Thursday 24 November 2011

Every breath they take

It doesn't have the snappiest of titles, but "Brachycephalic syndrome by Dr Göran Bodegård, MD" in this week's Dog World is essential reading for everyone with (or thinking of getting) a short-faced breed - or, indeed,  anyone looking for ammunition with which to try to persuade people that dogs really were never meant to look like human children.

The article describes in wincing detail the welfare cost of breeding dogs with flat faces.
In many breeds the aim has been to get flat-faced dogs and this has been achieved by selection for a shortened skull and muzzle. This head type – the brachycephalic head – is not to be considered as a normal variation but is the result of a human intention to consolidate desired physical characteristics which are expressions of a genetic mutation. 
Even with the selected breeding for this trait, dogs are produced with a spectrum of characteristics, including individuals having practically no nose at all. Strongly connected to the flat face characteristics is the development of malformations in the airways including pinched nostrils, elongated and thickened palate, hypertrophic and/or collapsing walls of the trachea and bronchi which cause obstructions for the flow of air. The degree of breathing impairment is varying. The brachycephalic breeds also manifest a disturbed thermoregulation capacity.

Brachycephalic animals are all, to at least some degree, affected by lifelong breathing problems which are particularly pronounced under conditions of elevated environmental temperature and during increased physical activity when insufficient airway capacity hinders an adequate gas exchange. Attacks of evidently laboured breathing with respiratory distress, snoring and snuffling are the most common clinical signs which in the most serious cases might develop into apnoea, loss of consciousness, collapse and even death.
Let's just pull out one of those sentences again:

"Brachycephalic animals are all, to at least some degree, affected by lifelong breathing problems..."

Not some - all of them. And for their whole lives.

We did that.

Read the whole  article here.


  1. This really needs to stop. Thanks Jemima for drawing attention to the plight of these dogs. Hopefully we will have some sensible debate now, as to how that plight might best be resolved.


  2. erm...I am not trying to cause argument here...and I don't have any axe to grind (to be honest...I have my own opinions on the dog breeds out there that need help)...but my wife has a pug...not my kind of breed (I have working whippets and border terriers)...she is sitting next to me here...and I have to say, she must be the exception to the above rule...she is in no way over weight...we have kept her that way...(I don't believe in fat I said...I breed working whippets)...and tomorrow morning, like every other walk she goes on, I will fully expect her to do what she always does...and run the border terrier and whippet round in circles...she has bags of energy, runs the four mile walk we do, pants no more than the border terrier does...and is happy to do her best to join in with the other dogs chasing rabbits! She will never catch a rabbit in her life...BUT NOR CAN THE BORDER in the open!

  3. As a Swede, this make me so proud...;-) Göran Bodegård is also a confirmation judge and from now on I will look at him from anorther angle.
    Long live science!! Have a nice weekend everyone and don't let your brachycephalic animals work (or walk...) to long.

  4. I just wanted to add my bit to what Anonymous wrote above. I have six dogs, one of which is a Pug (i also have a Whippet funnily enough). He is eight years old and not over weight at all and he walks every day with the other dogs. Today he was charging round with our Whippet and a Border Collie we bumped into,with no problems at all and will walk for miles given the chance. I wouldn't walk him in the heat any more than I'd walk our other dogs, but he happily lies out in the sun. He doesn't snore. I have to say that I have seen a lot of very unfit and fat Pugs around, people seem to think that Pugs should be fat and "cuddly" and fat is terrible for any breed of dog. I just wanted to say that not all Pugs have breathing problems.

  5. I know everyone gets very uptight about 'designer crossbreeds' but I met a two young pugs, who looked very fit and healthy and yes, had NOSES recently. Upon talking to the owner I discovered that they were the product of a pug father and a pug X jrt mother. I must say I was impressed. They were slightly taller, leaner and fitter looking (black) less bug eyed and less flat faced and with slightly less skin folds, but looked like incredibly fit pugs.
    I like pugs, but I can see they are not going to be the healthiest breed of dog they way they are now.

  6. If you would like to see how brachycephaly affects the folded mucous membrane in the nose, that regulates heat in the dog, mentioned in the article, look up these two studies:

    Reconstruction and Morphometric Analysis of the Nasal Airway of the Dog (Canis familiaris) and Implications Regarding Olfactory Airflow

    Computed tomographic imaging of the nose in brachycephalic dog breeds

  7. Looking at your site Sussie some of the brachycephalics have lived longer than your beardies.
    The very word 'young ' applies to the pugs X jrt's
    mongrels at the moment.Come back in 12 years with their vet records and see if they are even still around.

  8. Took my pug Olive down the woods the other day.
    We met another pug called "Helen".
    Sweet little pug with one eye. The owners said the other eye "fell out" one day when Helen jumped out of the car.

