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Brachycephalic Dog Health and Welfare

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

The UK Animal Welfare Regulations stipulates that dogs cannot be used for breeding if their health, genotype and phenotype are likely to have adverse health effects on their offspring. With many brachycephalic dogs their health and welfare is compromised by unethical breeding practices and undermines the efforts of the few breeders attempting to breed for healthier conformation.

Although we understand these dogs bring so much joy to our lives and are exceptional characters, we need to promote less extreme breeding and improved health and welfare going forward

Eye Problems

Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome (BOS) is the result of the extreme facial alterations that many people find so appealing in brachycephalic breeds. However these large, protruding eyes can lead to ophthalmic complications that can put these dogs’ vision at risk!

These breeds can suffer from a number of issues from their prominent puppy dog eyes:

  • Macroblepharon (excessive eyelid length)

  • Excessively long palpebral fissures (area between open eyelids)

  • Lagophthalmus (incomplete closure of eye lids)

This leads to inadequate ocular coverage and lubrication which usually protects the eye surface.

Sadly this results in:

  • Trauma of the eye

  • Exposure keratopathy (disease of the cornea)

  • Superficial pigmentary keratitis (development of pigmentation associated with chronic inflammation)

  • Corneal erosion

  • Corneal ulceration

Sleep Deprivation

Brachycephalic dogs can be chronically sleep deprived, and the impact of this on their welfare is often underestimated.

Brachycephalic dogs have more disturbed sleep, which in one study, suggested that it may have negative implications on welfare.

There is evidence that signs suggestive of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) correlates with poorer sleep quality, indicating that reduced sleep quality is part of BOAS.

Sadly owners may underestimate disturbed sleep or may perceive disturbed sleep to be normal. This is commonly seen in 'cute' online videos of dogs falling asleep with toys or chews in their mouths. This is far from the truth - these dogs prop their mouths open to help them breathe more easily whilst sleeping. It is distressing to see that people believe this to be funny and normal.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

We need people to stop breeding for aesthetics and instead breed for health and welfare. Health and welfare of these dogs is currently compromised by breeding practices and undermines the efforts of the few breeders attempting to breed for healthier confirmation.

In brachycephalic dogs, while the length of the muzzle/snout is reduced as dogs are bred with flatter faces, there is often no decrease in the size of the soft tissue contained within the skull. Essentially their skeletal muzzle gets shorter, but none of the soft tissue structures do.

This can cause a number of issues:

  • Stenotic nares (small or pinched nares/nostrils)

  • Aberrant nasal turbinates (the bony turbinates extending too far caudally/backwards beyond the nasal cavity)

  • Overcrowded turbinates

  • Over long and thick soft palate (the soft tissue that can pleat at back of mouth causing airflow issues)

  • Hypoplastic trachea (underdeveloped or too narrow windpipe)

  • Soft tissue constricts air flow within the nasal cavity and can cause a partial obstruction of the pharynx and larynx area

Dogs often require corrective surgery in order to improve their welfare. BOAS doesn't just have implications on adequate respiratory function but also cardiac health and thermal regulation

Neurological Disorders

We often get owners who have purchased a (very expensive) puppy, but have no financial backup for the many health related issues it may have, given that many health issues faced are intrinsically linked to their form.

Another issue which is seen more commonly in our brachycephalic dogs is spinal deformities and neurological disorders.

When we think about brachycephalic dogs French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs and Pugs spring to mind. However there are many other breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Boston Terriers and Pekingese which are less common examples of brachycephalic breeds.

The main neurologic disorder in dogs associated with brachycephaly is syringomyelia. This is very common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Syringomyelia is a fluid-filled cavity that develops within the spinal cord causing abnormal sensation and can result in excruciating neck pain.

Furthermore, brachycephalic screw-tailed dogs, including the French Bulldog, Pug and British Bulldog, are commonly affected by vertebral malformations.

These include:

  • Hemivertebra: When the vertebrae of the canine spine are congenitally deformed

  • Spinal curvature abnormalities: Abnormal curvature in the dogs spine can put it out of alignment this can look like...

  • Kyphosis: The posterior (up and down) curvature of the spine

  • Scoliosis The lateral (side to side) curvature of the spine

How do we stop it?

Brachycephalic dogs have an array of health concerns intrinsically linked to their conformation, ranging from eye disease, respiratory disease, dystocia (difficulty giving birth), spinal disease, heat stroke and pneumonia to name but a few.

Despite their exaggerated morphology, the demand for brachycephalic breeds has only grown. We are breeding a culture of normalisation and acceptance of poor health.

Veterinary professionals and animal welfare advocates continue to attempt education, but if the public value appearance and character over longevity and health, where do we stand in education attempts?

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