University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminar Programme, Department of Veterinary Medicine > Brachycephalic dogs: There is plenty of bad news. So is there any good news?

Brachycephalic dogs: There is plenty of bad news. So is there any good news?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Fiona Roby.

In this talk I will explore the potential reasons that brachycephalic dogs are so popular, the health and welfare consequences of their conformation for the dogs, and whether there is anything that can be done to make the breeds healthier, or said in support of their ownership.

In a veterinary audience most will know at least part of the bad health and welfare news about brachycephalic syndrome, but for those that do not, I will review it briefly, looking both at conditions directly linked to brachycephaly, including BOAS and the disease complex around it, and diseases where the link is indirect (excessive skin and its disorders and disorders of the remainder of the skeleton, joints etc.)

Despite these “well known” problems there has been a huge increase in popularity of brachycephalic dog breeds, both in the UK and worldwide. A brachycephalic dog breed, the French bulldog, is now the most popular pedigree animal in the country, and both registered animals and especially the “rare” colour type pups are very expensive. Consequently the French Bulldog is believed to also be the most imported dog in the country: both legally and illegally. Bulldogs and Pugs have also undergone large increases in popularity. I will consider potential causes for the boom in numbers.

So is there any good news to balance against the obvious welfare issues for a proportion of brachycephalic dogs?

Pet dogs undoubtedly confer benefits to their owners. These include psychological, social and exercise benefits to the elderly independent of their health. For those who have less access to space, brachycephalics may appear to offer companionship with “convenience”. Brachycephalic dog owners often report particularly strong attachment to their pets and we know that this type of attachment is associated with mood enhancing oxytocin release. However there is as yet no strong evidence to quantify this as greater for these breeds than for others.

To what extent can this justify the existence of breeds that may have welfare problems? To quantify the welfare problem, the approach often used is to weight a disorder by a combination of three factors: frequency or prevalence, severity and duration. Here I will review the evidence on the brachycephalic breeds. In addition we can consider effectiveness of treatment. And are all brachycephalic dogs bad in welfare terms? If not, does this make a difference to how we might try to respond to the welfare problems of brachycephalic breeds? This depends on the underlying genetics of brachycephaly and also of the associated disorders, which determine whether disposal of these breeds, outcrossing or selection within the breed offer the most tenable solutions to the welfare problem. I will review our work on this and suggest some ways forward. I will also discuss progress that has already been made both by Jane Ladlow, Nai-chieh Liu and others in the BOAS research group, and externally.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminar Programme, Department of Veterinary Medicine series.

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