'Problems from head to tail': craze for pedigree pugs raises health concerns

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Popularity of pugs and bulldogs leads experts to warn owners of breathing difficulties, skin problems and other disorders faced by the breeds

The growing popularity of dogs with extremely wide faces and short bodies, such as pugs and bulldogs, has prompted experts to warn owners of the health issues associated with flat-nosed breeds.

A study by a group of Australian veterinary scientists has found that dog owners increasingly favour such types of small dog over larger breeds, but are unaware of the myriad problems, including breathing difficulties, skin disorders, overheating, eye conditions and premature death that are common in such animals.

“The breeds that are increasing in popularity unfortunately are plagued by a plethora of different health problems – we are talking about issues from head to tail,” said Dr Rowena Packer from the Royal Veterinary College. “Whenever we’ve got breeds that do have health problems increasing in popularity naturally we are really concerned about that.”

The study, published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, focused on data on 180 dog breeds from the registry of the Australian National Kennel Council. Looking at their weight, height and skull shape, the team of Australian veterinary scientists looked at how trends have changed over a period of 28 years, from 1986 to 2013.

While the total number of all dogs registered plummeted from 95,792 to 66,902, the researchers found the drop was greater for both giant and large dogs than medium and small breeds. What’s more, there was a growing preference for dogs with wider, shorter heads. Indeed, the registration of pugs alone rose from 522 in 1986 to 1319 in 2013.

While the research did not delve into the reasons behind the trends, the authors suggest a drop in home-size due to city-living and a shift towards dogs as purely companion animals could among the factors involved, with the preference for pug-like breeds potentially arising from their baby-faced look that could tap into the “caretaking” urges of adult humans.

But there might be more to it than mere cuteness, with the authors also suggesting that celebrity fads and advertising could be fuelling the trend. “We see more short skulled dogs in publicity and that could be making people more aware of them, and how very charming these dogs can be,” said Professor Paul McGreevy, an author of the research from the University of Sydney.

It isn’t only in Australia that wide-faced canines are on the up. According to data from the Kennel Club, registrations of pugs in the UK rose from 2,681 to 10,087 between 2006 and 2015 while over the same period the number of registered French bulldogs shot up from 526 to 14,607.

But the trend is causing consternation. “These dogs are dying, we think, four years earlier than dogs of the same size with normal-shaped skulls,” said McGreevy, pointing out the many health problems associated with pug-like breeds. “Because they have got all of the tissues in their head that a normal dog has, but they have less room, they get dental crowding and they also get the soft palette hanging down - that is what gives them the [breathing] sounds,” he said, referring to the snuffling, snorting sounds such breeds often make.

Moreover, he added, the wrinkles on their face - caused by excess skin - can lead to eczema and other skin disorders as well as eye problems, while the preference for large heads and small waists in such dogs can cause difficulties during birth, with litters of English and French bulldogs often needing to be delivered by caesarian section.

“There can be healthy examples of [flat nosed] breeds, but the inherent body shape that they have is high risk for many different disorders,” said Packer.

McGreevy also believes the boom should give pause for thought. “I think people need to think very seriously about what drives the decisions they are making,” he said. “They should really reflect on what they are actually investing in and committing to.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicola Davis, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th April 2016 00.00 Europe/London

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