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Flat-faced breeds prone to corneal ulcerative disease

Brachycephalic breeds are sadly known for their difficulty breathing and regulating their temperature due to their excessively short muzzle - a problem so serious there have been several calls for urgent action to address the problem, which is exacerbated by careless breeding. Now research is showing that they are also more susceptible to a painful eye condition called corneal ulcerative disease.

According to VetCompassTM, this disease is relatively common: almost 1 in every 100 dogs from the overall dog population will be affected with a corneal ulcer each year. However, the most striking finding was that brachycephalic breeds had over 11 times the risk of developing it, likely due to their skull anatomy: the large eyelid opening and protruding eyes makes them more vulnerable to injury. Pugs especially were found to having over 19 times the risk of corneal ulceration compared with crossbreed dogs.

Dr Dan O’Neill, an RVC epidemiologist and one of the authors of the study, said, "Some predisposition for corneal disease in brachycephalic breeds was expected, but the level of the effect that we found was quite eye-opening and highlighted the importance of prioritising ocular health for vets, breeders and owners of predisposed breeds." 

Dr Rick Sanchez, a veterinary ophthalmologist and co-author of the study, underlined the importance of raising awareness of the disease in order to give affected dogs prompt diagnosis and treatment.

"One of the problems with ulcers in brachycephalic dogs is that these lesions can degenerate quickly, so a prompt diagnosis is paramount in the success of the treatment," he said, adding that "everyone, from vets to owners to breeders, can play a part in the responsible development of dog breeds and individual dogs with healthier eyes".

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said, “With some breeds having a markedly higher risk than others of developing corneal ulcerative disease, this research will enable breeders to make responsible breeding choices to protect the eye health of their dogs. It will also help to highlight what puppy buyers and existing owners need to be looking out for if they own or wish to own one of the most affected breeds.

“We would encourage owners and breeders of higher risk breeds, and the vets treating them, to be vigilant for corneal ulcerative disease. The Kennel Club and British Veterinary Association runs an eye testing scheme to test for inherited eye conditions so it would be sensible for dog owners to ask their vets about this and use it to protect the eye health of their dogs.”