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End brachycephaly: we need to save the Bulldogs!

French Bulldog advice
© Shutterstock

‘Hypertype’ dogs are those whose physical features have been exaggerated to please the general public’s taste. Today, an increasing amount of vets are speaking out against this phenomenon.

By Justine Seraphin

Published on the 19/12/2019, 15:22

The French Bulldog has been a long-lasting favourite dog breed of the British for many years now. Yet, much like other brachycephalic dog breeds (e.g. English Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug, Shih-Tzu), or breeds with excessive skin (e.g. Shar-pei, Neapolitan Mastiff), the French Bulldog is in grave danger! Their unnatural folds and skull shape can cause serious health problems, and significantly decrease their quality of life.

Brachycephalic dogs' health is declining

In 100 short years, the French Bulldog’s skull length has been reduced by 25%, all due to artificial selection by breeders. This little dog, which should be playful and full of life, is now better known for suffering from breathing problems.

How did we get here? How can we improve these dogs’ quality of life? Vets worldwide are now speaking out against the phenomenon in an attempt to raise awareness about the dangers of brachycephaly.

When fashion hurts

Take Pixie, an adorable French Bulldog. She’s black and white, 1 year old. She’s got the cutest baby-like face, an affectionate personality, and her unique features make her owners absolutely melt. 
But…
Pixie can’t run. If she tries, she just runs out of breath very quickly. 

Pixie snores, she (and her owner) never get restful sleep.

Pixie itches herself a lot, the folds on her snout and around her ears and tail are constantly red. 

Pixie’s life expectancy is only 10 years, much lower than the life expectancy of most dogs her size. 

Pixie isn’t pregnant, which is lucky, since she would otherwise have to go through a caesarean section.

Pixie’s owners don’t know it yet, but to help her breathe properly, they will soon have to pay for a very costly and risky surgery.

Pixie is a brachycephalic French Bulldog. 

The same story goes for Django the English Bulldog, and Pepita the Pug.

Pug dog
Pug dog: Brachycephaly dog breeds ©Shutterstock

Vets shed light on brachycephalic dogs' health issues

The public’s interest in these flat-faced breeds has encouraged breeders to produce dogs with increasingly exaggerated features, without worrying about the consequences this entails on the dogs’ health or well-being. 

Irresponsible breeders, yes, but irresponsible owners too, who underestimate the serious welfare risks caused by brachycephaly. In fact, only 10% of owners spot brachycephalic-related health issues in their dog before speaking to the vet. 

Yet, breathing with stenotic nares (small, pinched, and narrow nostrils) is basically the equivalent of breathing through a straw. 

Brachycephalic dogs can suffer from the following health problems:

  • Breathing difficulties & chronic respiratory failure
  • Heat intolerance
  • Eye disease
  • Inability to mate or give birth naturally
  • Increased anaesthetic risks
  • Vomiting
  • Back pain & paralysis
  • Dental problems
  • Repeated skin infections (usually on the snout and around the tail)

Brachycephalic breeds are notorious in the veterinarian world for suffering from respiratory and digestive issues. In fact, vets say over half of flat-faced dogs they see need treatment for breed-related health problems. 

Brachycephaly is treatable, but only through costly and risky surgery. These operations involve the enlargement of the nostrils and the resection of the soft palate. What’s worse is that many Bulldog owners can’t afford the surgery, and their pets therefore end up in shelters; homeless because of their breed.

The same kind of costly and complicated surgeries also concern breeds with excessive skin, such as Shar-peis. Some Shar-pei puppies have to undergo a ‘facelift’ surgery in the first few months of their lives. Indeed, their skin is so droopy that it can completely impair their vision. 

Hypertypes don’t only occur in dogs though. Some cat breeds, such as Persians, and rabbits, such as Dwarf Rabbits, are also suffering from their own popularity.

Let's save our beloved breeds

For Pixie, it’s already too late. She’ll spend the rest of her life being surrounded by specialist dermatologists and surgeons. But it’s time to make a change to save all the others that will come after her.

English bulldog
The English bulldog ©Shutterstock

After all, a dog who can’t run, who suffocates when it’s 30 degrees out, and whose tail gets infected regularly, is not a happy dog! Hypertype breeds suffer to please us and it’s time to say STOP.

Such is the stance the Veterinarian Academy in France has taken. In fact, they have recently described the breeding of hypertype dogs as “planned abuse”. Campaigns have started in the country to instill more rigid rules when it comes to breeding.

Why are vets getting so involved? Because they’re the first to see the pain and struggle these breeds face every single day. They’re the first to witness the stress owners go through when they realise they’ll only be able to save their beloved pets through costly and dangerous surgery. They’re the first to see the fear owners go through every time it gets too hot and their dog starts to pant…

This is why in the UK, the British Veterinary Association already launched a similar campaign back in 2018. Since the start of their campaign, English Bulldog births have reduced by 7%

Of course, the goal of these campaigns is not to make these wonderful breeds disappear altogether, but rather to promote responsible breeding, and, by consequence, better welfare.

They ask for only the healthiest of dogs to be bred, and that any dog presenting health problems due to hypertypes, be set aside from breeding. They ask that breed standards be respected, and that dogs with exaggerated features are no longer rewarded by dog breed organisations and events such as Crufts. They ask that brachycephalic dog breeds are no longer promoted for their ‘cute’ factor in commercials or on social media - and that instead, the truth about their health status be shared.

As for potential dog owners, BVA President John Fishwick has one very important recommendation:

“If you’re looking for a dog, think about choosing a healthier breed or crossbreed instead.”

Let’s not forget Bulldogs were a bull-fighting breed long ago - stoic, strong, endurant! Would they still be capable of the same athleticism today? 

Let’s hope all the work and determination being put into these campaigns will raise awareness about hypertypes, and that we will be able to restore these beautiful breeds to their former glory!

Written by Isabelle Vixège, Veterinary Doctor