Urgent call by vet profession to stop suffering of brachycephalic dogs and cats

The Pug in the photo below may look “cute”, but when you look closely, you’ll see that there’s a dark circle in the centre of his throat. This is a permanent tracheostomy which had to be surgically created because the unfortunate animal was unable to breathe properly through his nose and mouth. He had started to collapse, suffocating, when he went about his normal daily activities. The tracheostomy was needed to stop him from dying a frightening, choking death.

Pug with tracheostomy tube


This was not some random illness: this is a man-made problem. Somebody chose to breed him to have a “cute” snub nose and wrinkly face, callously disregarding the fact that this would mean that he would be deprived of normal, wide-open, free-flowing breathing airways. If somebody inflicted the type of suffering that this dog has endured on a healthy adult animal, they would be prosecuted for cruelty. Somehow, because he was born with these problems, the fact that humans chose to create him like this is conveniently forgotten. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the cruelty to animals caused by breeding creatures who are born to suffer.

  • There are many short-nosed dogs in the UK that are less severely affected than the dog in the photo, but they still live compromised lives.
  • They pant incessantly, unable to breathe comfortably through the nose like a normal dog.
  • They lick their lips frequently, an “adorable” mannerism which is in fact a sign of anxiety due to discomfort.
  • They are unable to exercise normally because they just can’t get enough air into their lungs.
  • Obesity is common, due to their restricted activity level
  • They have shortened life span .

The saddest aspect about this situation is that it is getting worse: these dogs are increasingly popular. There has been a five-fold increase in the number of Pugs registered by the Kennel Club in the past 11 years, and sales of other short-nosed dogs are also booming. Other short-nosed breeds are also rapidly increasing in popularity, including Bulldogs and French Bulldogs. Vets across the UK treat these dogs every day. Sometimes I can’t hear my client speak because the noise caused by the rasping breathing of her Bulldogs.

We vets know the facts listed above. We attend courses that teach us about more effective ways to help affected animals. We charge healthy fees to give our professional assistance to affected animals. But what are we doing to stop this suffering from happening in the first place?

Last Friday, Jemima Harrison, outspoken critic of unhealthy pedigree dogs, wrote an open letter to the veterinary profession, asking us to take a stronger stance. Vets in other countries, including Norway, Sweden, Ireland and the Netherlands, have joined together to take a public stance against the production of such unhealthy creatures. So why has the veterinary profession in the UK not been more vocal? Vets have responded rapidly. Assisted by VetHelpDirect, a petition (for vets and vet nurses only) was launched this morning, calling on the professional bodies representing vets and dog breeders to take urgent action. If you keep an eye on this petition over the coming days, you will see hundreds of members of the veterinary and veterinary nursing profession signing up. Hundreds of us, all around the country, are distressed by witnessing the daily suffering of their patients, and we want action to be taken. The big question is: are those in power listening?


UPDATE 9th May (Ed)

BSAVA and BVA have provided us with this joint statement

BVA and BSAVA statement on brachycephalic breeds

Following recent calls urging veterinary surgeons and their professional associations to take action to address the health problems experienced by brachycephalic dog and cat breeds, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) have issued the following statement:

BVA and BSAVA’s members are seeing concerning trends in dog and cat health and welfare linked to the rise in ownership of brachycephalic breeds and we are unequivocal in the need for all those with roles to play – including vets, breeders, breed societies, the pet-buying public as well as others – to take action to combat the health problems that brachycephalic breeds experience due to extreme conformation. Both organisations are committed to using scientific evidence and data – now readily available – to understand and tackle extremes of conformation. BVA and BSAVA both strongly recommend that animals which show extremes of conformation that negatively affect their health and welfare should not be used for breeding. Vets have a duty to always prioritise the best interests of their pet patients, which, for affected animals, can involve performing surgical procedures to correct conformational disorders.  They have a concurrent duty, for example acting through professional associations such as BVA and BSAVA, to be part of initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of a breed beyond the individual affected animal. This is why BVA, at the recent BSAVA Congress, promoted the importance of vets submitting data on caesarean sections and conformation-altering surgery to the Kennel Club, to improve the future of dog health and welfare. We recognise and take seriously our responsibility to develop and contribute to all such initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of these animals and we will continue to work with all stakeholders who can positively influence and improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic breeds.

