Posts Tagged ‘brachycephalic dogs’


For years, this blog and many others gained lots of views by constantly harping on brachycephalic breeds, especially bulldogs and pugs.  Those were in the days when I was a bit more edgelord in technique, and those were the days when I was significantly more sanctimonious and humorless as person, too.

Sometimes, the ol’ ‘possum spends all his time climbing the persimmon tree, only to discovery the tree is a hickory.  And then he has to climb down and figure out where the persimmon tree actually is.

This is where I am as a person, as a blogger/writer, and as a dog enthusiast. The persimmon tree is somewhere else, and that means taking stock of where I once was and how I can do better.

The issues with brachycephalic breeds are that they never fully oxygenate themselves, and they often have a hard time cooling themselves. I know of certain blogs that spend post after post looking a bulldog and pug nostrils with lots of shaming involved.

The problem is that pet people most don’t care what sanctimonious internet personalities think, and the dog show people, especially those at the top of the game, don’t care either.  The show dog people are going to spend money on health testing and c-sections on their bulldogs, and they will sell them at a high price to homes with resources to care for them.

As pets, they can live full and wonderful lives. They don’t have to have the endurance of a Dalmatian or  German short-haired pointer.

Further, all this shaming didn’t work at all. The popularity of these dogs continues to be quite high. And this shaming has given fuel to the anti-breeder sentiment in the country, which revels in creating division among dog people. This division is why we are getting so many weird laws passed in state houses, ones that ultimately harm responsible dog breeders and do nothing to improve animal welfare.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve written about bulldogs and the like in previous years, though well-meaning,  has ultimately been harmful to the things I love the most.

Even if the welfare issues associated with brachycephalic dogs were the greatest issue facing dogs today, shaming people won’t solve the problem.  People will dig in and tell you how awful you are, and whatever wisdom you might have will be simply ignored.

And when we look at the actual welfare issues facing these breeds are they really suffering all that much?  If they live in homes where they are pampered and well-cared for, they are doing pretty well, better than perhaps a billion people living on this planet.

I support educating and disclosing what potential risks of owning a bulldog or pug might entail. I guarantee you that the ethical breeders producing these dogs are disclosing these risks to puppy buyers.

And that should be all that is required of breeder of any breed or strain.

If bulldogs, French bulldogs, and pugs really do have this level of welfare concern, then it will become obvious. In ten years, the craze will have swept through the pet market, and people will be buying something other fad breed.

But I suspect that these health and welfare problems are much easier to mitigate than we have been led to believe, and if they are, why did I waste so much time with this nonsense?

It didn’t even work. And I was a total jerk.

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You have to have a muzzle to hold things!

bost terrier ball

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Snoring pugs are not cute. This poor creature suffering from stenotic nares. The nares are the nasal cavity, and stenosis just means they are abnormally scrunched up.


The dog is actually having a very hard time oxygenating itself while it is in prone position.

The entire reason why this health condition exists is simple breeding for extreme brachycephaly.

I can’t imagine going through life without being able to oxygenate my body as fully as possible, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my breathing obstructed every time I went to sleep.

I have had a person very close to me with COPD that resulted from a lifetime of smoking.  One of the reasons why I don’t smoke and never will is that I have no desire to be in that situation. I never want to have the discussion about my health ever to involve a discussion of oxygen tanks.  I never fail to appreciate how important it is for me to be able to take in full breaths of air.

But it’s one thing for a person to develop breathing problems as the result of a lifetime of smoking.

It’s another to breed for it in a dog.

It’s even more of a problem for dogs because dogs dogs use their respiratory systems as their primary cooling systems. Dogs pass air over their moist mucus membranes when they paint. This causes evaporation, which leads to cooling. When dog has such a scrunched up muzzle, it cannot cool itself efficiently.

This is why pugs and other brachycephalic dogs drop like flies on hot summer days.

The biggest welfare problems that dogs face today in the West are not neglect, dog fighting, or puppy mills.

The biggest welfare problems they face are distortions in conformation that have very real consequences for their health.

The reason why this is such a big welfare problem is that it’s not seen as being objectively cruel like those other practices. Dogs win prizes because they have a particular conformation, even if it is very bad for them.

