flat-faced breeds are less healthy than others
Image by Michael Siebert on Pixabay

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has revealed that brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds – including Chihuahuas, Pugs, French bulldogs and British bulldogs – are “generally less healthy than their non-brachycephalic counterparts”.

This research supports “general agreement by leading academics, UK breed clubs, veterinary organisations and welfare bodies that urgent intervention is needed“, and that owners must “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog”.

The popularity of many flat-faced dog breeds has risen dramatically in recent years, as they are considered ‘fashionable’ dogs despite numerous calls to action and warnings to the general public concerning the health issues rampant in flat-faced breeds

The latest research, led by the RVC’s VetCompass™ programme, examined in detail the overall health of a random sample of 4,169 flat-faced dogs compared to 18,079 other types of dogs attending veterinary practices in the UK.

Image by Eszter Hornyai on Pixabay

Among the 30 most common disorders overall across both groups, there were different levels of risk found between the groups for 10/30 (33.33%) disorders. Of these, “flat-faced dogs had a higher risk of eight disorders, whereas the dogs that were not flat-faced, had a higher risk for only two disorders”.

Corneal ulceration – a painful eye disease – was the disorder with the highest risk in flat-faced dogs, who were eight times more likely to have the disease compared to their not flat-faced counterparts. 

The key findings of the study include:

  • Flat-faced dogs were 1.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with at least one disorder during a single year compared with crossbreeds.
  • Flat-faced dogs differed to non-flat-faced types in their risk for 10/30 (33.33%) common disorders.
  • Flat-faced dogs had increased risk of: corneal ulceration (x 8.4), heart murmur (x 3.5), umbilical hernia (x 3.2), foot infection (x 1.7), skin cyst (x 1.5), slipping kneecap (x 1.4), ear infection (x 1.3) and anal sac impaction (x 1.2).
  • Flat-faced dogs had reduced risk of undesirable behaviour (x 0.5) and claw injury (x 0.5).
Image by Andrés Carlo on Pixabay

Dr Dan O’Neill, senior lecturer at the RVC and author of the paper, said, “UK owners have fallen in love with certain flat-faced dog breeds such as French bulldogs and pugs over the past decade. Our new study may suggest one reason why; owners perceive the typical behaviours of these dogs as desirable. But our results also show that these breeds have serious and common health issues.

“The message here is that it is perfectly natural to love the character and look of these breeds, but we need to think carefully about the lives that these dogs live. I appeal to anyone thinking of buying a flat-faced puppy to listen to the message from The Brachycephalic Working Group which represents major UK breed clubs, charities, veterinary bodies and universities: ‘Stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog’.”

The study suggests that reducing the risks of many of these disorders in popular flat-faced breeds “may require a change in how they look that makes them less extreme in their body shapes”. 

Image by skeeze on Pixabay

Bill Lambert, Head of Health and Welfare at the Kennel Club, said, “We’ve put into place a number of crucial measures to monitor and improve brachycephalic health, and to provide the many responsible breeders with the tools they need to do the same, but this paper highlights there is still much work to be done.

“Collaborating with the RVC and supporting this research through the Kennel Club Charitable Trust provides an evidence-base which enables ongoing identification of breed health-related priorities, and development of effective treatments for breed-specific health conditions, as well as breeding resources to produce healthier puppies in the future.

“The paper also highlights the ongoing crisis of irresponsible breeders and uninformed puppy buyers which fuel many of these issues. We are continuing to work hard alongside breed clubs, vets and welfare organisations to tackle these challenges and reduce and ultimately eliminate these health problems; this is both a top priority for the Kennel Club and a goal shared by all those who care about the health and welfare of dogs.”

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