Update 11th May

Statement from the Dog Breeding Reform Group (DBRG)

The Dog Breeding Reform Group (DBRG) has welcomed moves by the veterinary community calling for action to tackle the serious health issues facing brachycephalic breeds. An online petition launched on Monday has already attracted hundreds of signatures.

Chris Laurence MBE, DBRG Trustee and former veterinary director of the Dogs Trust who has signed the petition, says: “Vets in companion animal practice see dogs with inherited breathing difficulty almost every day and are frustrated that there seems to be no end to the daily suffering of these breeds. The DBRG is delighted that vets are now getting together to highlight the issue and to plead with breeders to stop producing puppies with such malformed heads that they are unable to breathe easily.“

Dr Rowena Packer from the Royal Veterinary College and also a DBRG member, whose main area of research interest is brachycephalic health, believes the petition is good news. “There is clear evidence that short muzzles are linked with several problems of major welfare concern, including not only breathing but also eye, skin and dental disorders,” she says.

“We now need to put this evidence into action and move away from these extreme body shapes for the sake of many thousands of brachycephalic dogs internationally who suffer as a result of their look,” she continues.

DBRG’s founder Carol Fowler says. “In 2008 Professor Steve Jones, of University College London, talked of a ‘universe of suffering’ for many dog breeds. Brachycephalic breeds have the additional burden of a conformation that can lead to a lifetime of suffering.”

The petition’s launch comes days after long-time canine health campaigner Jemima Harrison wrote an open letter to UK vets urging them to put their heads “above the parapet” and make a stand, describing brachycephalic health issues as an “epidemic”.

Brachycephalic breeds have experienced a huge surge in popularity. The Kennel Club has seen a five-fold increase in registrations of pugs since 2005 and a whopping 4000 per cent increase in the numbers of French bulldogs.

The PDSA PAW Report, 2015, states that health issues related to pedigree breeding was the third highest concern of owners relating to pet welfare. “Ordinary pet owners and dog lovers can protest as much as they like but few people listen, especially those with the power to instigate change such as breed clubs and the Kennel Club. Now that vets are daring to speak out, I sincerely hope we will start to see real and meaningful change,” says DBRG’s Carol Fowler.
The DBRG is an organisation dedicated to improving the health and welfare of dogs through responsible breeding. It was founded in 2013 and gained Charitable Trust status in 2015.Members of the DBRG include veterinary specialists, dog welfare law experts, breeders and dog owners.


Update 13th May

PDSA statement on brachycephalic dogs and cats

Our vision at PDSA is a lifetime of wellbeing for every pet. We believe that the physical and mental health of companion animals should be of paramount concern to everyone involved in their care.

However, the 2015 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report showed that the health issues relating to pedigree/unsuitable breeding was the third most concerning pet welfare issue for owners. There is a growing body of evidence to support the link between flat-faced breeds and several welfare issues known to cause suffering,

As a veterinary charity, the health issues facing brachycephalic pets are a real concern for us. However, many owners are simply not aware of the detrimental impact extreme conformations can have on their pet’s quality of life.

These breeds are growing in popularity and with around 4.5 million pet owners doing no research before getting a pet, this is a recipe for disaster for the future wellbeing of these pets. We all have a responsibility to intervene now to improve the health and welfare of these breeds.

We welcome this petition and the BVA/BSAVA statement of support for collaborative working of all those responsible for breeding and welfare. We would offer our breadth of both veterinary and educational expertise to support work to tackle this important issue.