Jemima Harrison used a pug as a good example of what this sort of breeding has produced in Pedigree Dogs Exposed:


The sad thing is that people think this is normal.

Not only do the laypeople think this is cute, dog shows reward extreme muzzles.

Dog shows are respectable and esteemed institutions, and as a result, you don’t see as much of a public outcry against extreme brachycephalic breeding as you do with dog fighting and puppy mills.

And because of this discrepancy, the welfare issues that result from this sort of selective breeding are an even bigger problem than those disgusting ones.

If we can say no more to dog fighting and puppy mills, why can’t we say no more to dogs that can’t fully breathe or oxygenate themselves?

No one is saying end brachycephaly in dogs.  After all, most dogs are brachycephalic when compared to wolves, and some breeds have always had shorter muzzles.

But we’ve gone too far.

We’ve pushed the organism’s anatomy too far, and we’ve got to stop and think about where this is heading.

There is a certain banality of evil that exists with pugs and other breeds like them. I don’t wish to use that Eichmann analogy too lightly, but it seems uncomfortably appropriate.

People accept that it’s wrong to fight dogs or breed them like broiler chickens, but they are entirely okay with dogs that spend their entire lives struggling for a breath.  The axiom that leads to the cruelty is the breed standard, and virtually everyone who buys one of these dogs wants a little flat-face, no matter the consequences.

In fact, it is unlikely that most people who own these dogs ever seriously consider the cruelty by anatomical distortion when they decide to get one of these dogs. These are not callus people. They are dog lovers, who often spend lots of money on their charges.

But they have allowed the flat-face to blind them.

They cannot see how much of deficit these dogs actually face when it comes to breathing and cooling themselves, and the sad part is that the deficit is seen as cuteness or even a breed trait.

It is in this realm that we’re decided to we have allowed obvious discomfort to go unchallenged, and in this respect, we now have a problem that is going to be next to impossible to fix without outcrossing– which no one wants to do.

The pug is a victim of our own caprices and vanities. It never served any purpose in the West, except to be a nice pet. We allowed it to become an object that we could mold in any way we saw fit, and now we are suffering the consequences.

We’ve lost site of this animal as a biological entity. In the eyes of many, it has ceased to be a dog. It is an animate toy.

Its canine anatomical necessities have been put on the backburner in order to mold into the image we have created for it.

And until we recognize that pugs are indeed dogs, they are going to continue to suffer.

This is not the way we treat animals we love.

And if we truly do love them, it’s time to look at things from their perspective.

Have a bit of empathy.

Would you like it if you struggled to breathe every time you went to bed?

What if your sweat glands couldn’t cool you on a hot afternoon?

We need to think about these issues before we start nattering on about what’s cute or “excellent breed type.”

These are secondary considerations.

We make breeding decisions for dogs. We write out breed standards. The dogs have no say in it, but they do suffer when we don’t put their interests first.

We’ve clearly not put their interests first when we allowed pugs to turn out this way.

It’s time to change it.

For the love the dogs and simple human decency, we must change.


Update: This dog has already undergone an operation for stenotic nares. It turns out that the reason for her problems are that her entire upper respiratory system is stenotic!

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This dog is missing something. I can’t figure out what it is.

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bulldogs and baby

It’s actually very deeply rooted in our biology.

Humans find things that somewhat resemble our infants appealing.

The main reason why we find human babies cute is those features we believe are cute– large eyes and brachycephaly– are actually features that cause humans to care for them.

Stephen Jay Gould contended that this is why Disney’s cartoonists drew their characters in such a way. Mickey Mouse looks very cute to us, even though he really doesn’t resemble any kind of known mouse or rat species.

Gould borrowed heavily from Lorenz, who contended that our reaction to figures resembling human babies was so strong that it often has consequences in how we view animals. Camels are seen as aloof and haughty, while in German, the words for rabbit, squirrel, and robin (European robin, which is quite cute) all automatically have the diminutive suffix chen in their names.

Now, this is a very interesting way of looking at human behavior in regard to art, but it’s much more disconcerting when one looks at how it has affected dog breeding.

