Flat-faced dogs remain popular despite health problems, study finds

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19:00pm, Wed 26 Aug 2020
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Owners of flat-faced dogs like bulldogs and pugs are highly likely to want the same breed again, despite experiencing common and severe health problems in their pets, research suggests.

According to a new study, 93% of owners of flat-faced dogs would opt for the same kind of pet again, and two-thirds (66%) would recommend their breed to others.

Researchers say the development of breed loyalty toward these so-called brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs may lead to their continued proliferation and popularity, despite their substantial health risks.

Dogs with flat faces suffer from many severe and often lifelong health issues, including eye ulcers, breathing problems and heatstroke, relating to their typical body shape – particularly their characteristic flattened face.

If first-time owners of flat-faced dogs choose these breeds for the rest of their lives, then the current crisis could continue for decades

The experts say that despite the heightened risk of such welfare problems – which are often painful and distressing – the popularity of flat-faced breeds has increased over the last decade.

The French Bulldog is among the UK’s most popular breeds registered with the Kennel Club.

Among the 2,168 owners, the likelihood of reacquisition or recommendation increased by first-time ownership, and increased strength of the dog-owner relationship.

But researchers say the likelihood decreased as a result of an increased number of health problems, as well as dog behaviour being worse than expected.

Dr Rowena Packer, lecturer in companion animal behaviour and welfare science at the Royal Veterinary College and the leader of the study, said: “With a multitude of stakeholders trying to tackle the current brachycephalic boom in the UK, our results are of real concern to these efforts.

“Understanding how breed loyalty develops towards brachycephalic breeds, and whether it can be changed once established, is key to reducing the popularity of short-muzzled breeds.

“If first-time owners of flat-faced dogs choose these breeds for the rest of their lives, then the current crisis could continue for decades.

“Although strong focus has been placed upon dissuading new puppy buyers from purchasing brachycephalic breeds, as they are now some of the most popular breeds in the UK, attention should also be turned to current owners.

“Priority should be given to developing evidence-based strategies to help these owners consider lower-risk, healthier breeds when acquiring future dogs.

“Our novel findings start this process by highlighting the key behavioural characteristics that this owner group value.”

According to the study published in the PLOS ONE journal, owners recommend their breed because of positive behavioural attributes for a companion dog, breed suitability for a sedentary lifestyle with limited space, and suitability for households with children.

But they recommended against their breed due to the high prevalence of health problems, expense of ownership, ethical and welfare issues associated with breeding brachycephalic dogs, negative effects upon owner lifestyle and negative behavioural attributes.

The authors said: “Although dog breed popularity often follows a boom and bust pattern, our results are of real concern as they indicate that this ‘brachy boom’ is here to stay.

“Owners are becoming hooked on the loving personalities of these sweet dogs, but also accepting and normalising their shocking health issues.”

The research was led by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Nottingham Trent University.

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