Update 16th May

Statement from the RSPCA

The evidence is clear and obvious enough even to non-vets. The ability to breathe, exercise and keep cool are fairly basic requirements for us to expect every dog to have. Members of the public expect those who breed dogs to have done everything they can to ensure the animals they sell are fit for a happy life as a beloved pet. Breeders (with some, few exceptions) have not addressed this on their own. We would be very keen to work for the BVA, RCVS, The Kennel Club and AHT as a working party to work out how we can safeguard animal health.



21 thoughts on “Urgent call by vet profession to stop suffering of brachycephalic dogs and cats

  1. The policy in the Irish veterinary profession, as represented by Veterinary Ireland, is:

    “The veterinary profession should strive to ensure improvement of the genetic makeup of animals so that surgical procedures are not routinely necessary to correct underlying genetic failings of a certain species or breed.”

    Specific to pugs Veterinary Ireland has set a goal that within a decade all pugs that are born will be able to breathe without needing surgery. We are working with the Irish SPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland on this. When I lectured on this at our last National Animal Welfare Conference (using photos like yours) our Minister for Agriculture (who was in attendance) voiced his agreement with and support for our position.

    We as vets in practice obviously have to help the ones that come in that cannot breathe – if they need surgery then we have to do it – but we should tell breeders in no uncertain terms that these dogs must not be bred from and that they must not tolerate a situation whereby all of their ‘produce’ cannot breathe.

    We also have to make the Kennel Clubs change the breed standards and finally we have to tell the public that they should only buy pugs from breeders that have signed up to the new standards. The breeders and Kennel Club will not like this but frankly we don’t care. If they don’t come along of their own volition then they are just wrong and will be made come along.

    It makes me so angry that every pug I see coming in to me has to be referred for surgery to allow it to breath properly. It is an absolute disgrace that humans have manufactured such a situation and as vets we feel it is our job to get undone the harm humans have done in this regard.

    The last such goal we set in Ireland was to ban tail docking and to have all cosmetic procedures on animals made illegal and we won. Tackling the disgrace that are dogs that cannot breathe properly is our next big goal and we will win this now. We will win.

    Dr Alan Rossiter MVB
    Representing Veterinary Ireland
    (President 2012)

    1. Well that was an interesting read. I have been breeding Pugs for 22 years now. I show my pugs and have imported pugs to improve the standard and health of my pugs.
      When I first became involved with the breed, I did hear the odd pug, being shown, that had obvious breathing issues. In the last 10 years, I have not heard ONE pug in the ring being shown that has these breathing issues. Kudos to the breeders in Australia, for not breeding with bitches that have elongated palate.
      All dogs, whether they are cross bred or pure bred have health issues cropping up form time to time. My only criticism of these articles, is the generalization. How many Pugs have been included in your statistics. Were the Pugs affected, puppy farmed, cross bred or from Pugs from registered breeders. Looking forward to your reply…kind regards
      Pandanlamo Pugs
      South Australia

  2. Hi Rossella, I am really sorry but it is just for qualified Vet nurses and vets. Thanks for making your feelings clear anyway. Perhaps you could ask any qualified veterinary professionals you know to sign it ?

  3. I’m sorry but this is such a sweeping statement. I am the owner of a year old pedigree pug. Pugs can develop obesity but this is because they are greedy by nature…solution? carefully measure their food, do not feed human food and do not overdo treats. Cannot run? You should see mine..he runs like a whippet and can walk anywhere we care to take him. Mine doesn’t pant incessantly and can quite happily breath through his snub little nose. I love my dog and take his care and ownership seriously, I didn’t create the breed and they didn’t appear overnight, they are here now and it’s responsible owners that are needed, not a mission to eradicate the breed.

