brachycephalic tipping point: time to push the button? The Veterinary Record. 180(12). Available at: https://search.proquest.com/openview/af3968de92ba7dde22a38e5afe3e5bdf/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2041027 Accessed: 02/02/2019
18. Gyles, C. (2017) Brachycephalic dogs – time for action. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 58(8). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508944/ Accessed: 02/02/2019
20. Beament, E. (2017) Popularity of pugs and bulldogs in advertising causing ‘animal welfare crisis’, dog charities warn. The Independent. Available at: http://theconversation.com/vets-can-do-more-to-reduce-the-suffering-of-flat-faced-dog-breeds-110702 Accessed: 02/02/2019
21. Doug the Pug (2019) Social media page on twitter. Available at: https://twitter.com/itsdougthepug Accessed: 02/02/2019
22. Doug the Pug (2019) Social media page on Instagram. Available at: https://twitter.com/itsdougthepug?lang=en Accessed: 03/02/2019
23. Doug the pug (2019) Social media page on Facebook. Available ar: https://www.facebook.com/itsdougthepug/ Accessed: 03/02/2019
24. Coren, S. (2016) A Dog’s size and head shape predicts its behaviour. Psychology today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/canine-corner/201603/dogs-size-and-head-shape-predicts-its-behavior Accessed: 03/02/2019
25. Feng, T., McConnell, C., O’Hara, K., Chai, J. and Spafafori, G. (2017) Brachycephalic Breed Disease Prevelence Study. Nationwide. Available at: http://nationwidedvm.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/NWBrachycelphalicStudy0317.pdf Accessed: 03/02/2019
26. The Kennel Club (2019) What is the Kennel Club doing to improve brachycephalic dog health? Available at: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health/what-is-the-kennel-club-doing-to-improve-brachycephalic-dog-health/ Accessed: 03/02/2019
27. University of Cambridge (2019) Scheme launches to imrprove health of French bulldogs, pugs and bulldogs. Phys Org. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2019-02-scheme-health-french-bulldogs-pugs.html Accessed: 03/02/2019
28. Glocker, M. L., Langleben, D. D., Ruparel, K., Loughead, J. W., Gur, R. C. and Sachser, N. (2009) Baby Schema in infant faces induces cuteness perception and motivation for caretaking in adults. Ethology. 115(3). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3260535/ Accessed: 03/02/2019
29. Usborne, S., (2019) “This is a calamity”: the surgeons keeping pugs and bulldogs alive. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/27/this-is-a-calamity-the-surgeons-keeping-pugs-and-bulldogs-alive Accessed: 02/02/2019
30. Usborne, S., (2019) “This is a calamity”: the surgeons keeping pugs and bulldogs alive. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/27/this-is-a-calamity-the-surgeons-keeping-pugs-and-bulldogs-alive Accessed: 03/02/2019
31. The Kennel Club (2019) Trends in canine genetic diversity in 30 years of pedigree dogs. Available at: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/695067/canine_diversity_infographic_final_web.pdf Accessed: 03/02/2019
32. Burns, K. (2017) AVMA passes policy on responsible pet breeding. Available at: https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/170301c.aspx Accessed: 03/02/2019
33. Waters, S (2017) Brachycephalic tipping point: time to push the button? 180(12) Available at: https://search.proquest.com/openview/af3968de92ba7dde22a38e5afe3e5bdf/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2041027 Accessed: 03/02/2019
34. Gyles, C. (2017) Brachycephalic dogs – time for action. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 58(8). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508944/ Accessed: 03/02/2019
35. Wedderburn, P. (2016) Urgent call by vet profession to stop suffering of brachycephalic dogs and cats. Vethelpdirect. Available at: https://vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2016/05/09/vets-to-end-suffering-of-brachycephalic-dogs/# Accessed: 03/02/2019
36. Anon. (2016) Pugs are anatomical disasters. Vets must speak out- even if it’s bad for business. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/22/pugs-anatomical-disasters-vets-must-speak-out-even-bad-business Accessed: 03/02/2019
37. BVA (2019) Health and welfare of brachycephalic breeds. Available at: https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/policy/companion-animals/brachycephalic-dogs/ Accessed: 03/02/2019