    Helen's other eye was obviously at risk and they had been advised to have a medial canthoplasty done to protect her remaining eye. They hadn't decided yet whether to do this.

    Helen was half Olive's age and shaped like a cube. It is hard to tell someone that their dog is over weight.

    Helen's breathing was terrible when she got excited. The owners were unaware that she had a breathing problem.

    Olive looked fitter and healthier. Her breathing was better than Helen's.

    Olive has laryngeal collapse........grade 3.........guarded prognosis. That prognosis was given in 2009.

    Were the RVC wrong about my dog?


    Are many pug owners unaware of what is normal and what is abnormal?

    Who knows.......

    1. we have kept our pug to a healthy weight from the beginning. At 5 years of age she developed a cyst in her spine which pressing into the spinal cord caused some lameness in her back legs but as she managed to get around quite alright and was not in any pain we forwent neurosurgergy with a long and questionable recovery period treating her periodicly with low dose courses of steroids. Now at 8 years old she was not responding to treatment for a cold or possibly allergies and really was having difficulty breathing when I took her to a specialist and she had to be put in an oxygen box and diagnosed with elongated soft palate and everted laryngeal saccules. She underwent surgery to correct. When they closed up her temporary tracheotomy she wasn't able to get enough air so additonal surgery was performed to create a permanent trachotomy and an incision from the top of the head to the base of the neck was made to draw up and remove as much of the excess skin folds a possible to keep the trache hole from folding over on itself. After a couple of weeks it was evident that this wasn't enough and last week she was scheduled for a chin lift which resulted in a condition called jugular compression which made her head and face swell up enormously for quite a few days. She is now slated to come home where she will require around the clock care. Her days will have to be spent at the animal hospital as we both work and someone will have to sleep in her quarters to listen through the night for sounds of breathing distress. How does all this sound? Not so nice to be living it for any of us particularly the pup. Had we known in advance how it would all play out... and scary to think what is next.

    2. What an extremely heart breaking story. I am so sorry for your family and your poor dog.
      Of course dogs like yours and mine are usually labelled as "the unlucky ones". People like us are told that we "didn't do our research".

      There are too many unlucky ones, many probably not even seen by a vet as owners see the snuffling. snorting, runny nose and heavy panting in hot humid conditions as "normal for the breed".
      It is normal for the breed but abnormal for a dog.

      There is truth in us not doing enough research. There is plenty of information out there. There are plenty of pugs out there to meet too .

      So we bought a defective dog and it is our fault for not having a degree in pugs.

      Yes.........point taken.

      Now let's go back to the DOGS.

      Is is right that people are allowed to intentionally breed a dog who by looks alone will lead a life of potential illness?

      ANIMAL WELFARE ACT 5 FREEDOMS; Three of them broken from the start;

      Freedom from discomfort
      Freedom from pain injury and disease
      Freedom to express normal behaviour

      Who cares? What is the point in this Act if it is not addressed?

      I wish you all the best with your little pug and hope she stays comfortable and free from further distress and illness.
      Please also feel free to email me if you need a chat.


  9. I feel sorry for Pugs, they are a combination of at least 3 different Dwarf genes.

    They are Brachycephalic, Micromelic Achondroplastic and Ateliotic Dwarfs, plus they have those screw tails. The creators of this breed doubled down on dysfunction and then did it again.

  10. I agree with anonymous at 02.35. Not all designer mixes are good ones (though most I know are lovely). The Pug X JRT mix mentioned above has known problems that occur in dogs that get the heavier Pug body on top of JRT legs. It causes deformities in the growing long bones. One dog that I know had 4 separate surgeries, costing over AU$20,000, before he was three years of age. Lovely dog but it was a known problem and the breeder was making the cross anyway. As much care needs to be taken with crosses or outcrosses as in the breeding of purebred dogs.

  11. "As much care needs to be taken with crosses or outcrosses as in the breeding of purebred dogs. "
    We should be careful not to focus on a few breeds with obvious problems when most breeds and cross breeds have genetical and congenital problems. Any attempt to 'improve' a breed such as the pug must be done EXTREMELY carefully to avoid introducing new problems. I can't help but recall that the CKCS was an attempt to 'improve' on the KCS which was felt by some at the time to be a flat faced, fused toed mutant! Result; a healthier looking toy spaniel but sadly riddled with it's own health problems.

  12. Agreed, VP / Anon, that *looking* healthier the same thing as *being* healthier. The issue of breed selection for cosmetic phenotype that is in and of itself *visibly* harmful to the health and welfare of the animal has stronger imagery than breeds that die young of cancer or autoimmune disease, etc., because of universally high COIs or a lack of selection for health or against particular health defects.

