Everyone has their own personal favourites when it comes to the types of dogs they like, and some of the most popular dogs in the UK are brachycephalic ones, like the French bulldog and the pug.
In fact, four out of the UK’s ten most popular dog breeds are brachycephalic, and the French bulldog is the most populous breed of all, which means that many of us see more brachycephalic dogs out and about than we do those with longer muzzles.
However, the shortened faces of brachycephalic dogs put them at heightened risk of a congenital health condition called BOAS or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, which can have a significant impact on the affected dog’s quality of life and longevity.
In extreme presentations of BOAS, surgical correction is required in order to enable the dog in question to breathe properly and enjoy a reasonable quality of life, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home – the largest rehoming centre in the UK – recently announced that they carried our more BOAS surgeries on dogs in their care during 2018 than in any previous year.
This indicates that as brachycephalic dogs are becoming ever-more popular, so too may be the health issues that can accompany them.
In this article we will look at the rising popularity of brachycephalic dog breeds in the UK, and how their very popularity could be affecting their health. We’ll examine whether or not brachycephalic dog surgeries are becoming more common, and talk about why this might be. Read on to learn more.
The term “brachycephalic” might not be one that you have heard of before, but they chances are that you’ve seen plenty of brachycephalic dogs out and about. A Brachycephalic dog is one with a flattened, squashed-looking muzzle and correlating short airway, which in turn often comes accompanied by very narrow nostrils and overly prominent eyes.
Dogs with flat faces like French bulldogs and pugs are in great demand year-round among puppy buyers, who appreciate the unusual, quirky and somewhat comical appearance of dogs of these types, as well as their affectionate, fun-loving personalities.
However, this very physical trait can result in health issues in dogs that inherit it, particularly if the flatness of the face, narrowness of the nostrils, and other elements of the trait are very exaggerated.
Out of the top ten dog breeds and types here on Pets4Homes, four of those ten dog breeds are brachycephalic. These are:
The French bulldog is the UK’s most popular dog breed bar none, with a total of 22,172 adverts for dogs and litters of the French bulldog breed for sale, advertised on Pets4Homes in 2018.
The French bulldog has been growing in numbers and popularity year-on-year for several years now; in 2017, a total of 18,515 dogs were advertised here, and in 2016, the number was 12,481, which indicates a huge increase in numbers over the course of just the last three years.
The pug is the third most popular dog breed in the UK, with a total of 9,921 adverts for sale advertised here in 2018.
In 2017, Pets4Homes hosted a total of 9,376 pug adverts for sale and in 2016, the number was 8,135. Whilst the pug’s numbers aren’t growing at the same rate as that of the French bulldog, the last three years have each seen an increase in the number of pug litters bred in the UK.
The English bulldog is the seventh most popular dog breed in the UK, and in 2018, a total of 8,288 adverts forEnglish bulldogs for sale were offered for sale on Pets4Homes.
In 2017, the number was 6,723, and in 2016, 5,420. Again, this is a significant increase in numbers each year since 2016.
The Shih Tzu is the ninth most popular dog breed in the UK, and a total of 5,737 adverts for Shih Tzus for Sale were offered for sale here in 2018.
In 2017, that number was 5,894, and in 2016, 6,181. This is the only one of the four brachycephalic dog breeds in the UK’s top ten that is actually falling in numbers each year, however, this shortfall is more than made up for by the annual increases in the popularity of the other three brachycephalic dog breeds in the top ten list.
There are of course numerous other brachycephalic dog breeds in the UK that are less popular than these four breeds but still present in significant numbers, including the Boston terrier and the Boxer, and there is no doubt that brachycephalic dogs make up a significant proportion of dogs in the UK.
However, brachycephalic dogs sometimes suffer from health complications relating to their flattened faces, and this is of great concern across all brachycephalic dog breeds. The best-known condition associated with flat faced dogs is BOAS or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, and we’ll explain this in more detail next, before looking at whether or not BOAS is becoming more common in the UK too.
BOAS or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is not so much one condition as a collection of several, which can present individually or in combination in dogs with exaggeratedly flattened faces.
