Flat-Faced Dog Breeds Should Be Avoided Warn Vets

Flat faced dog breeds, such as the much loved pug, are increasing in popularity. Unfortunately, the characteristics of these breeds can lead to debilitating health problems later in life.

Fresh concerns over the health of flat faced dog breeds develop as vets urge potential owners to avoid them.

The flat-faced trend has led to more dogs than ever being treated for related conditions such as breathing difficulties.

The number of pugs registered rose from 2,000 in 2005 to 10,000 in 2015. The number of French Bulldogs increased by 4,000% to 14,607 over the same period.

Owners of flat faced dog breeds are often unaware of the health problems they can develop. Breathing difficulties, skin disorders, overheating, eye conditions and premature death are all common in these animals.

Flat Faced Dog Breeds are a Man-Made Problem

The flat faces we have come to love have been shaped over time by selective breeding. Breeders selected dogs specifically for the shape of their face. Unfortunately, their health hasn’t always been top priority.

It wasn’t until 2009 that The Kennel Club began to review breed specifications, discouraging extreme conformations.

“…every description was checked to ensure that it could not be interpreted as encouraging breeders to produce dogs with features that might prevent them from breathing, walking or seeing freely.”
‘What the Kennel Club does for Dog Health’ Brochure

Although unhealthy dogs are becoming less of a problem in the show ring, their popularity amongst dog owners still creates demand.

Advice from the British Veterinary Association (BVA), encourages potential owners looking at a flat-faced breed to consider a healthier breed, or best of all a crossbreed.

“We strongly encourage people to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead.”
Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA)

Dogs being bred with extreme body shapes are putting the puppies at great risk. The internal organs and structures simply cannot adapt alongside their exaggerated features.

Flat faced dog breeds comparison
French Bulldog, then and now

The broad head seen in dogs like the french bulldog, is not natural. It has been developed as a result of years of selective breeding. The french bulldog looks very different today when compared to 100 years ago, a result of the breed standards put in place by the Kennel Club. Notice in the image above the difference between the two muzzles.

The Kennel Club points out that breeders are deliberately breeding dogs with these exaggerated features.

Brachycephaly in Short Muzzled Breeds

Flat faced dogs are known formally as brachycephalic breeds. Brachycephaly is a disorder that impacts negatively on many bodily systems including; respiratory, reproductive, thermoregulatory, neurological, ocular and orofacial.

Brachycephalic breeds find it much more difficult to exercise and eat. Breathing difficulties make simple activities much harder work and causes loud snoring at night.

Flat faced dogs breeds are also much more susceptible to heatstroke as they are unable to cool down as quickly as other breeds.

If you are the owner of a brachycephalic breed and notice your dog has breathing difficulties, you should consult your vet. Brachycephaly requires surgical treatment to widen the nostrils and remove excess tissue that is impeding breathing.

Examples of Flat Faced Dog Breeds

The British Veterinary Association said the surge in popularity of these dogs had “increased animal suffering”. No dog owner wants to cause unnecessary suffering, but they might not be aware of the health issues surrounding flat faced dog breeds.

Below is a list of brachycephalic breeds:

  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog
  • Bullmastiff
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • Japanese Chin
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

What is the Future for Flat Faced Dog Breeds?

Charities have reported an increase in the number of short muzzled dogs they receive. Battersea Dogs Home received 39% more flat faced dogs in 2015, compared to 2014. This could be an unfortunate trend, set to continue as popularity of these breeds rises.

Enforce Better Breed Standards

In recent years, breed standards have been amended to promote healthier characteristics. Further work needs to be done to ensure that these updated standards are being followed. Unhealthy dogs should not be winning competitions or being commended by judges.

High profile competitions, like Crufts in the UK set bold examples for breeders and owners. That means dogs shown in these competitions cannot have health concerns and need to be removed from the competition as early as possible.

Screening programmes such as the BVA/KC health testing schemes must be more rigorous, with more schemes to pinpoint unhealthy dogs.

Prioritise Health Over Muzzle Length in Breeding

Breeders of flat faced dog breeds need to be able to identify and select for healthy characteristics in their dogs. For example, wide open nostrils should be prioritised over a desirable flat face.

Dog owners should also be aware of what makes a dog healthy too. Prospective owners need to research potential health concerns in breeds. This can be done using a tool such as The Kennel Club’s ‘Breed Watch‘ which highlights current points of concern.

Educate the Public About Brachycephaly

Unfortunately, most owners of brachycephalic dogs are not aware of the condition or the suffering it causes. Also a concern is how popular brachycephalic breeds are becoming. Potential owners need to be made aware of this condition as soon as possible.

With all the attention this subject has been receiving in the media lately, hopefully public opinion will begin to change. Health needs to come before fashion.

Summary: Flat Faced Dog Breeds

  • Flat faced dog breeds such as the pug are becoming increasingly popular.
  • The flat face characteristic bring with it health problems (brachycephaly).
  • Brachycephaly in flat faced dogs causes issues such as breathing difficulties, skin disorders, overheating, eye conditions and premature death.
  • Dog owners are being advised to choose ‘healthier breeds’ by vets.

Do you have any thoughts on this subject? Is enough being done to protect the health of these dogs? Is it all a big fuss over nothing? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured Image: Matthew Peoples

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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