The Truth Behind the Cute Looks – The Lifelong Suffering of Flat-Faced Breeds

With their short legs, bulging eyes, flat and jowly faces, breeds such as Persian and Exotic Shorthair cats, Frenchies, Pugs and Pekingese dogs have captured the hearts of millions with their baby-like appearance in recent decades.

As cute as they are, these brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds are increasingly susceptible to genetic diseases, as they have been victims to illicit breeding and inbreeding practices over the past decades. Nowadays, they are amongst the breeds with the shortest life expectancy.

In the wild, natural selection tends to reward animals that adapt to the environment, and over time species and breeds have evolved accordingly. However, that is not the case with animals that are products of artificial, often illicit and uncontrolled breeding, which has long been driven by human desire for specific appearances in pet animals.


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Breeding selection for extreme brachycephalia has resulted in deformation of the animals' upper airway tracts and various forms of breathing difficulties which are collectively known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).

BOAS can also cause disturbed breathing during sleep (snoring), gastrointestinal disorders (regurgitation and vomiting), predisposition to heatstroke. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to cyanosis, collapse and even death. Brachycephalic breeds do not only suffer from BOAS but are also at a higher risk of developing corneal ulcers, skin disease, joint issues as well as difficulties in giving birth.

Although clinical signs of BOAS can be eased through surgery, severely affected patients are also known to be at a higher anaesthetic risk. Sadly, the average life expectancy of these breeds is also shorter by a number of years when compared to other breeds of similar body mass.

Owing to the breathing difficulties that flat-faced animals exhibit, many airlines have banned them. As a matter of fact, there have been several cases where flat-faced animals died or became seriously ill during a flight. If you plan to emigrate, you should factor this issue into your travel plans. Sadly, the SPCA has recently seen a surge in abandonment of flat-faced animals, as their owners were unable to take them when relocating.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) points out on its website that French bulldog overtook the Labrador Retriever as the UK's most popular dog breed in 2018, with an almost 3,000% increase in numbers over the previous 10 years. BVA is concerned that celebrity influence and social media have had a big role to play in the rising popularity of French bulldog.

In order to raise public awareness of the health issues related to brachycephalic breeds, BVA has been running the #BreedtoBreathe campaign (https://www.bva.co.uk/take-action/breed-to-breathe-campaign/) in recent years to encourage veterinary professionals to follow their 10-point practice plan - as stated on its website - to improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs and to promote responsible pet ownership.

The practice plan suggests veterinary professionals to advise pet owners to neuter their dogs suffering from BOAS, so as to prevent litters with extreme conformation that will negatively affect their health. Regular health assessments at the vets can also be conducted for brachycephalic breeds so that timely treatments can be provided for the animals.

Early this year, a Norwegian court made a landmark ruling that banned the reproduction of English bulldogs and cavalier King Charles spaniels. According to the ruling, if reproduction must take place, the dogs must be outcrossed with another healthier breed.

In Hong Kong, as our animal laws are yet to be on par with those in Western countries, the most effective way at present to stop brachycephalic dogs and cats from lifelong suffering is for consumers to properly address and recognise the health and welfare problems faced by these flat-faced animals, and to ultimately stop buying animals that are bred for their looks at the expense of their health.