BOAS doesn’t occur in all brachycephalic dogs, and when it does, it can vary from very mild to very severe and limiting, potentially affecting various different parts of the dog’s face and the conformation of their airways.
The risks of BOAS for any individual dog increase exponentially the flatter their faces are; very flat faces in brachycephalic dog breeds are known as exaggerations, and responsible breeders steer clear of producing dogs with these traits, due to their correlation with health issues.
There are four separate congenital defects that can result in a diagnosis of BOAS in dogs, which may appear individually or in combination in dogs that exhibit them. These four issues are:
Each of these different issues on their own can result in the affected dog struggling to breathe, in extreme cases even when at rest. If the dog exercises hard or gets too hot and so, needs to pant more, this can soon become a veterinary emergency, and may even result in the dog’s death.
BOAS is not a contagious condition; it is one that develops as a result of conformation defects, which are present from birth. Whilst BOAS may not present with symptoms immediately and the severity of the issue can fluctuate over the course of the dog’s life (such as if they lose or gain weight) BOAS doesn’t improve, correct itself, or go away on its own.
For a dog to be born with the type of exaggerated conformation that results in the defects that cause BOAS, they need to inherit a predisposition for this from their parents.
Whilst the nature of hereditary traits is not always predictable, flatter-faced parents produce flatter-faced offspring, so breeding two dogs with faces that are exaggeratedly flat is highly likely to result in pups that share this trait, or even exhibit it to a higher degree than either of their parents.
This can occur accidentally or inadvertently if mating matches are not carefully planned with the health and quality of the litter in mind, but more commonly, it is a trait that is deliberately bred for by unscrupulous breeders.
Despite the strong correlation between flat-faced exaggerations and BOAS, a very flat-faced appearance is actually quite fashionable among puppy buyers – many of whom don’t even realise that this trait will often cause health problems.
Not all breeders produce litters with their quality and health as the main concerns, and a large number of unscrupulous dog breeders deliberately breed for facial exaggerations to meet the demand for puppies of this type.
Just as brachycephalic dog breeds as a whole have become much more popular over the last couple of decades, so too have exaggerated dogs of these types, despite the health issues that can accompany them.
As mentioned, BOAS isn’t something that will go away on its own, and there is only a limited amount that can be done to improve the quality of life of dogs with BOAS and enable them to breathe more easily.
This means that surgical correction is usually required in presentations of BOAS that have a significant impact on the dog’s quality of life and ability to breathe, and this can be complex and costly to perform, particularly if more than one problem needs to be addressed.
Even after surgery, dogs with BOAS will rarely be as fit and able to breathe freely as other dogs, and this requires special care and management for life.
Like virtually all pet charities and rehoming shelters, Battersea’s funds are limited – and paying out for a large number of costly surgeries every year makes a big dent in their budget.
Currently, there isn’t an organisation collating data on the number of BOAs surgeries performed across the UK as a whole, but there are indications that surgeries of this type may be on the rise based on statistics provided by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home recently announced that they carried out more BOAS surgeries during 2018 than at any other time in their history, and this is a statistic that cannot be ignored.
A reasonable number of brachycephalic dogs (including full pedigrees) are surrendered to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home each year; but some of them also have health problems as a result of their conformation, most commonly a condition best known as BOAS or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.
Many people assume that most dogs surrendered to rehoming shelters are mixed breeds or mongrels – and whilst mixed breeds and mutts do make up a significant number of the shelter’s residents at any one time, a significant number of pedigree dog breeds can be found seeking homes at Battersea too.
Before any dog can be approved for rehoming, Battersea’s dedicated team of employees and volunteers work with them closely to ensure that they are suitable to rehome, working on any problems the dog may have and tackling any health problems that may be affecting the dog’s quality of life or lifespan.
Given the size of Battersea’s operation, they see a huge number of dogs of all types come through their doors in the course of the average year. In 2017, the last year for which figures have been published, Battersea took in a total of 3,373 dogs, which is of course a significant amount.
Some of these dogs require veterinary care other than the usual health checks, vaccinations and neutering surgeries, which are all funded by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home itself prior to offering the dogs in question up for rehoming – like BOAS surgery.
