Getting a 'flat-faced' dog? Think again, advise British vets

Think twice before choosing flat-faced breeds such as French bulldogs and pugs, vets in Britain have urged.
Think twice before choosing flat-faced breeds such as French bulldogs and pugs, vets in Britain have urged.PHOTO: AFP

Considering buying a dog? Think twice before choosing "flat-faced" breeds such as French bulldogs and pugs, vets in Britain have urged.

Such breeds, which also include shih-tzus, have become sought after pets due to their fashionable appeal and celebrity ownership. They are also prized for their unique "squashed" faces and wrinkled noses.

However, these dogs, known as brachycephalic breeds, can experience debilitating health problems related to their characteristics, according to a report by the BBC. The British Veterinary Association (BVA), which represents vets across the United Kingdom, has encouraged prospective dog owners to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed.

Mr Sean Wensley, president of the BVA, told the BBC: "Vets are seeing concerning trends in dog health and welfare because of the rise in ownership of brachycephalic breeds.

"Prospective dog owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer a range of health issues throughout their lives, from eye ulcers to painful spine abnormalities and severe breathing difficulties that can result in otherwise preventable surgery."

Mr Wensley's warning is at least the third statement this year by the BVA warning of serious health problems faced by brachycephalic dogs.

Bulldogs are prized for their unique squashed faces and wrinkled noses. PHOTO: ST FILE

These health issues have stemmed from years of selective breeding.

"The surge in demand for brachycephalic breeds has provided a ready market for unscrupulous breeders to effectively churn out puppies for profit, outside of any regulation or umbrella of influence, with no regard for their health and welfare," Ms Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, told The Guardian.

Dr Rowena Packer, a researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, explained this process further by saying that the health issues faced by brachycephalic dogs were linked to body shapes.

"Basically, it's where we've been selecting for this face shape, but where nature isn't really compatible with that, so that not everything inside is reducing down how we want it to.

"They find it far more difficult to exercise, or even do normal things like eating. They actually sell specific diets for these dogs because they find it difficult to chew and swallow," Dr Packer added.

"If you're breeding dogs with extreme body shapes, no matter how good a breeder you are, you are still putting the puppies at very, very high risk of quite a long list of conditions."

Ms Kisko added that one should speak to the relevant owners' club for advice first before getting a flat-faced breed.

However, the secretary of one brachycephalic breed owners' club in the UK, who preferred not to be named, criticised the Kennel Club. She told The Guardian that the organisation registered puppies even though they diverged from recognised breed standards. This exacerbated the problem, she said, and the number of registrations of the breed her club represented had skyrocketed in the past decade.

According to the BBC, evidence suggests that an increasing number of these dogs are being abandoned by owners. Six dog rescue companies said that the breeds were being given up in greater numbers.

Battersea Dogs Home and Bluecross Animal Rescue received a total of 314 "flat-faced" dogs in 2015, compared to 226 in 2014, an increase of 39 per cent. Both were also attempting more surgical procedures to clear the obstructed airways of the dogs brought in - removing tissue and widening nostrils, conditions associated with brachycephalic dogs.

Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, pats a bulldog called Winston, during her visit to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London, Britain on Sept 7. Winston the bulldog, left by his owners at Battersea Dogs home, suffers from shortness of breath. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Steve Gosling, a vet at Battersea Dogs Home, told the BBC that such operations are regular and shortness of breath can be a very distressing condition.

A recent survey by the Royal Veterinary College indicates many owners of brachycephalic dogs are not aware of their common underlying health issues, and think that symptoms such as airway noise are normal.

This summer, the Royal Veterinary College opened Britain's first specialist clinic to cater to health issues in flat-faced dogs.

Additionally, more than 12,000 vets and vet nurses have signed an online petition calling for a working party to address the increasing health problems in brachycephalic dogs and cats.

It is hoped that these efforts do not fall flat on their faces, for the sake of our flat-faced friends.