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Pug – Breed description

The Pug has gained tremendous popularity in the last decade. So much so that it now seems to enjoy a firm place in popular culture, appearing on everything from T-shirts to mugs. However, the breed has been around for longer than you might expect – around 2000 years, actually.

Pugs originate from China and their purpose hasn’t changed much over the years: they were bred to be companions and, to this day, remain faithful lap dogs. They have been a popular choice within the royal families of China and Europe over many hundreds of years.

Being brachycephalic (snub-nosed), they share some similarities with breeds like the French Bulldog and Boston Terrier, and they also bear some resemblance to the Pekingese and Tibetan Spaniel which have similar origins. 

Breed pros

  • Affectionate companion
  • Playful and inquisitive
  • Happy to be a lap dog

Breed cons

  • Brachycephalic related health problems
  • Not suitable for a very active lifestyle
  • Coat shedder

Suitable for

The Pug is a good companion. However, it needs a home with a modest level of activity where owners are committed to maintaining good dental and skin hygiene, and, where they are attentive to the breed’s susceptibility to respiratory problems, overheating and weight gain.

  • Attentive owners 
  • Not overly active lifestyle
  • Individuals, couples or families with older children – respectful of proper handling of a breed at risk of breathing difficulties.

The Pug may be a good choice for retired couples looking for a sofa companion.

Known health problems in pugs

Pugs have a genetic predisposition for a number of health problems. Being brachycephalic, they suffer from some degree of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), as well as eye and dental issues. The severity of these complaints varies between individuals. 

BOAS is where a combination of brachycephalic breed characteristics leads to breathing difficulties. These same characteristics can also make it hard for the dog to effectively regulate its temperature, in order to stay cool. Both can be life threatening. Pugs are also at risk for some tummy problems related to their compact anatomy.

These include a condition known as hiatial hernia, where part of the stomach can be pulled through hole (hiatus) in the diaphragm that the oesophagus passes through. Hiatial hernias can cause signs of gastrointestinal obstruction, breathing difficulties or both, and they are thought to be related to BOAS. Dogs affected by BOAS have to breathe with more inspiratory effort, creating negative pressure in the airways, which can lead to a hiatal hernia.

Most commonly, pugs are affected by:

  • BOAS, leading to breathing distress, fainting episodes and disturbed sleep. The characteristics of BOAS include a long soft palate, narrowed nasal openings, narrow trachea and too much soft tissue in the mouth and throat
  • Susceptibility to overheating
  • Skinfold dermatitis
  • Bulging eyes at risk of ulcers and trauma (including traumatic exophthalmos or ‘popping out’)
  • Dental disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems including hiatal hernia and oesophageal reflux.

Pug care advice

In order to keep a Pug as healthy and happy as possible, there are a few things to pay attention to. Firstly, Pugs are lap dogs at heart, they’re not the best companions for a long romp in the countryside. Owing to the risk of BOAS, it’s best to stick to shorter walks and avoid too much running around. That said, Pugs do tend to be very playful, so incorporating some gentle playtime can be a fun way to keep them active without overdoing it.

Be aware that whilst they might seem to be having a great time racing around, they can easily overdo it because they’re not aware of the danger. Similarly, Pug owners should take care in the warmer months to avoid walks in the sun and always provide shade, somewhere cool to lie and plenty of water. Weight management is also a must in the breed, this is because obesity can exacerbate problems with BOAS and overheating.

Dental and skincare are also important. Whilst Pugs only have a short coat, they often tend to shed a lot of fur, so regular brushing is key. They tend to have some folds of excess skin, most prominent is the one above the nose. Cleaning skin folds out regularly will help to prevent them from getting infected. Additionally, they benefit from regular tooth brushing because the brachycephalic anatomy means that teeth are more susceptible to disease. 

  1. Stick to short walks and gentle playtime
  2. Be careful in the heat
  3. Weekly coat brushing 
  4. Clean out any skin folds 
  5. Monitor weight to prevent obesity
  6. Regular tooth brushing 

Article by Yvette Bell MRCVS

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