Think twice about buying ‘squashed-faced’ breeds, vets urge dog-lovers

British Veterinary Association launches #breedtobreathe campaign to highlight serious health issues breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs are prone to

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.

Brachycephalic dogs graph

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 are 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.


What sort of health problems do brachycephalic dogs have?

Breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, French bulldogs and boxers are prone to a range of health problems, many of which are related to their short skulls and other characteristic features.

Breathing problems

Brachycephalic breeds often have narrow nostrils, deformed windpipes and excess soft tissues inside their nose and throat all of which can lead to difficulties with breathing, which can also lead to heart problems. The dogs are also prone to overheating.

Dental problems

The shortened upper jaws of squashed-faced dogs means their teeth are crowded, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

Skin disorders

The deep folds around the dogs faces, such as the characteristic wrinkles of a bulldog, also bring problems as they are prone to yeast and bacterial infections.

Eye conditions

The head shape and prominent eyes of brachycephalic breeds means the dogs are at risk of eye conditions including ulcers. Among the causes of eye ulcers is that brachycephalic dogs often cannot blink properly and have problems with tear production, while eyelashes or nasal folds can also rub the surface of their eyes.

Birth problems

Brachycephalic breeds can have difficulties giving birth naturally because of the disproportionate size of the puppies heads, meaning that caesarean sections are often necessary. According torecent researchmore than 80% of Boston terrier, bulldog and French bulldog puppies in the UK are born in this manner.

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 cross breeds.

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 well 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 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.

It has been suggested that vets may be unwilling to speak out for fear that owners will simply take their pets elsewhere, damaging business.

But Packer disagrees, saying: I dont 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.

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