At the meeting last month organised by the Kennel Club to discuss the issue of brachycephalic dog health, the signatories of the vet/vet nurse petition were asked to write a list of actions that they, themselves, could take to improve the situation for these animals. In a recent blog, I asked for suggestions, and I have now put these together into a list, which you can read below.
I have sent this list on to the Kennel Club, who are having another meeting today to discuss more details of what actions will be taken.
How can vets help brachycephalic dogs?
There are two groups of animals that need help.
First, the Pugs that have already been born, that need to be kept as comfortable as possible.
Second, the much bigger group of Pugs that remain to be born: what can we do to ensure that healthier Pugs are born in the future.
1) The pugs of today
Ensure that owners are aware of what can go wrong.
Teach owners the signs of discomfort. Take time to tell them that when their dog snuffles and snorts, it isn’t cute: it’s a sign of distress.
Advise owners take particular care to ensure that their dogs are not over-stressed when exercising or when in a warm place, so that their breathing is not put under too much pressure.
Advise about the huge importance of keeping short-nosed dogs slim: when they’re overweight or obese, their breathing is put under even more pressure.
Advise owners that if their dog does often struggle to breathe, they can be helped by surgery.
2) The pugs of tomorrow
Extreme option: vets could call for certain breeds to be banned outright. While this is arguably justifiable on humane grounds, it’s highly unlikely to be realistic or enforceable.
Alternatively, vets could assist with the prosecution of breeders of dogs that predictably develop severe health issues. With compulsory microchipping, it’s now easy to identify the breeder of a puppy, and they could easily be held accountable for cruelty to animals under the Animal Health and Welfare Act. Vets – with the permission of the dogs’ owners – could report severely affected dogs to a central authority who could then take action against the breeder.
Vets can call for more research focussed on the brachycephalic breeds (e.g. Pugs, French Bulldogs and Bulldogs). The use of practice-derived data (e.g. Vet Compass) should be mined to learn as much as possible about the health and lifespan of these breeds.
Vets can help to develop a system to measure and benchmark progress in the health of the brachycephalic breeds.
Vets should commit to being much better at reporting to the Kennel Club all surgery on brachycephalic dogs to treat airway issues. Statistics should be made publicly available so that this can be monitored.
Vets can influence public opinion about these breeds. Dog breed choice is more linked to fashion than any other factor. If vets can help to spread the word about the difficulty breathing that many of these dogs suffer, over time, they should gradually become less popular.
Vets should support the Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat Faced Animals (CRUFFA) which is, amongst other goals, aiming to persuade advertisers to stop using flat faced dogs and cats in advertising campaigns.
As part of this, a Brachycephalic Information Guide (BIG) could be produced (e.g. by BSAVA in conjunction with Kennel Club) for vets to give to clients and for the Kennel Club to mail out with registrations of all new brachycephalic puppies. Posters could be produced for display in practices to highlight these.
Vets could focus more on those planning to buy a dog, with open evenings for potential dog owners, and the publication of a veterinary guide to the top twenty most popular breeds/crossbreeds (e.g. “Thinking of buying a dog?”)
What else can vets do?
Vets, as a group, can put pressure on the Kennel Club to make changes in the way that affected breeds are managed at the breeding, registration and show stages. While the following suggested actions cannot be implemented by vets directly, we can put pressure on the Kennel Club to follow their stated objective of being “dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs” by implementing these measures.
Actions for vets to ask the Kennel Club to consider
- There are key aspects of the shape of brachycephalic dogs that make them prone to obstructed breathing. Studies have shown that the Cranio Facial Ratio can be used as a yardstick to predict the likelihood of difficulty breathing. The Kennel Club should be able to use this to gradually change this aspect of the shape of affected breeds, using several ways.
- The Breed Standard is the written description of the shape of a dog: it should be easy to include a healthy Cranio Facial Ratio in this.
- At the same time, other aspects of the Breed Standards that contribute to poor health of brachycephalic dogs could be addressed (e.g. such as the double twist in pugs’ tails amd the requirement that a Pug should “never be leggy or lean”).
- Stenotic (narrowed) nostrils should also be outlawed, deserving an automatic disqualification from the showring.
- The Kennel Club could agree that they will not accept registration of dogs with an unhealthy Cranio Facial Ratio. If this was done, the most severely affected dogs will no longer registrable, and they will then not be so desirable to puppy buyers, and breeders will stop producing them.
- The Kennel Club could insist that prize winning dogs should undergo some sort of exercise tolerance test (ETT) before winning the top accolades. It’s easy to get a dog to trot up and down for a few minutes, and if a dog cannot do this because of difficulty breathing, then they should not be given a prize. Vets can be the objective people to carry out this test, as part of the vet checks that already take place. If the top dogs are healthier individuals, there will be a trickle down effect, with people aspiring to have healthier dogs that resemble these prize winning dogs.
- Brachycephalic specialist vets/researchers could be involved in training dog show judges to increase awareness of the health issues. Only judges that have completed an online training course should be allowed to judge brachycephalic breeds.
- A basic “free” (opt out) breed club membership should be automatically given to all owners of Kennel Club registered dogs, starting with the brachycephalic breeds, to ensure they receive emailed newsletters/invitations to take part in health initiatives/surveys and have access to health information. They could be offered an upgrade to paid-for membership which would include bonus offerings (e.g. discounted pet insurance/food/pet accessories).
- The Breed Clubs should be encouraged (and supported financially and practically) to set up health surveys, with resulting statistics publicly available.
- Outcrossing pedigree brachycephalic dogs with selected non pedigree dogs should be considered as a way of helping to change the conformation of extreme brachycephalic breeds.