Dogs deserve better

Pug in kennels © RSPCA

There’s been a lot of media coverage recently about ‘brachycephalic’ dogs (dogs with short, flat faces), because many of them suffer from serious health issues. In recent years the popularity and ownership of these dogs had grown drastically, fuelled in part by their increased use in advertising and the media.

Although their squishy faces and big eyes are often considered cute or comic, sadly these features can cause painful health problems and prevent dogs from being able to enjoy normal activities like playing and running. It can also be really distressing and expensive for owners.

The breathing problems that these dogs are at risk from are well-documented. But did you also know that many brachycephalic dogs also suffer with eye problems? A recent study found that brachycephalic dogs were 20 times more likely to be affected by painful eye ulcers than non-brachycephalic dogs.  Another study found that extreme brachycephalic dogs died at a much younger age (8.7 years) when compared to other dogs without short, flat faces (12.7 years).

Working together

In 2016 a ‘Brachycephalic working group’ (BWG) was set-up to improve the welfare of these types of dogs. We’re really pleased to be a member and working alongside other animal welfare organisations, veterinary organisations, the Kennel Club, scientific and social researchers and relevant breed club representatives.

One of the aims of the group is to lessen the use of brachycephalic dogs in marketing. Last year we sent an open letter to companies, asking them to stop using these breeds in marketing and advertising campaigns. Ethical advertisers and companies have an important role to play in promoting positive animal welfare.

Not just brachycephalics

Sadly it’s not just flat-faced dogs that  can suffer from health problems due to their extreme looks. Other breeds are affected too, and many dogs are still suffering because the way they’re bred and judged focuses primarily on how they look, rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind.

For example, dogs bred to have long bodies and short legs are prone to painful and debilitating spinal problems.

What can we do to help?

Owning a dog who has health problems can be devastating. And it can be really hard taking that leap and thinking, “this isn’t ok”, especially when we’re faced with thousands of YouTube videos of “funny Pugs snoring”. But if your flat-faced dog snores or snuffles, or your dog (of any breed) has any issues or symptoms which you might have been told are ‘normal for [insert breed here]’, don’t believe the YouTube videos and ask for some advice from your vet. Your pet may have a health problem and they could be missing out on the treatment that’ll help them live a more comfortable life.

When getting a dog

If you want to add a dog to your family, why not consider rescuing one? Your local RSPCA centre, or local breed rescue might have your perfect dog.

If you decide a puppy is the right choice for you, by doing some research and using the puppy contract you can give yourself the best chance of buying a happy, healthy companion you can spend many happy years with.

Think twice about getting a breed with serious health issues, and as well as all of the ‘usual’ (but still very important!) questions for breeders, ask them whether either parent has had any surgery to fix problems that the puppy could inherit. Some breeds also have trouble giving birth naturally so make sure you ask if the puppies have been born by c-section.

There are some great breeders out there who love their dogs and work hard to make sure they breed happy, healthy puppies. They’ll want you to visit more than once, won’t force you into buying on the first visit and will grill you about your home and lifestyle to make sure their puppies are going to good homes.

Beyond looks

As a dog lover it makes me really sad when I see dogs struggling to breathe, walk, play, or live a normal happy life because they’ve been bred to look a certain way, whether that’s for profit or to win a show.

We’re so privileged to have dogs in our lives – they’re incredible animals and in my experience, they bring happiness, love and laughter into our lives! So wouldn’t it be great if we placed less focus on what dogs look like, and instead judge them on their behaviour, health and welfare so that ultimately, all dogs are bred with the best chance of living happy, healthy lives?

Lisa – Senior Scientific Officer

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