A recently published study points to a disturbing trend in dog ownership.
Researchers analyzed Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) registration statistics from 1986 to 2013 for 181 breeds. They found that people are becoming increasingly likely to purchase smaller, brachycephalic dogs. In other words, breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs that have a short muzzle, wide head, and prominent eyes.
Why is this a concern? Brachycephalic dogs have more than their fair share of health problems, chief among them brachycephalic airway syndrome. By selecting for this unnatural head shape, we’ve created some potentially serious anatomic abnormalities, including:
- narrowed nasal openings
- a thin trachea (windpipe)
- a long soft palate
- outpouchings of tissue into the larynx (voice box)
These characteristics can combine to make breathing very difficult for these poor dogs. Typical symptoms include noisy breathing, working harder than normal to breathe, an inability to exercise normally, a tendency to overheat, and gagging. In severe cases, dogs may collapse due to low blood oxygen levels. Also, small brachycephalic dogs often cannot give birth naturally. Their pups have to be delivered by C-section, the timing of which may not ideal for the pups’ welfare.
“Other brachycephalic-predisposed conditions include mast cell tumours, chemoreceptor system neoplasms, hydrocephalus and multiple digestive, ocular and dermatological disorders,” according to the Australian researchers. Most disturbingly, the authors report that “life expectancy is estimated 4 years lower in highly brachycephalic breeds than those not (8.6 years vs 12.7 years).”
And this trend toward smaller brachycephalic breeds is not limited to Australia. As the paper states:
The brachycephaly boom seems to be worldwide. In agreement with our results, brachycephalic breeds such as English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boxers, and Pugs have been becoming increasingly popular in the United Kingdom (UK) over recent years, and the numbers of Bulldogs and French bulldogs registered with the American Kennel Club have increased by 69% and 476%, respectively, in the past decade.
Why are we seeing a “brachycephaly boom”? The authors theorize that it has to do with a combination of three factors:
- The increasing popularity of smaller homes, which could limit the appeal of large dogs.
- The round head, prominent eyes, and small nose of brachycephalic dogs are infant-like and stimulate caregiving tendencies in adults, even across species.
- Pure fad
Are you thinking of getting a small, brachycephalic dog? I’m not (necessarily) trying to change your mind, just be aware of the consequences of your decision.
Trends in popularity of some morphological traits of purebred dogs in Australia. Teng KT, McGreevy PD, Toribio JA, Dhand NK. Canine Genet Epidemiol. 2016 Apr 5;3:2.