The British Veterinary Association’s policy on brachycephalic dogs
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The British Veterinary Association’s policy on brachycephalic dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

The British Veterinary Association or BVA is the UK’s national body for veterinary surgeons, with the goals of sharing knowledge across veterinary professionals and advising the British public on health, welfare and other veterinary issues that arise.

As part of this, the BVA drew up a formal policy for the organisation’s members and the general public regarding the health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs earlier on this year. This policy was developed in order to clarify the BVA’s position, advise the public and veterinary professionals on the issues relating to brachycephalic dogs, and serve as the basis of a campaign to highlight the specific health challenges and care considerations relevant to brachycephalic dog breeds.

In this article, we will outline the basics of the BVA’s policy on the health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs, and explain how dog owners and the general public can help. Read on to learn more.

What is a brachycephalic dog?

The term “brachycephalic” refers to a certain head and muzzle shape that is proportionately short and broad, usually determined as a head with a width of at least 80% of its length, and with a shortened muzzle.

A brachycephalic head and face shortens the dog’s airways and produces a flatter-looking muzzle than the norm, which can be so pronounced in some cases as to produce a face that is virtually flat in side-on profile, with the chin and nose in line. This in turn causes the eyes to be more prominent.

The degree of flatness to the face that occurs in brachycephalic dogs can be very variable, even across dogs of the same breed. It may manifest as a very subtle shortening of the muzzle, or may be ultra-typed or highly exaggerated so as to appear completely flat.

Dogs that are brachycephalic may suffer from health problems as a result of the shortness of their muzzles, ranging from few to no problems in dogs with only a slightly shortened muzzle, through to significant issues that can have a direct negative impact on the dog’s longevity, health and quality of life.

Dogs with very flat faces may have very narrow nostrils too and a very short palate and airways, which causes problems such as overheating, exercise intolerance, snoring, laboured breathing, and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. These are just a few of the potential issues that can arise in dogs with very exaggerated features, but many brachycephalic dogs with only a slight shortening of the muzzle are perfectly healthy and well, without suffering from any issues as a result of their conformation.

What dog breeds are classed as brachycephalic?

The complete list of brachycephalic dog breeds is a long one, but some of the most common and popular brachycephalic dog breeds are also often those that tend to be bred for extreme exaggeration in many cases, and so, may be prone to health problems.

These include:

  • The French bulldog.
  • The Pug.
  • The English bulldog.
  • The Boston terrier.
  • The Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

The British Veterinary Association’s policy on brachycephalic dogs

Within the BVA’s newly published policy on brachycephalic dogs, the organisation cites their concern over the current popularity of and demand for brachycephalic dogs in the UK, and the rapid rise in their numbers in line with this demand.

The BVA’s policy states that this increase in popularity is leading to the prevalence of health problems across brachycephalic dogs as a whole, and outlines their guidance and position pertaining to this.

The goal of the policy is to raise awareness of the potential problems that can be present in brachycephalic dogs, and to promote their responsible breeding and use. The BVA cites everyone from dog owners, breeders and breed clubs through to veterinary professionals, animal charities, and organisations that use brachycephalic dogs in advertisements and as part of marketing campaigns as people who have a social and moral responsibility to dogs to work to achieve the following goals:

  • Ensure the health of future generations of brachycephalic dogs.
  • Increase awareness of the health implications and welfare issues that are associated with the brachycephalic conformation.
  • Reduce the impact of negative health issues that affect today’s brachycephalic dogs.
  • Encourage research and study into the popularity of brachycephalic dogs and why they are currently in such demand.
  • Encourage research into our understanding of brachycephaly and how it can affect dogs.
  • Develop an objective plan to assess brachycephaly and related conformation problems.

In order to achieve these aims, the BVA encourages all parties (from dog owners to companies that use images of brachycephalic dogs as part of their advertising media) to work to encourage healthier breed standards across brachycephalic breeds. This includes supporting the work of veterinary professionals when it comes to research and influence on breed standards and their impact on health.

Additionally, the BVA calls on the media to avoid using dogs with brachycephalic faces as part of publicity, advertising and marketing materials, as this serves to increase demand for brachycephalic dogs without also highlighting the potential health concerns that go with them.

What can you do to support the campaign?

As a dog owner or dog lover, you can help to support the BVA’s policy on brachycephalic dogs in a number of ways, whether you own a brachycephalic dog of your own or not.

You can read the full details of the policy itself here, and you will find some of the ways in which you can help to raise awareness and improve the health of brachycephalic dogs below:

  • Follow the BVA’s #BreedToBreathe hashtag on social media and share informative content.
  • If you have a friend or relative who might be considering buying a brachycephalic dog, make sure that they are aware of their potential health issues, and know how to choose a healthy dog without over exaggerated features – and why.
  • If you own a brachycephalic dog of your own, think twice before breeding from them. Ensure that any dog you might consider breeding from has a healthy conformation and that they are bred to a stud dog who shares these traits, and ask your vet for their input too.
  • Remember that breeding brachycephalic dogs of any type, even those with a good conformation, isn’t something to undertake lightly – producing a healthy litter without exaggerations can help to improve the breed’s health, but it also contributes to the demand for and popularity of dogs of this type.
  • Keep an eye out for marketing materials and adverts that feature brachycephalic dogs, and consider letting the company behind them know about the BVA’s policy – particularly if they are showcasing dogs with unhealthy exaggerations.
  • If you are thinking of buying a brachycephalic dog of any type, make sure you are fully aware of the implications, and the potential challenges that go with it. Consider other breeds too, and if you have your heart set on a brachycephalic dog, always choose a responsible breeder who performs the appropriate health tests, only breeds and sells dogs that have a good, healthy conformation, and that is concerned about the health and welfare of the breed as a whole.
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