They’ve been bred to be adorable, but that may come with dangerous health problems.
Pugs, shih tzus, bulldogs, and French bulldogs are some of the cutest dog breedsout there. Their flat faces and wrinkly noses give them a comical appearance and tons of personality, and they can be terrific companions. But with those adorable features come a host of health problems that have been bred into them for generations. According to the BBC, things have gotten so bad that a British veterinary group is warning dog lovers to steer clear of these breeds—for their own good.
The British Veterinary Association is warning that the boom in popularity for these dog breeds has “increased animal suffering.” That’s because dogs are being bred for their cute looks, and not necessarily for lasting health. The dogs, who are called brachycephalic or short-muzzled, are bred to have short noses, and because of that tend to have small or flat throats and breathing passages.
According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Brachycephalic Syndrome is a combination of a too-long soft palate that interferes with air moving into the lungs, malformed nostrils that make it difficult for the dog to breathe, and tissue in the windpipe that obstructs airflow near the vocal cords. Dogs with this syndrome typically make a lot of noise when they breathe, have a hard time exercising, and sometimes collapse when they’ve had too much activity or heat.
The bulldog is the fourth most popular breed in America, and the French bulldog ranks sixth, up from 11th in 2013. Other flat-faced dogs, like boxers, cavalier King Charles spaniels, and shih tzus, are also high on the American Kennel Club’s popularity list. Because of this newfound popularity, the BBC also notes, animal shelters in the U.K. are seeing an uptick in short-muzzled dogs, and these shelters have to perform surgeries to clear out the dogs’ airways and widen their nostrils.
In a 2011 article in its magazine, the Humane Society blamed these health problems on the culture surrounding purebred dogs. Because breed standards are so strict, they say, the number of dogs that are suitable to breed is quite small, which can inadvertently lead to inbreeding and subsequent problems. Other purebreds have health problems, too; for example, basset hounds and dachshunds tend to have back problems because they’re bred to have short legs.
But bulldogs are often in the spotlight as the most extreme example of breeding for looks, not health. “It is the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world that results in congenital and hereditary problems,” Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society, told the New York Times Magazine in 2011. “Inbreeding and other reckless breeding practices may not be as bloody as dogfighting or as painful to look at as puppy mills, but they may ultimately cause even more harm to the well-being of dogs.” The Bulldog Club of America notes that breed standards mandate a dog with wide nostrils and the ability to move around without restrictions. “It is a myth that the bulldog is inherently unhealthy by virtue of its conformation,” their website reads. “When responsible breeders use healthy dogs in their breeding program, the offspring excel in conformation and companion events.”
The British vets are encouraging prospective owners to find other breeds, or adopting mixed-breed pups instead. But if you simply must have a Boston terrier, the veterinarians urge you to make sure you have thoroughly researched its breeder—and don’t even think of buying a pet from a puppy mill or a pet store that uses one.