LONDON • Pugs are firmly in fashion in Britain, even if their faces sag, with owners taking them for cocktails and afternoon tea in pug-dedicated cafes.
In London's trendy Brick Lane neighbourhood, a dozen people stood outside gawping adoringly into the Pugs And Pals cafe one recent day.
On its opening day, the bar dedicated to pug lovers was a hit, even though it was a weekday.
"It's a fantastic thing to have your dog with you in a cafe or restaurant," said Ms Sally Afrasiab, 46, owner of eight-year-old Dude, who sported a Peruvian hat and bow tie.
She is among the pug fanatics who post pictures of their dolled-up dogs on Instagram.
"He has more clothes than I have," she added, laughing.
The number of pugs in Britain last year. Pugs are now the fourth-most popular breed after labradors, cocker spaniels and French bulldogs
The cafe costs £5 (S$9) to enter - double for those without a pug.
While the human customers raved about their pooches, the dogs feasted on cheese and ham scones.
Ms Lauren Lowe left the cafe with a joyous face - she had spent an hour cuddling dogs and taking pictures.
"I've been wanting to adopt a pug for ages, but I work long hours, so I can't. So I've come here today just to see some pugs," she said.
Ms Aida Martinez noted that many people are very passionate about dogs, especially pugs, adding that she was "literally stopped by people in the street" wanting to stroke her eight-month-old dog Mia.
It was that passion for pooches that made her decide to open Pugs And Pals with her partner.
Other pug-oriented bars already exist in nearby Shoreditch, another trendy London neighbourhood and elsewhere around Britain.
"Britain is a dog-loving nation," said pop-up pug cafe organiser Anushka Fernando.
"Pugs have such brilliant temperaments. They are incredibly loving and friendly, and get along with other dogs and children so well," she added, explaining the cafes' success.
Ms Gudrun Ravetz, senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, said there had been a huge surge in pug popularity in the last two to three years.
Pugs are the darlings of social media. Companies are cashing in, with pug mugshots appearing on all manner of products.
As a result, the number of pugs in Britain has almost quadrupled in the last 10 years to 10,408 last year. Pugs are now the fourth-most popular breed after labradors, cocker spaniels and French bulldogs.
But the fashion trend is worrying veterinarians.
"People think they look cute with their very squashed face and big eyes, but we know that this cute look is actually causing health problems," said Ms Ravetz.
Breathing difficulties, eye problems and herniated discs are among the conditions suffered by pugs bred to get the required look.
"A lot of people are unaware. They are not doing the research they need to do before they buy the dogs," she added.
Ms Martinez gives customers information on pug health issues and works with associations.
But Ms Ravetz remains wary and notes that treats can promote obesity in dogs, aggravating their health problems.
"Showing love to your dog is having time with it and taking it for a walk, not to cafes," she said.