Think Twice About Buying 'Squashed-Faced' Breeds, Vets Urge Dog-Lovers

  • 06/01/2018
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Vets have urged dog-lovers to think twice about buying squashed-faced dogs such as pugs and French bulldogs after many would-be owners were found to be unaware of the health problems such breeds often experience.

According to data from the Kennel Club, registrations of squashed-faced, or brachycephalic, breeds have shot up in recent years: while just 692 French bulldogs were registered in 2007, registrations reached 21,470 in 2016.

Certain DNA variations in dogs are linked to a short skull shape. The animals’ baby-like faces with large, round, wide-set eyes and flat noses are known to be a key factor in why owners choose such breeds: over time those traits have been bred for, and in some cases have been taken to extremes.

This selective breeding and prioritising appearance over health has left the breeds prone to skin disorders, eye ulcers and breathing difficulties among other problems.

Now the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has launched a campaign dubbed #breedtobreathe to draw attention to the issues, revealing that a new survey of 671 vets found 75% of owners were unaware of the health problems of brachycephalic breeds before they chose their squashed-faced dog. Moreover, the vets said just 10% of owners could spot health problems related to such breeds, with many thinking that problems including snorting were “normal” for such dogs. 

The survey also revealed that 49% of vets thought advertising and social media were among the reasons behind the surge in ownership of these dogs, while 43% said celebrity ownership was one of the driving factors.

“We find that our veterinary surgeons are finding increasing numbers of flat-faced dogs are coming into their practices with problems which are related to the way these animals are made,” said John Fishwick, president of the BVA. “One of the things that is causing this increase that we have seen over the last few years appears to be celebrity endorsements and their use in advertising.”

Among those criticised by the BVA is pop star Lady Gaga, who is often photographed with her French bulldogs, and YouTube star Zoella, whose pug features in her videos. Big brands are also targeted; the organisation revealed that Heinz, Costa and Halifax have all agreed to avoid using squashed-faced dogs in future advertising. 

The BVA is urging people to send letters to brands asking them not to use such dogs in promotional material. The campaign also aims to raise awareness of potential health problems of squashed-face breeds and stresses the need for vets, owners, dog-show judges, breeders, researchers and others to work together to make sure the breeds are healthy.

“They are lovely breeds of dog, they are very friendly and they make good pets,” said Fishwick. “The problem is a lot of them are really struggling, and we really want to make sure people understand this and encourage them to think about either going for another breed or a healthier version of these breeds – ones which have been bred to have a longer snout … or possibly even crossbreeds.”

The BVA warned that without action, the number of corrective surgeries needed on such animals will soar.

Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club urged owners to do their homework before buying a squashed-faced dog. “As soon as you get a market drive then the puppy farms just say ‘ooh we’ll breed those now,’” she said.

But Dr Rowena Packer of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) said the problem is not confined to new owners, with recent research from the RVC finding that more than 90% of the pug, French bulldog and English bulldog owners said they would own another such dog in the future. “It is not just going to be a flash in the pan that we see this huge surge and then it goes away,” she said.

But Packer disagrees, saying: “I don’t think any vet went into [the job] hoping that their salary would be paid by the suffering of dogs who have been bred to effectively have problems.”

Dr Crina Dragu, a London-based veterinary surgeon, noted that not all squashed-faced dogs have problems. “You see the ones that have happy lives, normal lives, and you see the ones that the minute they are born they spend their entire lives as though [they are being smothered] with a pillow all day, every day,” she said.

Packer said prospective owners should be aware squashed-faced dogs can be an expensive commitment: “I think they need to be aware of both the emotional and financial hardship that they could be putting themselves and their dogs through for potentially five to 10 years.”

We say that if you're really ready to own a dog, take a visit to your local shelter and give one of the pups there a much needed loving home instead. 

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