The Pugly Truth: Why you should choose healthy over cute every time

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Right now, Pugs, French Bulldogs, British bulldogs and Dachshunds are among our most popular breeds of dog. 

Not only can you find many of these particular canines in the dog park and on the footpath, you can also see them everywhere on social media, in TV commercials and even depicted on clothing and other accessories.

People are often drawn to these breeds because of their looks. Some love the flat faces, big eyes and wrinkly skin of Pugs and Bulldogs; others admire the long bodies and stout little legs of the Dachshund. And liking the way a particular breed of dog looks is just fine – except when it comes to some breeds, whose looks mean serious health problems for them.

Before you think about adding one of these pups to your family, it’s important to know that these exaggerated physical features can cause major health problems.

It wasn’t always like this

These breeds haven’t always looked the way they do today. Pugs from centuries past had longer legs, longer muzzles and straighter tails. Dachshunds’ legs and necks were proportioned in a way that better supported their long bodies and British bulldogs … well, let’s just say they were much better off before they reached a genetic dead end.

As soon as breed standards (strict guidelines describing how particular breeds must look) started prioritising appearance over long-term health and welfare, things changed. The exaggerated features that Pugs and other dogs are known for today have been created by deliberate selective breeding for particular physical types or traits. 

As their features have become more extreme over time, the health problems faced by these breeds have increased in severity. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Breathing difficulties:  Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs are often panting, sneezing and snorting. Because of their short muzzles and flat faces, these dogs have a lot of trouble breathing.  Some dogs will faint or collapse from a lack of oxygen ‚Äì especially when they‚Äôre excited or exercising. Many also have chronic sleep deprivation, only able to sleep for short periods of time before waking up gasping for air, and forced to sleep sitting or standing up because of their breathing problems.Major surgery is often needed to try to improve their quality of life, but it‚Äôs not always successful.
  • Birthing pains: Because they‚Äôve been bred to have large heads, broad shoulders and narrow pelvises, pugs and bulldogs (both British and French) have trouble giving birth and generally require veterinary assistance and a caesarean section. It‚Äôs estimated over 80% of British Bulldog births have to be delivered by caesarean.
  • Spinal problems: The abnormal body proportions of dogs like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds can lead to spinal pain and difficulty walking.
  • Eye trauma: Dogs with flatter faces and prominent eyes are at risk of injury, ulcers and even having their eyes pop out of their sockets. Wrinkly skin can also cause problems that require eye lift surgery.


Healthy puppies and registered breeders aren’t the solution

Sadly, even a healthy young puppy might have serious problem in future. Many of these problems won’t show up until the puppy is one to two years old, or even older.

A good breeder might offer to take the dog back if problems emerge – but who wants to give up their much-loved family pet? And even the best breeders are unlikely to compensate you for all the money you’ve had to spend on vet bills.

The best breeders are likely to conform closely to the breed standards – and that’s where the problem lies. For example, the Australia breed standards for the British Bulldog says the head should be ‘strikingly massive, ‘the skull should be very large – the larger the better’, ‘viewed at the side, the head should appear very high, and very short from its back to the point of the nose’ and ‘the face, measured from the front of the cheekbone to the nose, should be as short as possible ‘.

Until breed organisations accept that standards like these are causing serious and widespread problems, and adjust the standards accordingly, there is only so much the individual breeder can do.

Dogs shouldn’t have to suffer this way

We all love dogs, we love these breeds, and we don’t want to have to advise people to avoid them altogether.

And not all dogs of these breeds will have problems – some do live happy, healthy lives.

But it’s really difficult for us to recommend Pugs, French and British Bulldogs, Dachshunds and Shar Peis in particular, when we’re aware of these many, serious and widespread problems.

We‚Äôre not alone either - according to independent research we recently commissioned, 64% of people are aware that some breeds of dog have health issues because of the way they‚Äôve been bred to look; and 70% of people ‚Äì upon knowing of the health issues faced by these dogs ‚Äì would avoid purchasing or recommending the affected breeds. 

So if you have your heart set on one of these breeds, please think very carefully about whether

  • you‚Äôre willing to build a close relationship with your vet and spend, potentially, thousands of dollars in vet bills? Any dogs can face sickness or injury, but with these troubled breeds, the likelihood that you‚Äôll need substantial veterinary care is high.
  • you‚Äôre willing to accept the dogs shortened life span as a result of these issues? Some pet insurance companies won‚Äôt pay out the ‚Äòlife insurance‚Äô components of policies for these dogs after 5 years of age, because sadly, they consider that a reasonable life expectation for them.
  • the dog‚Äôs constant struggle to breathe, painful or crippling injuries and constant skin irritation, and their inability to do all the things dogs normally do, will break your heart?

If you’d like to support a healthier and happier future for purebred dogs with exaggerated features, please join us in calling upon the Australian National Kennel Council to commit to working with breeders, vets and animal welfare groups to prioritise good health and welfare above physical appearance.

For anyone looking to welcome a furry friend into their life, we strongly recommend visiting your local animal shelter - where you’ll have the opportunity to give a pet a second chance at a loving home.

If you’d prefer to buy a purebred puppy, please be sure to ask the breeder directly whether they breed away from physical exaggerations. Ask to see the parents of the puppies to get an idea of their appearance and whether their offspring might be prone to health problems. Check out the Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide to learn more.

If you own one of these breeds already, make sure you speak to your vet about ways to help your fur baby live a healthier and more comfortable life. And please have your dog desexed to ensure it doesn’t pass on any health problems to the next generation.

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