Thursday 11 September 2014

Breathlessness: not wagging but drowning

New report suggests that for Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and other brachycpephalic
breeds, fighting for breath can be as unpleasant as drowning
Struggling to breathe can cause animals significant suffering, says a new paper from researchers at Massey University in New Zealand.

This might seem obvious, but breathlessness and its specific welfare impact on animals has not been well-articulated in the veterinary literature before. 

"Breathlessness, in its various manifestations, has been studied extensively in human beings who report that it can be extremely unpleasant and distressing," say authors Ngaio Beausoleil and David Mellor.

"At least three qualitatively distinct sensations of breathlessness are recognised in human medicine – respiratory effort, air hunger and chest tightness... Each one occurs in a variety of pathological conditions and other situations, and more than one may be experienced simultaneously or in succession. However, the three qualities vary in terms of their unpleasantness, with air hunger reported to be the most unpleasant."

The authors found that brachycephalic airway syndrome in modern dog and cat breeds "increases respiratory effort at rest and likely leads to air hunger during exertion" - in other words,the most unpleasant kind of breathlessness reported by humans.

"Air hunger is the sensation experienced at the end of a long breath hold. It is often described as ‘increased urge to breathe’, ‘shortness of breath’, ‘needing more air’, ‘unsatisfied inspiration’, ‘smothering’ or ‘suffocating’. It is always reported to be unpleasant, and even moderate air hunger is more unpleasant than maximal respiratory effort ."

Indeed, the authors put the welfare impact of severe brachcypehalic airway syndrome in the same category as drowning or being deliberately asphyxiated.

While this paper explores the issue of breathlessness across the board (i.e.not just due to conformation), the authors are currently preparing a second paper exploring the extent and impact of brachycephalic airway syndrome on welfare in dogs and cats.

Hopefully, this will increase the pressure on breeders, Kennel Clubs and dog owners blind to the problem in pursuit of a distorted sense of "cute" to take the issue more seriously.

Watch this space...

"Introducing breathlessness as a significant animal welfare issue" by NJ Beausoleil and DJ Mellor, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, July 2014.

Join in the discussion on the new Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook page.


  1. The demand for change must come from they buyers, it's that simple. No amount of regulation will fix things, it would just create an underground demand. This research needs to go mainstream.

    1. People who want a dangerous banned breed might go underground, but I'm not so sure that Pug buyers would.

    2. Hi Anon 1340,

      I assume you mean something like having a veterinarian meet a suffering Pug, and then have the owner charged with cruelty for failure to get the Pug the medical surgery he needs?

      Because it is cruelty to your Pug to fail to get him the surgary he will need as he matures. Breathing through a squashed face is a terribe, and cruel thing to make a dog do. And for owners to laugh at their Pug for passing out is just plain cold and cruel.

    3. Anon 1554

      No, I think it's more along the lines of charging the breeders and breed clubs with cruelty for breeding deformed dogs in the first place. At least that's what I would do.

      I already make it my job to tell owners of pugs and bulldogs just how deformed and sickly their dogs are. Of course I get the defensive "no, not my baby, he's really healthy" rubbish. This is while their dog is panting audiably while standing still in the street... Yes... That really sounds healthy... I suppose if they had an asthmatic kid wheezing his lungs out they'd deny he was suffering too.

  2. Some people say that raising a puppy is good practice for raising a baby. That is the learning to love, to care for, to be responsible for the care of a dependent, can be brought out by a puppy.

    But what type of practice is it to get a Pug puppy, watch it grow, listen to the puppy"s distress as the tissue grows in his airways forcing him to struggle to breathe through the narrow contorted air passages, then, when he pass out, do nothing to help the dog?

    What about the child respiratory virus currently in schools in Kansas and Oklahoma in the US, where children are passing out from the effect the virus has on their breathing. Many children ar being placed on breathing machines.

    If this hits your area, are parents going to watch thier child struggle to breathe but do nothing? Maybe film their child gasping like a fish out of water then passing out from lack of air? Put the whole sick thing on YouTube for laughs?

