In the face of growing demand and widespread breeding of flat-faced dogs with extreme features, a group of dog welfare experts called the Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) have developed an easy-to-use tool to help prospective owners understand how body-shape affects health in dogs, and how to choose a healthy type of four-legged friend that does not have an extreme body shape.
The BWG has launched its “innate health” tool, which highlights a series of fundamental body functions that all dogs should be reasonably expected to show. These functions include very basic needs of dogs such as the ability to blink fully, the ability to breathe easily and to exercise without difficulty, the ability to sleep without breathing difficulties, and the ability to flex their backs and having a tail to wag. Sadly these are things which some dogs are unable to do due to their extreme features and body shapes. Assessing for these functions in their planned new purchase can help would-be owners to prioritise health when getting a dog, instead of just buying the latest “Instagram fad” breed.
The BWG, made up of vets, breeders, breed clubs, dog welfare charities, academics and Defra, is concerned that a growing number of owners in the UK are unduly influenced by social media and advertising that promote human desire for dogs with extreme features, such as squashed faces or excessive skin rolls. As a consequence, many owners are manipulated into wanting dogs with extreme features or a body shape considered to be “fashionable”, even when these features are known to have serious negative impacts on the health of these dogs.
The BWG hopes that its new easy-to-use tool, available online, will help owners to make better decisions when it comes to getting a dog, in line with the BWG recommendation that good health, welfare and temperament should override all other considerations for dogs.
Dr Dan O’Neill, chair of the Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) commented: “Dogs come in many shapes and sizes, so picking a healthy new four-legged family member can be a daunting challenge for many would-be owners, who may be unaware of the significant health problems affecting some dogs due to their extreme body shapes. As well as causing a lifetime of pain and suffering for the dog, getting the decision wrong can lead to serious heartbreak for the owner too.
“Would-be owners should focus on the life that the dog will live; the dog’s good health must be the number one priority. Our new BWG innate health tool, based on decades of research, helps owners assess the body shape of different types of dogs out there and ask themselves basic but critical questions about how these body shapes could compromise the health of the dog. Caring owners who use the ‘innate health’ tool can select a healthier type of dog so that their new four-legged family member is better able to live a naturally healthy and fulfilling life. Owners who use the ‘innate health’ tool can also benefit from fewer dog-health related concerns, lower vet bills, and a longer happier shared life with their dog.
“Growing evidence over recent decades has highlighted many welfare issues and high risk of serious diseases linked to extreme body shape. The public’s obsession for dogs with flat faces has also resulted in increasing numbers of flat-faced dogs being poorly bred and sold indiscriminately. These welfare problems are now so serious that the current advice from major welfare groups in the UK is to ‘stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog’. Hopefully this new innate health tool will assist would-be owners to find alternative and healthier types of dogs to bring joy to their lives.
“During 20 years in general veterinary practice, countless owners have asked me ‘How do I pick a healthy dog?’ Well, the great news is that the new innate health tool allows owners to finally do just that. Of course, once an owner had identified a type of dog with good innate health, consideration also needs to be given to the temperament and character of the dog, as well as how to responsibly source their new dog.”
This call for action to would-be owners coincides with new research released by the Royal Veterinary College which reports how life expectancy varies widely between dogs with differing levels of extreme conformation. The results indicate that some flat-faced breeds, including popular French Bulldogs, Pugs and English Bulldogs, have shorter life spans than less extreme breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Jack Russell Terriers and Springer Spaniels. This, alongside a wealth of previous research which indicates flat-faced dogs can suffer from several health issues linked to their extreme conformations, can help would-be owners to make responsible and informed decisions when it comes choosing a four-legged friend.
Bill Lambert, health, welfare and breeder services executive at The Kennel Club commented: “We hope this new tool will play an important part in supporting owners to better understand their dogs, make responsible decisions and provide good care for them, while also showing would-be owners the health impact that body shape can have, so that they can choose not only the right breed for them, but also only the healthiest type of dog within their chosen breed.
“All Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs, who are suffering due to indiscriminate breeding for extreme features, should be screened using The Kennel Club/University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme, a test which shows breeders, prospective and current owners whether a dog is likely to develop breathing issues.”
Justine Shotton, president, British Veterinary Association, added: “Breeding and hereditary defects are a top concern for vets and, as a practising vet, I often see the heartache and welfare concerns that come from health issues that are a result of the way a dog has been bred. The new tool released by BWG should be useful for anyone looking to add a dog to the family. If the answer to any question is a negative, you should stop and carefully research the potential health and welfare issues that dog is likely to face and consider a healthier alternative.
“Alongside the tool, you should also reach out to your local vet practice for advice and information about dog health and welfare and breed-related health issues. Once you have considered innate health in your decision making, it is then equally important to use the free Puppy Contract to ensure you are buying a happy, healthy and well socialised puppy from a responsible breeder.”
More information about the Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) and its appeal to the public to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog”, and to place the needs of dog’s for good innate health above the whims of humans, can be found at on their website.