    The fact remains that the CKCS was derived from a tiny founder population of KCS, and was drastically inbred. "New problems" were not brought in with an outcross. No modern conservation breeding program, in any animal species, would follow this gormless "inbreed-purge-set type" pattern, whether salvaging an existing breed or crafting a new one.

  13. heather , cavaliers are not just long nosed versions of king charles, they are a mixture of king charles , papillon , cocker , springer and any other breed that looked the part.
    Im not denying they have been inbred since then but they certainly do not stem purely from a handful of king charles in the 1920s.

    I have both breeds , It has always been the cavaliers who snore and struggle on walks.

    There are many reasons I would be mad to have another KCS but breathing problems are not one of them.

  14. So, Anon 17:26, you are stating that the breed clubs for the CKCS are all lying about its origin?

  15. You may be right, and the pugs that have outcrossed to JRTs may not be healthier in 12 yrs time. But let's look at it again: They had a decent length of muzzle. They were much leaner, they had fewer skin folds, their eyes didn't bulge out significantly. With these particular dogs, the body shape/type/weight was not disproportionate to the legs (they were over 6 months, so we aren't talking very young puppies)so I am guessing the JRT was a parsons or a more old fashioned and quite robust type. During the conversation it became quite obvious that this wasn't a 'designer' breed, but a pug breeder with a breeding strategy to reduce the exaggeraton. I don't doubt that some cases do not work if they are not done well and there will be some anecdotal cases of problems, but in this case I am interested to learn why then you would think that these animals are likely to suffer with MORE health problems than the standard pug. I find it a bit rich to quote the occasional skeletal problem (which I dont downplay) when certain breeds of pedigree dog uniformly suffer from deliberately bred for skeletal defects which quite frequently require surgery. Shih Tzu's among others often have to have the surgery described above when the long bones deform and bow as they grow I believe.

  16. Jemima, thanks for linking to the great bulldog article. To the posters who have healthy/fit brachyencephalic dogs, you are the lucky and rare ones.

    I have a theory about this. Dogs have an "evolutionary ideal" that they strive for: a 35 lb. tan dog with long snout, prick ears and tail curled over the back. Without constantly trying to beat mother nature through "well chosen" matings, dogs all tend to go that direction. Toy breeds get bigger and giant breeds get smaller. Short nosed dogs get longer noses, etc. Show breeders have to constantly breed back to ultra exaggerated dogs to maintain a line with evolutionarily non-adaptive traits.

    For instance, my PRT was #1 in conformation in the USA in the late 1990's. He was the ideal 14" and 14 lb. He had more titles in more sports than any JRT or PRT in world history, was an award winning therapy dog (represented PAT Dogs at Crufts), a Purina and Hallmark Card model for 4 years, played well with other dogs, was a superb hunter, a 4.0 second flyball dog, outraced whippets in lure-coursing "fun meets," was #2 obedience PRT/JRT in the USA and #1 weight pull dog in the UKC of any dog < 30 lb. Piper had OFA excellent hips and had passed every applicable genetic/OFA test with flying colors.

    But NOBODY would breed a bitch to him. To keep the breed small, PRT/JRT show breeders almost all use 10" males. Then, the offspring turn out to be the desired 14".

    I assume the same is done in pugs and bulldogs, with breeders using ultra-ultra-exaggerated dogs as breeders in order to get the ultra-exaggerated dogs that win in the show ring.

    It's my guess that your pugs and bulldogs that can breath were bred by inexperienced breeders using "any ol' dog" that happened to be around (i.e. not the ultra-ultra-exaggerated ones) and thus allowing the offspring to more closely approach the evolutionary ideal of a long snout.

  17. Sharon, your PRT Piper sounds fabulous - the perfect all-rounder. What a shame no one would use him.


  18. " tan dog with long snout, prick ears and tail curled over the back"

    Blimey Sharon you almost described a pug from the 1800's!!

  19. "Brachycephalic animals are all, to at least some degree, affected by lifelong breathing problems..."

    COMPLETELY INCORRECT. I know large amounts of pugs who are fit and healthy. My pugs go on at least 3 walks a day and run around for hours without excessive panting.

    Take a look at what a pug can do.

  20. Well Anon 2:16 - do any of those fit Pugs you know snuffle or make noise when they breathe? Any snorting? Reverse sneezing (which is often cited as one of the breed's most common characteristics)? All of these are evidence of abnormal breathing. If I couldn't breathe without making such noises I'd visit my doctor ASAP. In Pugs etc it's "cute".

  21. French Bulldogs are currently very fashionable in Spain and I meet many in my walks with my boxers. And yes, most of them seem to produce all sorts of unsettling sounds when they breathe, it is obvious they have breathing difficulties. Otherwise they seem fine dogs with really nice temperaments. If they were just a little longer in the nose they would be great dogs.