Vets warn about the risks of overbreeding popular puppies - what you need to know before buying a dog
Vets are cautioning prospective dog owners to think carefully before buying trendy flat-faced dogs, as their ‘baby like’ faces can come at a price to their health and wellbeing.
This comes after new research revealed overbreeding of flat-faced dogs like pugs and French bulldogs could be causing them to go blind
The research, carried out by vets from the universities of Lisbon and Leipzig and published in the Irish Veterinary Journal, examined a range of flat-faced breeds, ranging in age from just a few months to 16 years.
The dogs, which had been brought to two vet school clinics suffering with eye problems, included French bulldogs, shih-tzus, pugs, English bulldogs, boxers, pekingese and Boston terriers.
Of the 93 dogs studied, nearly half had macroblepharon, which is an abnormally large opening of the eyelids, while twenty of the dogs had entropion, a condition in which the eyelid turns inwards so that the eyelashes rub the eyeball.
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Distichiasis, where extra lashes grow in the wrong place or direction, was diagnosed in 15 of the dogs, while ulcers on the eyeball’s surface, the cornea, were found in 41 (and five had them in both eyes).
Other conditions impacting the dogs included: corneal pigmentation, corneal fibrosis, or scarring.
The health issues the dogs could be potentially suffering aren't limited to eye conditions either, with many experiencing a breathing problem known as brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.
“The number of these patients is increasing in small animal practices,” the researchers revealed.
“Their personalities, wrinkly faces and appealing large eyes have turned them into popular pets. This popularity is thought to exist because humans find the large and round eyes, as well as the round face, very appealing.
“However, they represent a significant animal welfare challenge as they suffer more health problems than breeds with longer snouts.”
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The researchers went on to say their study “highlighted the importance of responsible breeding, early diagnosis and regular ophthalmic check-ups to diagnose, treat and if possible prevent situations of irreversible blindness in these patients”.
Of course lockdown has likely helped drive the demand for trendy puppy breeds with new research from the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association revealing a total of 3.2 million households in the UK have purchased a pet since the start of the pandemic.
And puppies seem to be the lockdown pet purchase of choice, as Google searches for “buy a puppy” increased by 115% after lockdown measures were announced around this time last year.
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What is 'overbreeding'?
According to Dr Margit Gabriele Mulle, vet and author of Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to A Happy, Healthy and Successful Life, overbreeding occurs when a blood line is continuously mated, amplifying negative attributes of the breed.
"Overbreeding of the same blood lines leads to an accumulation of defects," she explains. "And this can indeed cause possible eye problems or blindness in dogs such as brachycephalic [short-nosed or flat-faced] breeds like pugs, bulldogs, or pekingese. Due to overbreeding, their skulls are deformed leading to an irreparable damage of the eye.
"Due to their high popularity, some of the most overbred dog breeds are labradors, pugs, golden retrievers and German shepherds," she continues.
"These overbred dogs may suffer hearing loss, breathing problems, hip dysplasia, patella luxation and even heart disease.
"Fashionable dogs such as labradoodles combine the negative attributes of two breeds."
PDSA vet Anna Ewers Clark adds that popularity can come at a price to their health and wellbeing for some dog breeds.
"They have been a victim of their own success; as many flat faced breeds have become more common they have also become more and more closely bred and may even be selected for more extreme features," she explains.
“The prominent (and sometimes bulging) eyes of flat faced dogs combined with the shape of their nose, can leave them prone to a number of eye conditions. These include eye ulcers, eyelid and eyelash disorders and cherry eye."
Ewers Clark says other breeds can also be at risk of inherited eye conditions, many of which should be tested for in dogs before they are considered for breeding.
“Another major problem for flat faced breeds is BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome) which compromises their ability to breathe normally and leaves them at higher risk of potentially fatal conditions such as heatstroke," she adds.
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How can you tell if the pooch you're thinking of buying could be contributing to the overbreeding issue?
“It’s always important for people who are thinking of getting a dog to do their research, not just to make sure they are able to provide for a dog’s welfare needs throughout its lifetime, but also to make sure they are looking at a breed that will suit their lifestyle and have the best chance at a happy, healthy life," says PDSA vet Anna Ewers Clark.
"This applies even more to owners who are thinking about getting a flat-faced dog, including breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and French Bulldogs.
“Flat faced (or brachycephalic) dogs can suffer from a number of breed related health problems, many of which are related to the shape of their face and nose."
“A recent study looked at some of the eye problems related to flat faced breeds. The prominent (and sometimes bulging) eyes of flat faced dogs combined with the shape of their nose, can leave them prone to a number of eye conditions. These include eye ulcers, eyelid and eyelash disorders and cherry eye."
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If you’re thinking of getting a flat faced dog, Ewers Clark says it is essential that you’re aware of the impacts their breeding can have on their health and that you’re prepared for the potential impact this could have on them later in life.
"You might want to consider if another breed (or crossbreed) with a similar personality but with a different shaped face might be more suitable and have less chance of inherited conditions," she says.
“Whatever breed you decide on, it’s really important to check that your puppy (or dog’s parents) have been health tested for any inherited conditions found within the breed, and make sure you understand the results."
She suggests asking your vet for advice to check your puppy is as healthy as possible.
"It’s also important to look for signs of any problems or extreme features in their parents and ask if they have received any corrective surgeries or procedures in the past, for example airway or cherry eye surgery," she continues.
"If you’re rehoming an older dog, you should always ask closely about any problems they may have had in the past and ideally ask to see their vet records to see if they may be at higher risk of any breed related issues.”
The PDSA has lots more advice on things to consider if you are looking to take on a new puppy.
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