Are you thinking about getting a dog? Doing your online research about different breeds? There are some things you really need to know. I want to take a moment to talk about those rising stars of the canine popularity stakes, the flat faced bulldogs: Pugs, French Bulldogs & British Bulldogs – all breeds that in recent decades have been overbred for extremes of these squashed faces that makes them so human-like and appealing. They are wonderful, beautiful dogs. And they suffer. They suffer throughout their lives with problems you need to know about. I’m sorry, but it’s important – please hang in there.
Case study: Teddy (not his real name)
Teddy is a 4 year-old French Bulldog. He had been to the groomers just to have his nails done when the groomer called his mum and suggested she come and get him cause he wasn’t looking so good. His folks hadn’t realised how unwell he was when they presented him at our surgery, but the triage nurse immediately recognised that he was suffering severe hyperthermia.
Teddy collapsed as he was being brought into the treatment room.
With a temperature of 42.5 Teddy had collapsed into a coma and was extremely close to progressing to irreversible brain damage. It took around 4 hours to stabilise him and get his body temperature back down to a safe level.
Why did Teddy overheat?
Mammalian bodies are little furnaces. Asleep or awake we burn, when our muscles flex we burn hotter. So maintaining body temperature is often more about not getting too hot, rather than not getting too cold. When you are a dog with almost no sweat glands and a full coat of fur, you depend on erect ears, long legs and a wide open airway with which to puff off heat. French bulldogs have none of these. Stressed and wriggling to avoid the universal canine fear of having their nails clipped, Teddy had used his ample muscles to fruitlessly try and avoid the clippers, and all that resulting heat had nowhere to go. His temperature shot up and all his internal organs, including his brain, started to suffer.
A dog with a normal airway won’t go through this sort of horror.
A dog with a normal shaped head can open its mouth wide and pant extremely rapidly – effectively pouring heat out of the body and cooling itself down. To save themselves from hyperventilating and passing out from too much oxygen (you remember doing that in high school, right?) they breath progressively more shallowly as they pant, meaning less oxygen is extracted from the air and their oxygen levels remain stable.
The flat-faced bulldogs are born with a severely distorted and shrunken upper and middle airway. Their nose openings are shrunken, their nasal passages are severely shortened and distorted, their soft palette and tongues remain too large in their short mouths and their larynxes and tracheas are also shrunken. Every important component interacts to make breathing more difficult.
Veterinarians call this BOAS, for Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Disease. It can’t get a normal name like laryngitis, because it affects so very many parts of their respiratory system. There are a number of surgical procedures that can help some aspects of these problems, but in the first place just putting these dogs through any surgery carries significantly more risks than other breeds. And, importantly, why should any dog have to go through complex surgery to fix the way it was born?
There is a better way
With puppies selling for up to $7000, every purchase makes a big difference. Every single person who changes their mind and chooses a non-brachycephalic dog helps end a practice that is unavoidably cruel. Breeds have always risen and fallen on waves of popularity – 30 years ago Irish setters and Silky terriers were very common and popular dogs – Now you hardly ever see them. If enough people recognise the cruelty of these breeds, the falling demand will end the problem.
It is likely that breeders will start to select for longer noses, and hopefully the show judges will start giving the oh-so-important ribbons to dogs with more normal airways and the breeds will shift. It is not without some irony that it will shift back to where it was a hundred years ago. Have a look at any photos of bulldogs from the turn of the century when many were first photographed, and you can see they have significantly more normal faces.