RVC research has demonstrated the health risks of breeding dogs with short muzzles.
Although short muzzles are an increasingly popular face shape in pet dogs, flattened faces were found to greatly increase the risk of developing brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) – a debilitating, lifelong respiratory condition leaving dogs chronically short of breath.
BOAS is caused by shortening of the bones of the canine muzzle, without an equivalent reduction in the soft tissues held within them, causing the tissue to become crammed in the skull. This tissue can block the airway and is often accompanied by narrowed nostrils, making it difficult for air to pass through the dog’s nose.
Such blockages can mean dogs struggle to breathe, leaving them unable to exercise, play or eat normally and, in some cases, overheat and collapse. BOAS can also cause early death. Breeds shown to be at high risk include the pug, French bulldog and English bulldog, but findings are relevant to all dogs, including many other breeds and cross-breeds, with shortened muzzles.
The research, co-funded by Dogs Trust and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), consisted of two studies that included more than 850 dogs of more than 100 breeds.
Vets have long suspected flattened facial conformation as a risk factor for BOAS and this research, for the first time, demonstrates decreasing muzzle length does increase BOAS risk.
Veterinary director for Dogs Trust Paula Boyden said: “The increased popularity of pugs, French bulldogs and English bulldogs hasn’t been coupled with an increased awareness about the health issues these breeds can suffer from.
“Too many people mistakenly believe the grunting, snuffling and wheezing sounds these breeds often make are endearing breed traits, rather than warnings of a debilitating health condition.
“Dogs Trust urges owners to be vigilant for signs their dog might be suffering with BOAS and take their pet to a vet for advice if they have concerns. The condition cannot be cured, but can be improved and there may be things that can be done to provide a better a quality of life for affected dogs.”
Puppy buyers should be aware of the health consequences of choosing dogs based on appearance. Practical steps to take when buying a dog of a high-risk breed include selecting puppies from parents with longer muzzles and slimmer necks, and ensuring the dog stays at a healthy body weight.
UFAW, an independent charity that promotes advances in animal welfare through scientific and educational activities, has an extensive web-based information resource on genetic welfare problems in dogs and other companion animals at www.ufaw.org.uk/genetic-welfare-problems-intro/genetic-welfare-problems-of-companion-animals-intro