By Ruby Ellis
Squashed faces and large eyes are the cute features that makes some of the nation’s favourite dog breeds such as pugs and shih tzus so fashionable, but the British Veterinary Association has called for prospective dog buyers to “avoid dogs with flat faced features.”
Dogs with flat faces are part of a group called Brachycephalic breeds. These are much more susceptible to health problems because of their small, flat heads and reduced space in their mouth cavities. Due to their shortened snouts, they often suffer with breathing problems that may need otherwise preventable surgery to be corrected. They also tend to encounter problems with their eyes which bulge out further than the average dog due to reduced space for the eye socket.
“Brachycephalic syndrome” is a term given to these dogs as they can’t cool themselves down sufficiently because the space in their mouth cavity is so small. This means owners of a flat faced dog must take extra care and precautions in hot conditions, as they are much more prone to heatstroke, which could be potentially deadly.
The Brachycephaly Clinic opened in July 2014 by the Royal Veterinary College at its Queen Mother Hospital for Animals in Hertfordshire. It is the first of its kind in the country exclusively specialising in the health of dogs with flat faces, showing the extent of the pressure the health problems these dogs have put on veterinary services.
Many of these dogs, including pugs, bulldogs, Pekingese and shih tzus, have become extremely popular in recent years, particularly on the internet. Some even have their own Instagram followings, such as @marniethedog on Instagram, a shih tzu with two million followers.
Celebrity ownership of these dogs has risen hugely. Zoe Sugg, the popular YouTube star with over eleven million subscribers is one of these, after buying a pug puppy in 2014. The whole process was documented on her channel with many videos, vlogs and blog posts featuring the black pug named Nala. These videos are flooded with comments from fans, one reading “I never liked pugs much… but Nala is so adorable I think I want eight of them now”.
The French Bulldog is currently one of the fasting growing dog breeds in the UK, due to their friendly, non-aggressive personalities and cute bat-like ears. But they are also becoming the new “It Dog”, where we once saw celebrities carrying a Chihuahua, it is far more likely to see them now towing a Frenchie along. Lady Gaga, Ashley Olsen and Reese Witherspoon are just a few examples.
However, French Bulldogs are an example of a breed whose physical appearance has been altered by obsessive breeding. They used to have much more of a pronounced nose, but have been selectively bred so that the dogs with the flattest faces, and therefore the most health problems, are the ones that survive and win the most awards in the show ring.
A petition that can only be signed by veterinary professionals calling for the establishment of a working party with the aim of coming up with concrete proposals to help brachycephalic dogs has reached over 37,000 signatures. It is calling for measures including reform of the breed standards to introduce minimum muzzle lengths.