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Bulldogs and pugs popular as they’re seen as easy to look after

British dog owners are hooked on flat-faced breeds such as pugs and bulldogs – even though they are at higher risk of developing severe health problems.

More than nine out of 10 owners (93 per cent) said they would opt for the same kind of pet again, and two-thirds (66%) would recommend their breed to others.

Owners said one of the reasons they liked so-called brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs is because they are ‘lazy’ and need little exercise or space, making them suitable for busy lifestyles and city living.

They also highly rate their ‘loving’ personalities and affectionate, happy natures, making them suitable for households with children.

This is despite dogs with flat faces suffering from many severe and often lifelong health issues including eye ulcers, dermatitis, spinal disease, heat stroke and pneumonia, due to their body shape.  

Vets describe the findings as ‘concerning’, because owners are accepting and normalising the ‘shocking’ health issues these animals suffer from. 

‘With a multitude of stakeholders trying to tackle the current brachycephalic boom in the UK, our results are of real concern to these efforts,’  said study leader Dr Rowena Packer, of the Royal Veterinary College in London. 

‘Understanding how breed loyalty develops towards brachycephalic breeds, and whether it can be changed once established, is key to reducing the popularity of short-muzzled breeds.’ 

The number of brachycephalic dogs has boomed dramatically across the world in the last decade, due in part to their popularity with celebrities including Brad Pitt, Jessica Alba, Gerard Butler and Miley Cyrus.

Previous research by the same team has found that owners are initially attracted by their distinctive appearance.

But the poll of over 2,000 owners of Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs found they are most loved for their ‘behaviour traits’.

Essentially, owners come for the looks, but stay for the personality, explained the researchers. 

Owners of all three breeds were very confident they would own their breed again in the future. 

Key reasons for owners recommending their breed included positive behavioural attributes for a companion dog, breed suitability for a sedentary lifestyle with limited space, and suitability for households with children.

But they recommended against their breed due to the high prevalence of health problems, expense of ownership, ethical and welfare issues associated with breeding brachycephalic dogs, negative effects upon owner lifestyle and negative behavioural attributes.

Some veterinarians consider the welfare of bulldogs, French bulldogs and pugs is too compromised to continue breeding.

The lifespan of flat-faced dogs is reduced by on average four years compared to dogs with longer muzzles. 

They can also be bad for humans. Owners of pets with chronic illnesses report greater psychological distress and a lower quality of life. 

 ‘If first time owners of flat-faced dogs choose these breeds for the rest of their lives, then the current crisis could continue for decades,’ said Dr Packer.

‘Although strong focus has been placed upon dissuading new puppy buyers from purchasing brachycephalic breeds, as they are now some of the most popular breeds in the UK, attention should also be turned to current owners.

‘Priority should be given to developing evidence-based strategies to help these owners consider lower risk, healthier breeds when acquiring future dogs.

‘Our novel findings start this process by highlighting the key behavioural characteristics that this owner group value.’

The study published in PLOS ONE is the first to explore the desire to reacquire or recommend flat-faced dogs in the UK. 

Owners of all three breeds were very confident they would own their breed again in the future. 

First-time dog owners and those that had a very close relationship with their current flat-faced dog were most likely to want to own their breed again.

But recognising their current dog had severe breathing problems or were experiencing behaviour worse than they expected reduced this desire.

Only a small number of owners cited concerns over ethical and welfare issues associated with breeding flat-faced dogs, such as irresponsible breeding practices and suffering associated with their body shape, as a reason that they would not recommend them.

Dr Packer said the results can be used to inform interventions that highlight undesirable traits of brachycephalic dogs and desirable traits of other breeds to control the population boom in brachycephalic breeds in the long term.

She added: ‘Although dog breed popularity often follows a boom and bust pattern, our results are of real concern as they indicate that this ‘brachy boom’ is here to stay.

‘Owners are becoming hooked on the loving personalities of these sweet dogs, but also accepting and normalising their shocking health issues.’

The research was led by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Nottingham Trent University. 

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