Pandemic puppy boom worsening “flat-faced” dog health crisis, experts warn - Veterinary Practice
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Pandemic puppy boom worsening “flat-faced” dog health crisis, experts warn

New figures indicate record-high lockdown trends for some flat-faced breeds, exacerbating already serious dog welfare concerns

A collaboration of dog health and welfare
experts including vets, rescue organisations, scientists and breeders are
urging would-be owners to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog”, as
new data reveals that in 2020 – the year of the Pandemic Puppy – the popularity
of some of these breeds increased to new record-highs.

Experts believe that many new owners of
in-demand brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs, Pugs and English
Bulldogs, which are often referred to as “flat-faced” due to their short,
compressed heads, may have little understanding of some of the health problems
these dogs can face, or of the welfare implications for man’s best friend if
their puppy was bred indiscriminately to meet the huge pandemic puppy demand.

Figures from The Kennel Club, released on 14 May by the Brachycephalic Working Group, show that during 2020
the French Bulldog, owned by many high-profile celebrities including Lady GaGa
and Hugh Jackman, and English Bulldogs, popularised by brands and influencers
alike, recorded their highest puppy registration figures since records began.
Both French Bulldogs and Bulldogs increased in popularity by 17 percent
compared to 2019, with 39,266 French Bulldog puppies registered in 2020 and
11,594 Bulldog puppies respectively.

The French Bulldog was also one of the most
searched-for breeds via The Kennel Club’s “Find a Puppy” tool during the
pandemic puppy boom, alongside long-time favourites like the Labrador Retriever
and Cocker Spaniel. Searches for French Bulldog puppies more than doubled –
increasing by 112 percent from March to December while the UK faced various COVID-19 restrictions – compared to the same period in 2019.

Whilst this sky-high popularity must be
considered against the backdrop of significant increases in puppy ownership
generally during the pandemic, experts are particularly concerned that the huge
demand for these dogs will exacerbate the already existing health and welfare
crisis they’re facing, and encourage more rogue breeders to cash in.

Brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds can
suffer from a number of health problems such as breathing, eye and skin-fold
issues. These health concerns, coupled with further welfare issues caused
through irresponsible high-volume breeding and importing from abroad in order
to fulfil high demand have created one of the most pressing welfare issues for
dogs in the UK.

In the last decade, the three most popular
brachycephalic breeds have all seen increases in popularity; French Bulldogs by
an astronomical 1,682 percent, Bulldogs by 144 percent and Pugs – which
underwent a more than six-fold boom in numbers between 2000 and 2010 –
increasing by a further 5 percent.

In response, the Brachycephalic Working
Group (BWG), made up of major stakeholders in dog welfare in the UK including
The Kennel Club, PDSA, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, the RVC, the
University of Cambridge, the BVA, the BSAVA, breed clubs, and DEFRA is warning that this
sky-high demand for flat-faced puppies could worsen the already serious health
and welfare crisis faced by these breeds, and is asking the public to “Stop and
think before buying a flat-faced dog”.

“Ownership of some of these flat-faced
breeds continues to rise to alarming levels, but as a dog-loving nation, we
urgently need this bubble to burst.” commented Dr Dan O’Neill, Chairman of the
Brachycephalic Working Group. “The UK public have been sold a fantasy that
‘flat-faced’ breeds are cute, but the suffering endured by many of these dogs
has been ignored. As well as health issues such as struggling to breathe, many
puppies sold in the UK are bred indiscriminately and many are farmed in appalling
conditions, often outside the UK. With this in mind, we ask the UK public to
‘Stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog.’

“As a caring society, we must take action
now to put the needs of these dogs above our human desires to own dogs just because
of how they look.”

Dr O’Neill added: “Please do your research
and consider the lifetime of problems that these dogs can face. Don’t buy a
flat-faced breed on an impulse or just because they ‘look cute’. Think about
their potential health issues, or that they may have been bred indiscriminately
to meet demand. There are over 200 breeds of dogs as well as lots of
crossbreeds: consider a non-flat-faced type of dog instead for you and your
family.”

Bill Lambert, Head of
Health and Welfare at The Kennel Club and member of the BWG added: “If you have
done extensive research on all the dogs and breeds out there, understand any
health concerns, have thought carefully about these and still think a
brachycephalic breed is right for you, it’s absolutely crucial to find a
reputable breeder who puts health first.

“A good breeder will
health test the parents before they are bred from and will always introduce
potential new puppy owners to the mum, and ideally the dad, so that they can
see if they have any exaggerated features such as overly short muzzles,
partially closed nostrils or excessive skin folds, which are likely to be
passed onto the pup and may contribute to health issues.”

Regardless of which type of dog you decide
to bring into your family, the Brachycephalic Working Group advises using The
Puppy Contract
,
finding an experienced and responsible breeder, such as a Kennel Club Assured
Breeder, and being prepared to wait for the right dog to become available. More
information about flat-faced breeds specifically, and the issues they can face,
is available at the KN website.

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