    1. well said I have bred pugs for 35 years in all that time I have had 2 who needed surgery for an elongated palate both of whom I did not actually breed they both lived long happy lives on expressing my concern of this issue to my vet was informed that this problem is not strictly the realm of the snub nosed breeds and can in fact occur in any breed, Point made

  4. Hi Hayley – I’m not sure what you feel is a “sweeping statement”. Nobody is saying that all Pugs are badly affected. But the fact is that the dog in the photo did need emergency surgery to stop him from suffocating, and this is increasingly common. That’s why action needs to be taken. We would like all dogs to be as healthy as your Pug, and that clearly isn’t the case right now.

  5. Hi Pete, really pleased that you are pushing this forward. I totally agree that we need to be doing something more proactive to help these breeds. I’d like to see a similar scheme set up to the hip scoring scheme to allow only certain dogs be allowed to breed. Photos or noses and radiographs to grade SP/trachea?

  6. Hayley,

    What sweeping statement? You are talking anecdotally about your one dog. These hundreds of vets are treating thousands of pugs who are suffering from these problems. I adopted my dog from a rescue group who spend thousands of dollars paying for expensive treatment similar to what has been done to the poor pup in this photo. They are not advocating for eradicating the pug breed. They are talking about using breeding to improve the dogs so they don’t have all these health issues. They ended up with these problems because for too long breeding has over focused on making folks go “Aw look at that squishy face” without regard to the health issues involved with breeding them to look like that. Some of the changes to breed standards would take them back to previous standards when they were known as a healthy breed. Not sure how you could think that is a bad thing.

  7. no animal no matter what kind or breed, should be messed about with, people who interfere with the purpose to make money from this, is a cold hearted money grabber, and has no thought or feeling for the animal, to many people are making money out of abusing animals, thy must be stopped,

  8. Re Hayley.

    Hayley I have no doubt you love your dogs and look after them well. However the simple truth is that pugs and other brachycephalic breeds more often than not have severe respiratory problems due to their cranial anatomy, and it was humans over generations who have selected them based on looking like that. The vast majority of pugs I see need surgery so that they can breathe with ease. This is just wrong, it’s not fair on these lovely little dogs.

    We do not need to nor do we want to eradicate the breed, we just need to move towards only breeding from those that have better cranial anatomy so that in 10 or 15 years all of these grand little dogs can breathe easily.

    So yes, the answer is responsible owners like you and responsible breeders who do not breed badly affected individuals. And the Kennel Club changing the breed standard so that only those with good cranial anatomy can win competitions. There is no way that any pug that has had to have surgery – or needs surgery – to help it breathe should win a competition or be bred from.

    It’s not a fight, it’s a challenge and an opportunity to ensure that all pugs are as healthy as your one obviously is.


  9. Exaggeration of physical features can and do lead to trouble in many breeds. This is particularly true of the brachycephalic breeds and we all (fanciers, owners, breeders, show judges, …) need to be aware of it. I am all for moderating extreme features.

  10. I adopted a Staffordshire Bull Terrier when she was about 10 years old, it was suspected she had been used as a breeding bitch and a lot of damage was done to her neck and trachea. I nearly lost her when some lumps were being taken off but thanks to my vets she survived because she was given a tracheotomy.

    Do I regret Ellie having this, no, I had some wonderful times with her and she had a new lease of life.

    Should this have been needed, No, not if she had been treated right, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are very abused dogs but are very loving and loyal.

    It was bad enough for Ellie to go through this but to breed dogs to need this is a lot worse, we often talk about abuse, neglect, etc but us humans are the most dangerous animals on the planet. Just look how we have bred some dogs, at the treatment of many varies animals, we are the only animal who uses other animals for our pleasure.

    My dogs are my friends, my family, my companions but they are still dogs and have to be treated as dogs first and that doesn’t mean they are for my entertainment, they are not.

