The RVC has published the results of a new study which shows that the owners of short-muzzled or brachycephalic dogs are either unaware of the suffering of these breeds, or deluding themselves1.

The study, which was conducted in in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Nottingham Trent University, looked at the relationship between the owners of over 2000 Pugs, French and English Bulldogs and their pets.

The researchers found that while 20% of the brachycephalic dogs in the study had undergone at least one corrective surgery, only 6.8% of owners consider their dog to be less healthy than average for their breed.

Furthermore, despite 17.9% of owners reporting breathing problems and 36.5% reporting overheating, a staggering 70.9% of owners still considered their dog to be in ‘very good health’ or ‘the best health possible'.

The average age of the dogs in the study was a youthful 2.17 years, which suggests a particularly steep and recent increase in ownership, and points towards a looming health crisis as they age and their disorders worsen. 

Furthermore, the study revealed that the dog-owner relationship is influenced by expectations in advance of owning a short-muzzled dog.

Dogs whose behaviour, maintenance and veterinary costs were worse than expected prior to ownership led to owners reporting ownership of their dog to be a greater burden.

With more brachycephalic dogs being relinquished to rescue centres across the UK, the researchers say realistic expectations of ownership are crucial to maintaining long-lasting relationships between owners and short-muzzled dogs. 

Dr Rowena Packer, Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College and leader of the study, said: "With the UK experiencing a brachycephalic crisis, a greater understanding of the relationships between owners and dogs of these breeds is vital.

"Emotional forces may trump rationality, with owners clearly loving their dogs but considering high levels of disease as healthy for these breeds. With the welfare of many thousands of dogs at stake, along with emotional and financial burdens on their owners, research that unravels these complex relationships is much needed."

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College and Chairman of the UK Brachycephalic Working Group, said: "After almost a decade working on brachycephalic dogs, I have come to realise that the issue is as much a human problem as it is a dog problem.

"As humans, we design, breed and choose the dogs we own but our dogs have to live, for better or worse, with those outcomes. With such great power comes great responsibility. Deeper understanding of the human reasons for our choices can help us make better decisions and to improve the welfare of our ‘best friend’."

Bill Lambert, Senior Health and Welfare Manager at the Kennel Club, said: "By contrasting perception and reality, this research provides vital insights which can help advance practical tools and resources to enable better understanding of the health conditions these popular breeds can suffer from and inform puppy buyers’ and owners’ decisions. Similarly, it highlights how crucial it is that all those who care about dog welfare continue to work collaboratively to raise awareness of brachycephalic-related conditions, and encourage puppy buyers to do thorough research and go to a responsible breeder who prioritises health. This is the remit of the Brachycephalic Working Group, made up of vets, welfare organisations and breed clubs, who will no doubt use the insight from this paper to inform future work."

Reference

  1. Packer RMA; O’Neill DG; Fletcher F; Farnworth MJ (2019). ‘Great expectations, inconvenient truths, and the paradoxes of the dog-owner relationship for owners of brachycephalic dogs.’ PLoS ONEhttp://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0219918

Photo: Charles Bradbury


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