During 2018, Battersea performed a total of 62 operations on dogs requiring corrective surgeries for significant health defects relating to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.
French bulldogs and pugs were the breeds most likely to require a corrective BOAS operation, and the charity took in 40 French bulldogs and 47 pugs during 2018.
62 individual dogs at one rehoming shelter requiring BOAS correction within one year is of course a huge number – and a much higher one than in previous years too.
In 2015, the shelter performed just seven such operations, which indicates that the need for this type of surgery is rapidly rising, which in turn indicates that the number of brachycephalic dogs being bred with an unhealthy conformation is on the rise too.
Battersea’s head vet Shaun Opperman states that The rising number of brachycephalic dogs is one of the biggest welfare issues that Battersea is facing right now.” It is not just pugs and French bulldogs that may require such an operation – the English bulldog, Boston terrier and Shih Tzu are just three more popular brachycephalic breeds that are also being bred for ever-flatter faces and so, with the risk of BOAS.
The number of brachycephalic dogs requiring BOAS at Battersea has certainly jumped up in the last couple of years, but why is this?
The answer may seem simple, but there are a lot of factors to take into account.
Brachycephalic dogs of all types are really popular these days in the UK, which means that there are many more of them around than there were, say, a decade ago. The French bulldog demonstrates a great example of this – in 2016, there were a total of 12,481 French bulldogs offered for sale here on Pets4Homes over the course of the year, and by 2018, that number had risen to 22,172.
Whilst the French bulldog is an extreme example and is breaking all sorts of records in terms of the speed of growth in popularity of the breed, it also outlines the fact that the more dogs of any given breed there are around, the more dogs of the breed with health issues there will be, even if the ratio of healthy dogs to ones with health issues remains consistent.
Additionally, when it comes to the figures published by Battersea specifically, remember that this reflects the need for operations among dogs surrendered to Battersea only.
Whilst any person’s reasons for surrendering their dog can be variable and often involve several different factors, a dog with BOAS can be challenging to care for, and not everyone can afford the corrective surgery required to improve the dog’s quality of life.
This is likely to mean that the health and care issues inherent to dogs with BOAS helps to increase the numbers of them that are surrendered to shelters, when otherwise, some of those owners might have been able to keep their dogs.
However, these factors cannot be ignored, but they don’t fully or even largely explain why the number of BOAS operations Battersea performs is on the up – and it is impossible to ignore the impact that public demand for very flat-faced dogs is having on dogs and dog breeds, resulting in an increasing need for BOAS surgeries all over the UK.
If you speak to any veterinary clinic that performs BOAS surgeries, most of them agree that the number of dogs needing corrective surgeries to enable them to breathe freely is increasing too, alongside of the popularity of brachycephalic dogs as a whole.
Not all prospective puppy buyers are even aware of the potential problems that a brachycephalic face can cause, and this means that many fall for the charms of dogs with exaggeratedly flat faces, without realising that they are also buying into a lifetime of expensive health issues too.
Very flat faced dogs are often more popular among puppy buyers than more moderate examples of the same breed, and some breeders specialise in producing dogs with dangerously flat faces to meet this demand, without advising puppy buyers of the potential problems they involve.
The proportion of brachycephalic dogs with very flat faces is certainly much higher today than it was even a decade ago – and so the increase in the number of BOAS surgeries needed cannot simply be assigned to the growth of the brachycephalic population as a whole.
An ever-increasing proportion of brachycephalic dogs each year have overly flat faces and so, an increased risk of BOAS; and so whilst Battersea Dogs and Cats Home might see more affected dogs in proportion to the number of brachycephalic dogs that they take in than is reflected in the wider population, it seems likely to be indicative of a larger trend across the UK as a whole.
If you are considering buying a dog of a brachycephalic breed, make sure you learn about their potential challenges and find out how to identify an exaggerated flat face as opposed to a more moderate one.
Never purchase a puppy you are uncertain about, and if necessary, ask a vet of your choice to check your prospective puppy over and assess their airways before you commit to a purchase.