  3. Horrifying, but thanks for sharing this.

    On a related note, I recently had a great moment of insight. The other day I took my dog (a husky x Aussie x German shepherd mix) to our local dog park. I overheard one person say she wanted to get a St. Bernard. The other person told her that they have lots of health problems. The first person said, "Yes, I know, but despite that, I'd still really like one."

    To my mind, clearly this person was not at all focused on how much the dog itself suffers. Rather, she was only thinking about the inconvenience of having a dog with high medical bills, etc. Overhearing this was very enlightening for me. It seems many people really don't care what the dog is going through. All they care about is that it looks they way they want, and how inconvenient it may be to achieve that. That must be why some people get pugs and bulldogs that feel like they're chronically drowning; they just don't care.

  4. If there is one breed that needs improvement, it is the pug.

  5. Do you actually know anything about the breed standards for these breeds which are issued by the Kennel Club to ensure all breeds are fit for purpose?! The problem isn't with the Kennel Club or Kennel Club Assured Breeders the problem is with 'backyard breeders' they don't care about breed standards or the welfare of their breeding dogs or even the puppies, they care about money! The change needs to be ensuring ALL breeders are kennel club assured breeders and that potential owners are educated on the breed they want. I have an English Bulldog and she does NOT have respiratory problems because I chose a Kennel Club Assured
    Breeder. It is a real shame you feel the need to tarnish all breeders and dogs of a certain breed with the same brush.

    1. Have you actually put your Bulldog up to be tested to see if it has any restriction of the airways ?
      Unfortunately, most people don't recognize prespiratory problems unless they are severe. I would suspect your Bulldog might be on the less severe end, but I would happily lay money on it, that if tested for BAS, it would be found to have some restriction of the airways, just not enough yet that you notice it.

    2. Anonymous - no I haven't had my bulldog tested, however her dam and sire had been tested to ensure that the puppies would be of a good standard and I have been told by my vets that she is exceptionally well bred. Again this comes down to money, she wasn't cheap, I used a well regarded assured Kennel Club breeder, but you get what you pay for, go to a backyard breeder buy a cheap puppy and you will no doubt have a dog with health issues. Yes I like the look of the bulldog breed but it's their personalities and nature that is why I have a bulldog and always will have a bulldog in my life, why should a breed and all breeders/owners be persecuted for the actions of bad breeders producing dogs that are not meeting breed standard?!

    3. Bubba, well bred, does not equal healthy. Being of standard does not equal healthy if fact being bred to the Bulldog standard equals unhealthy whether on the Assured Scheme or not.
      Your Bulldogs parents I suspect were not tested for BAS because on the Assured Breeder Scheme they are not required to test to see if a Bulldog they breed from has a restricted airway. All Bulldogs because they are brachcephalic because of this anatomy have over crowding at the back of the throat and have some level of obstruction of the airways. Although most Bulldog breeders will not speak about their problems breathing and problems regulating their temperature because of such a short muzzle that restricts the chamber in it that helps dogs to cool down. Its like the elephant in the room with them.
      Does your Bulldog snore, does the Bulldog snore when asleep. A dog snoring or making grunting noises are two of the most obvious signs of obstruction of the airway, but often just dismissed as cute. It's not normal for a healthy dog to snore.
      It's not about how mush you pay for a Bulldog because of the structure and anatomy that is desired of them whether breeding at the high end of the market or lower end, they are born to suffer merely because dogs cannot look like that without a degree of suffering, obviously the degree of suffering your Bulldog has to go through in it's life (with some and maybe developing into severe obstruction to its airway and lacking the ability to cool its self efficiently because of its lack of muzzle), you feel is proportionate to your desire for that look.

      Would of liked the vet to of told you your dogs was very healthy, but he/she would of been lying if they said that, but stroked your ego nicely with the well bred comment.

    4. Bubba,

      Pedigree breeders generaly love to complain of how they are all tarred with the same brush when problems are reported within pedigree dogs....yet in the next breath most seem to state that BYBers are the whole problem and interested only in money!

