Go to any park in the UK and you’re likely to come across a pug panting, grunting, rasping, or gasping. Because of their flat faces and short airways, many breathing-impaired breeds (BIBs), such as such as pugs, bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels, struggle to do the very things that render a dog’s life joyful and fulfilling. Going for a walk, chasing a ball, running, and playing are nearly impossible for many of these dogs. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Comparative Pathology notes that “affected dogs may have little or almost no activity because they are entirely occupied with breathing”.
The skyrocketing demand for dogs with unnaturally short snouts means that breeders continue to selectively breed dogs for this look, at great expense to the animals’ health and well-being. In addition to shortness of breath, a squashed face and nose put dogs at a higher risk of eye problems, diabetes, obesity, skin issues, gastrointestinal disorders, and dental issues, alongside a long list of other ailments that shorten their lifespans and are detrimental to their quality of life. This is why the Dutch government has already banned the breeding of around 20 flat-faced dog breeds – citing concerns about animal welfare – and now intends to bring in further restrictions on keeping these dogs. And it’s why the UK government ought to follow suit.
One of the main issues with breeding dogs to have grotesquely short snouts is that their airways have to fit into this unnaturally small space. According to Dr Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association, this means that a dog’s airways are “essentially squashed into that short nose and shortened skull” resulting in extremely narrow nasal passages. Wensley likens this “to humans having to spend our entire life breathing through a drinking straw”.
Veterinary bodies – including the British Veterinary Association – strongly recommend that animals who have extremely exaggerated features that negatively affect their health and welfare not be bred. A recent study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College found that pugs could no longer be considered a “typical dog” because of their genetic health defects. Dr Dan O’Neill, lead author of the study, concluded, “It is time now that we focus on the health of the dog rather than the whims of the owner.”
Speaking on BIBs, another lead veterinarian, Dr Scott Miller stated, “They’re in pain, they’re uncomfortable and in a lot of cases, they need surgical correction.” A study found that one-fifth of dog guardians with a BIB reported that their dog had undergone at least one surgery related to having distorted physical features.
Pugs and other flat-faced, or brachycephalic, breeds frequently wind up having surgery to clear their airways or shorten their palate – procedures that are dangerous, painful, and traumatic. They come at great expense, not to mention heartache, to many unsuspecting guardians. As a result of the hefty vet bills, many rehoming centers that are already bursting at the seams with homeless animals are reporting a huge increase in the number of surrendered BIBS – likely because people find themselves financially and emotionally overwhelmed by trying to manage their dog’s many health issues.
It’s no surprise that those who treat dogs as moulding clay – contorting them into shapes and sizes that nature never intended – are often motivated not by the animals’ best interests but by greed. Last week, a BBC Panorama investigation exposed the fact that that organised crime is moving into the lucrative market of dog breeding. One drug dealer was found to have continued his dog-breeding business from behind bars. Other breeders are known criminals with existing animal welfare offence convictions.
The word “animal” stems from the Latin “animalis”, meaning “to have breath”. In succumbing to fads and buying breathing-impaired dogs simply because we like the look of them, we encourage the breeding of characteristics that render laborious the very thing that makes life possible. It is unfair to doom an animal to a life of misery for our arbitrary aesthetic preferences, which can change like the wind. And the absurd irony is that while breeders continue to profit from churning out these physically deformed dogs because people continue to pay for them, there are thousands of healthy, highly adoptable dogs in animal shelters, just waiting for someone to take them home.
We must take action to prevent dogs from suffering. The government can do this by urgently implementing a breeding ban on BIBs, as the Netherlands has already done and other countries are also looking to do. Until then, we can help man’s best friend by choosing never to buy one from a breeder, pet shop, or website. Otherwise, there will be no end to these dogs’ suffering until they’ve drawn their final painful breath.