Gould supplies this depiction to make his point:

gould juvenile


In the third row, you see two dogs. One of which could be an English toy spaniel, and the other could be a smooth-coated saluki.

Humans tend to find dogs like the one on the left more appealing, which may be one reason virtually all domestic dogs have shorter muzzles in proportion to their skulls than wolves do.  Sighthounds and anomalies like bull terriers are notable exceptions.

Now, there are many different postulates about why dogs tend to have shorter muzzles than wolves, but the one that seems to be driving the extreme brachycephaly we see in modern breeds is the same one that makes us love Mickey Mouse.

I’m not immune to this appeal. I  find French bulldogs and Boston terriers unbelievably cute. I think it may be that having been around a much more naturally looking bulldog type (a boxer/golden retriever cross) that I happened to have known from the time she was a tiny puppy, I find dogs that remind me of her as a puppy bring back happy memories.

So it’s both my biology and my history of associations that make me find this sort of dog cute.

Now, the problem is that dog DNA is actually a very malleable medium.

Dog breeders are actually skilled sculptors who do nothing be mold DNA, and the elasticity in dog phenotype is unbelievable.

We’ve been able to breed so many unusual features into dogs so rapidly that we’ve not had time to take stock of what we’ve been doing.

That’s one reason why we have so many dogs with such extreme brachycephaly that they cannot breathe, cool, or clean themselves properly.

And it’s also why it’s almost impossible to have a rational conversation with a breeder of a bulldog about the many problems this breed has.

The dogs are just too cute to be changed.

We’re fighting human biology run amok on dogs.


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The big row on this blog last week was about bulldogs.

I received so many poorly written and poorly reasoned comments bashing some of my bulldog posts that I just wanted to scream.

And well, I did scream.

However, I noticed that not a single person refuted anything I wrote.

All they wanted to do was to either make a smokescreen and claim that because the Kennel Club (of the United Kingdom) has forced a rewrite of the bulldog standard that things were just fine now. Of course, this isn’t true– mainly because too many judges and the various self-appointed mandarins of the bulldog fancy have simply decided to ignore the changes.  The implementation of vet checks for best of breed at certain shows is something these people really hate. That’s because those vet checks continue to reveal that judges are putting up very defective dogs, and the bulldog fancy as a whole really doesn’t care how unhealthy the typical bulldog actually is.

And they really don’t.

And now we have proof.

One of the main talking points I kept seeing from the bulldog nutjobs last week was the claim that goes something like this:  “My dog is healthy! You’re wrong!”

Well, it now turns out that we have evidence that many owners of brachycephalic dogs are actually quite deluded about the real health of their dogs.

A recent study in the journal Animal Welfare (Packer 2012), revealed something rather disturbing:

A questionnaire-based study was carried out over five months on the owners of dogs referred to the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (QMHA) for all clinical services, except for Emergency and Critical Care. Owners reported the frequency of respiratory difficulty and characteristics of respiratory noise in their dogs in four scenarios, summarised as an ‘owner-reported breathing’ (ORB) score. Owners then reported whether their dog currently has, or has a history of, ‘breathing problems’. Dogs (n = 285) representing 68 breeds were included, 31 of which were classed as ‘affected’ by BOAS either following diagnostics, or by fitting case criteria based on their ORB score, skull morphology and presence of stenotic nares. The median ORB score given by affected dogs’ owners was 20/40 (range 8-30). Over half (58%) of owners of affected dogs reported that their dog did not have a breathing problem. This marked disparity between owners’ reports of frequent, severe clinical signs and their perceived lack of a ‘breathing problem’ in their dogs is of concern.


So now when someone with a brachycephalic dog comes on here and blasts me with the talking point that his or her dog is fine, keep this little study in mind.

This person may be quite deluded about the actual health and welfare problems associated with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome– or just a liar.

The literature on the health and welfare problems associated with extreme brachycephaly is quite extensive– and quite damning.

The bulldog people have decided they don’t like what the literature says, and they’ve decided to try to shut down any criticism through  trying to shout down anyone who uses this literature to expose the real welfare issues associated with trying to breed a dog that looks like a toad.