  11. As a breeder of pedigree puppies and previously pedigree kittens, the issue lies with the kennel club / GCCF.
    While they are setting breed standards that demand these mutations, the showing fraternity will keep demanding them from the breeders. The governing bodies need to be made to change the breed standards, which will eventually result in better conformation in the breeding stock and show ring.
    As it happens I have only ever bred Birman kittens and Westie puppies, all of whom show no inherent problems. However I have witnessed the mutation of the Persian having been brought up with them, and the cats we had as a child, looked nothing like the Persians of today.

  12. I agree one hundred percent with Dr Alan Rossiter. I think the BVA needs to take this on board as well. Their statement falls short yet again! One has to wonder why they still think the KC is going to do anything about anything?? And how much research funding the KC is still giving the BVA!

    The nasty habit of the KC making it sound like they’re going to do something about any of it and yet doing nothing is a habit that needs breaking!

  13. Hi while agree with your mission it must be pointed out that problem here lies with irresponsible breeders and puppy farmers if vets educated the general public to seek out responsible breeders through breed clubs this problem would be lessened greatly in regards to kennel clubs there isn’t an awful lot they can do if affected dogs are not been shown they wouldn’t be even aware of it maybe if there was a scheme where all vets and kennel clubs work together and when a dog is brought in like this the overseeing vet contacts the kc if said dog is registered with breeders name and reg number and kc could done put an no breeding endorsement on that dog

  14. So sad, but working in a referral hospital we see these poor dogs all the time, and quite often they have problems recovering from anaesthetic, which can be terrifying.

  15. Could the Vets who are petitioning, please provide the statistic’s of this issue i.e. Out of a 100 how many have had to have tracheotomy and what’s the location is it more in the U.K. or Australia (warmer climate versus cooler). , 1 photo and incident doesn’t substantiate the claim all pugs have this issue. I have had Pugs and Pekingese for over 20years and never had any breathing issue.
    Do they snore yes but it doesn’t effect their breathing and it’s not as frequent as my husband perhaps I should have his throat cut open.
    Do they experience a reverse sneeze yes on occasion generally if dust or a hair gets caught, it is easy to stop and prevent.. I get asthma so do I now tell my child she’s poor breeding and have her put down?
    Or what about Pinched nostrils this is the new flavor of the year to allow vets to start slicing up your dogs face.
    How about we get all the facts first and discuss this matter with the Long term breeders before interfering do gooders ban everything.. this is becoming a Racial debate on selected species of pets because a few don’t like how they look.

  16. I have had bred and shown Pekingese for over 40 years. Before that it was pugs. I am also a qualified toy specialist judge. In all my time with dogs due to my careful breeding practices I have never had a dog with serious breathing problems as stated in this article and any serioud breeder would be very selective and careful of their practices to avoid it. Also when I am judging I ensure that the dogs are fit for their purpose. It is not rigjt that the whole dog community suffers for the wrongs of a few. These breeds are 100’s of years old and should not be messed with.

  17. The Health concerns of the Pugs you are referring to should never be bred in the first place…..as a breeder -exhibitor of Pugs for over 22 years and I speak for like minded breeders I am happy to say there are some very healthy Pugs around these days and they have to be to be exhibited…..Most of the problems lay with breeders that have no idea of health problems in the bloodlines they are breeding (that takes many years of knowledge) or do they care when it comes to money for puppies.
    In saying that all pedigree dogs have health problems specific to a breed and cross breed dogs have even more from the mixed breeds they were bred from………NO ! cross breed dogs are not healthier.

  18. I love pugs but mainly because i’ve grown up with them. I myself, even while young, knew there was something wrong about this and now that i’m older I completely understand. I hate to see pugs and other pets like that especially when people consider it cute, knowing that they have trouble breathing every day. I think it’d be great to find a way to breed pugs and others back to how they used to be, find a way to keep making those short nosed animals but without the short nose.. breed them back to normality rather than end whole breeds; though they would be different, it’s for the best, especially if people want to keep having them as pets. It’d be weird seeing pugs with longer muzzles but it’s better than seeing their iconic designs (coat color specifically) disappear completely.

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