Pedigree Dog Welfare: Buyer Beware!

Hi all,

I recently watched a fascinating and thought provoking webinar entitled “Pedigree dog welfare: what more can the veterinary profession do?”(https://www.thewebinarvet.com/webinar/pedigree-dog-welfare-what-more-can-the-veterinary-profession-do/) which gave some facts and statistics I thought some of you might find interesting. The speaker discussed the massive rise in popularity of brachycephalic (short faced) breeds like Pugs, French & English bulldogs as one of the major welfare issues in UK dogs driven in part by social media and celebrity endorsement. Consider the following:
  • French bulldogs are now 15 times more popular than 10 years ago, with 526 registered by the Kennel Club in 2006 and 14,607 registered in 2015. The real figure including unregistered dogs is much higher.
  • Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) where selective breeding has led to the skull becoming so shortened and deformed for the sake of cute, humanoid appearance and fashion that it results in a tongue too big for their mouth, narrowed nostrils, protruding eyes & related eye conditions, dental problems, sleep apnoea, ear infections, choking fits etc and daily, constant difficulties breathing especially during normal exercise.
  • 58% of owners of clinically affected BOAS dogs reported their dogs have no breathing problem, so owner perception and believing that struggling to breathe is ‘normal’ for their breed is a big issue.
  • Over 90% of vets have seen or performed conformational (anatomy) altering surgery to improve pedigree dog welfare (e.g. skin fold removals/’tacking’ in Shar Peis, eyelid surgeries to prevent rubbing in bloodhounds, orthopaedic surgeries in bulldog elbows to prevent early arthritis, widening the nostrils, removing throat tissue and shaving the soft palate to open bulldog and pug airways up etc)
  • 86% of English Bulldogs now need a Caesarian section surgery to give birth as their puppy’s heads are too big and get stuck in the pelvic canal during a natural birth; this means that without veterinary intervention, the breed would likely die out within a couple of generations.
  • Recently published DNA studies on UK English Bulldogs found their genetic diversity is derived from as little as 30 individual dogs, meaning the breed cannot be improved for better welfare without outcrossing to other breeds. However, puritan breeders do not want to do this as it would ‘pollute’ their genetics and mean they are not true English Bulldogs anymore (https://cgejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40575-016-0036-y).
  • In UK Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, 50% have a heart murmur by the time they are 5 years old and nearly all have a murmur by the age of 10. Heart valve disease is 20 times more prevalent in this breed.
The take home message was that unfortunately the veterinary profession is facilitating the continued suffering of pedigree dogs to some extent by providing services to allow continued breeding of dogs that are unfit for purpose to live a healthy, happy life. Better education about pedigree dog health issues amongst the general public, better use of health testing schemes by breeders and revision of kennel club standards are badly needed.
To illustrate the problem, here’s a video posted on Yum.ee dog treat box Facebook page of a bulldog puppy having a bath. The vast majority of reaction to it is “Aww, so cute!” or “I want one”. The reality is that this puppy is struggling to breathe standing still because its skull is so flattened its tongue and soft palate are now too big to fit inside its head so it can’t maintain an open airway without gasping for breath.
And an interesting photo illustrating the genetic/conformational issues facing the breed:
Inline image 1

Cheers,
Sean.
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