Pugs and Bulldogs Live Miserable Lives: Health Implications of Breeding the Perfect Pet

Short faced dogs such as pugs, bulldogs and shih-tzus have become increasingly popular as they are some of the cutest dog breeds. In fact many celebrities often caught on camera carrying their cute dogs around in their purses have helped fuel their popularity. The real issue is that these dogs are a result of selective breeding that has changed many of their features leading to severe health repercussions.

Bulldog breathing problems

Known genetic defects

In fact there are more than half a dozen defects caused by improper breeding. That coiled tail is a purpose-bred genetic defect, which in its most serious forms leads to paralysis. Their squished noses have been selectively bred to become ever shorter and smaller, making it difficult for the dogs to breathe and eat, causing trickle down effects like cardiovascular stress, eye prolapses, overheating. Because of that sedentary overheated lifestyle these dogs tend to be overweight. Additional issues include, sleep apnoea,  dental crowding, soft-palate collapse, and skin-fold dermatitis. 

Their large heads and narrow pelvises also cause problems in giving birth (forcing Cesarean sections for many if not most). Their exposed eyes are also vulnerable to damage, with about 15% suffering prolapsed third eyelids and many having other types of eye damage. Quite a number of dogs in several of the breeds also succumb to back or hip problems.

What is being done?

Research has been done to see what can be done to correct these issues among these breeds. A recent study into the genetic assessment of the English bulldog showed that their is no genetic diversity among the breed. This has lead to weakening of immune systems which reduces their ability to fight pathogens. A DNA-based assessment of the breed along a number of parameters has confirmed that the breed is greatly lacking in genetic diversity. The only way to correct this issue going forward is to begin breeding these dogs with other breeds to remove the genetic defects.

Veterinarians have done little to speak out against the inbreeding of these breeds, partly because they know that if the do so owners will seek other vets who are less outspoken. However, the British Veterinary Association has made several statements on the breeding and buying practices of short faced dogs. Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association, said "We are unequivocal in the need for all those with roles to play – including vets, breeders, breed societies, the pet-buying public as well as others – to take action to combat the health problems that brachycephalic breeds experience due to extreme conformation"

bulldog breathing problems

Is there an alternative?

The swiftest way to remove these diseases would be to outbreed to a dog type that does not have the features that cause the health problems typical of these breeds. A number of dog welfare charities have offered a lot of advice about the health problems of these dogs in an attempt to reduce their popularity. An additional problem is that most breeders reject the introduction of genes from outside their breed. They fear the breed will “be contaminated”, that new diseases will be introduced and that the breed will lose its character or change in temperament.

Final thoughts

With new research being conducted by the The Univeristy of Cambridge it may be possible to breed healthier dogs using the existing genetic variation within the breed. If within-breed crosses help reduce the known genetic mutations it may prove a slow process compare to that of outcross-breed. However, the advantage is that within-breed crosses are likely to be widely accepted by dog breeders and so it may prove a quicker way of moving the whole population forward towards better breed health.

About the author

Melanie Fox

Hi there, I'm Melanie Fox, editor at Beloved Bark. We look to provide people with the knowledge and tools to make smarter, more educated choices for their dogs. We have made it our mission to inform our followers with expert advice and recommendations, that will make a difference in your dog's life.

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