      You do realise that the majority of dogs were developed by BYBers? Before the K.Cs were formed to "better" them? So BBYBers are actuay the natural environment for the development of dogs.Their foundation.
      Which has been under attack since the K.Cs were formed and disasterously ruled that no member be permitted to cross breed. Just when the science of breeding better dogs was becoming more intimately understood, The K.cs effectively slowed and ultimately shut down any new developments in favour of using only whats known and recorded and closed from environmental influence.
      That action has taken what was a community driven and developed assett to claim as its own and has actively oppressed and suppressed any breeding undertaken out side of the K.Cs since.
      Pressuring ethical and careing breeders to work within the K.Cs charter, or be denied ligitimacy. Labelled unethical and scorned before there is even a litter produced.
      NOT because the dogs they produce are inferior.
      NOT because they lack knowledge.
      NOT because their dogs are kept poorly, or are unhealthy, or have bad temperaments. Just because they don't have pedigree papers.

      Pedigrees and closed lines do not make a better dog. Breeding practices do. That must be recognized by the K.Cs and people in general, promoted as the benefit the organization brings to its members, AND the environment. Or they will continue to be at odds with their environment.
      They will be unable to meet the needs of that environment and blogs such as this are symptom of that.
      I breed cross bred dogs because the pure breed I loved and used was no longer fit for purpose. They did not meet my needs.And I too have been told I have a 'Superior specimen" by vets. With the bonus it works.

      The K.Cs must allow their members to cross breed, or else they have closed off all environmental influence on domestic dogs as a species and it becomes irrelevent to modern society ( since that is the natural environment for domestic dogs)
      The chaos you see and complain about occurring Outside the K.Cs?
      What do you expect when the K.Cs appropriate any expertise and knowledge for themselves and leave society directionless? Vocaly deny anyones ability to work ethicaly outside of the K.Cs charter?

      The K.Cs push for dog breeding to be a specialist field, while increasingly denying any influence from their target/consumers/environment. They gradualy force dog breeding to became just another commercial venture in a consumer world, since that will be the only way society can hold onto the species and still meet the needs of the people.

      Designer breeds being bred for profit on the basis of looks only? The show scene itself has paved to way for that attitude to flourish.

      If or When The K.Cs rule that members may cross breed, Domestic dogs may again come to mean more than accessories chosen simply for cosmetic appeal .

      The K.Cs attitude to cross breed dogs harms the K.Cs. It harms the foundation they stand on. There is one species- Domestic dog and by attacking their foundations, they undermine themselves.

      When K.C membership stands for breeding with understanding and knowledge, rather than just purity and pedigrees, we might come to believe it stands for some thing worth supporting.

    5. Bubba you're an idiot.
      I'm not even going to type out a paragraph explaining what a stupid statement you made, because you're too brainwashed or arrogant to understand any of it.
      Just, stop it.

    6. It's the breed standard that is responsible for the unhealthiness!

      The standard specifies that the dog's snout should be too short to be healthy, the legs too short and too widely spaced on too wide shoulders, legs should be bowed, paws should be splayed, tail is a corkscrew, head is massive, hips are narrow, lower jaw is undershot.... How does any of that sound healthy to you???!

      My cousin has an "exceptionally well bred bulldog" and it's an utter mess! I'm sure it would win dog shows if he had any inclination to show him. The dog cost in excess of £1000 to buy and came from a "reputable KC breeder" with champions in his pedigree - the dog snorts and grunts ALL the time! He's clearly got obstruction of his airways. It's a disgrace, I'm ashamed that my cousin is so cruel as to support the breeding of such a sick animal.

  6. For urgent attention "BULLDOGS THE GREATEST CANINES ON THE PLANET" this is so uninformed its disgusting, promoting a breed with shocking examples a breed with so many tragic problems. Please add your voice to the comments.

  7. Thank you! Puggles are adorable & a ton and a half healthier (though, to be fair, the Pug sets a low bar). I've also been curious as to what a Pug/Italian Greyhound would look like- the lowest incidence of hip dyplasia in OFA testing, meet the highest...