You cannot believe these people.

You cannot trust what they say.

They simply refuse to acknowledge.

And if you won’t acknowledge a problem, it will never be solved.

Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

But delusion is even worse.

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Although treated as cute on the internet, this Ohio bulldog is actually suffering from its reduced ability to cool itself through panting. That's why it has situated itself on a pile of ice.

This comes from the wonderful post by the Dog Zombie, a vet student and excellent dog health blogger:

From the other side of the fence, in anesthesia lecture we got a moment to think about the welfare of dogs. Dr. Bonne talked about managing brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs when they recover from anesthesia. When a dog is under general anesthesia, it has an endotracheal tube (“trach tube”) put down its throat to help it breathe. Most dogs need to have the trach tube removed before they are fully awake. Not brachycephalics. Dr. Bonne showed us a photo of a bulldog: “Look, there he is, wide awake with the tube in, breathing wonderfully. They will do that for an hour or so.” Brachycephalics often have tracheas the width of a tomcat’s, just 5.5 mm in diameter. It is not really enough for them to breathe. When they wake up with a trach tube in, it may be the first time in their lives in which they can breathe easily. Dr. Bonne expounded: “Can you imagine, they must spend so much energy every day, just to breathe. They are perfectly happy with the trach tube in. You should leave it in until the last minute, until they are almost ready to walk out the door. Nobody else tolerates the tube the way that these dogs do.” To my mind, she didn’t go quite far enough — she didn’t ever suggest that perhaps brachycephalics should be bred with a little more care to whether or not they can breathe. But I still appreciated the rant, as far as it went.

Now, if that’s not a welfare problem from poor breeding practices, then I don’t know what is.

The Dog Zombie also talks about a type of tumor that is caused by the reduced oxygenation that these brachycephalic breeds experience:

This is actually the veterinary fact of yesterday. During small animal medicine and surgery, a surgeon was discussing chemodectomas, tumors arising from chemoreceptors. A chemoreceptor is a cluster of cells which measures chemical changes in the body, such as oxygen level. The surgeon asserted that brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced dogs, like pugs and bulldogs) get chemodectomas more often than other types of dogs, possibly due to “chronic asphyxiation.” In other words, in his opinon (and that of other veterinarians), the fact that flat-faced dogs can’t really get enough air in through their tiny noses can actually result in cancer.

I’m not going to talk about the physiology behind how this would work, because we didn’t cover that in class. I will say that I think it is a failing of the veterinary profession as a whole to not discuss these kinds of issues more with people who are deciding what kind of dog to get. “That breed of dog is more likely to get this form of cancer” is a very different statement from “that breed of dog can’t get enough air into its system, which can cause all kinds of problems, including cancer. We should be encouraging breeders to breed a little more snout into these dogs so they can be healthy.”

So even if the dogs have relatively clear airways, there are still health and welfare problems associated with the phenotype.

This phenotype is a major scandal. How would you feel if you didn’t have the ability fully oxygenate yourself? I have been around lifelong smokers who have had issues with COPD, and I can tell you it’s not fun.

How would you like to have a reduced ability to cool yourself? How would you like if you had no sweat glands at all and were out running around in 95 degree heat?  You wouldn’t last.

Now imagine you’re a dog with a 102 degree body temperature and already compromised ability to shed excess heat. How do justify breeding something like this?

But because established breeders and their clubs have decided that it is “correct,” no one has called them out on it.

Until now.

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The answer is yes.

After all, most dogs are brachycephalic when compared to the wolf and other wild dogs. Short muzzles are a diagnostic of a domestic dog.

However, when we breed for healthy conformation, brachycephalic dog breeds are going to have to have some muzzle– enough for the all the teeth, tongue, and soft palate. One of the reasons why these dogs have so much trouble breathing and cooling themselves is they don’t have enough room for their tongues and soft-palate. The tissue in the soft palate winds up obscuring the trachea, and that prevents air from flowing. In a dog, that also prevents the animal from effectively cooling itself.

So when we evnetually get around to correcting breed standards, we are still going to have bulldogs, pekes, bostons, and Frenchies. It’s just that they are going to have a bit more muzzle.

And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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