The problem of brachycephalic dogs in New Zealand: Why has Trade Me banned some of them?

As of the 1 March 2018 ‘Trade Me’ New Zealand, our biggest online trading website, will no longer allow three brachycephalic dog breeds to be sold through their platform: Pugs, French Bulldogs, and British Bulldogs. This is a huge win for the welfare of these animals.

What are brachycephalic dogs?

The word brachycephalic literally breaks down to ‘short’ ‘head’. It refers to animals (it’s not just a dog problem!) with short faces/snouts. The classic example is the Pug – with its squishy face and big eyes. The Persian cat is another example. The muzzle, or snout, of these animals has essentially been reduced in length over time via breeding. It has become a desirable characteristic.

post 15 pug
The Pug is a good example of a brachycephalic dog breed

For many people, the attraction of these dogs is in their resemblance to babies or children. A small, round face makes them ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’. This factor is becoming even more important as many people are choosing not to have children, or delaying until later in life. Instead, their pet may play the role of this family member in their life.

What is wrong with these dogs?

The problem with breeding to reduce the length of these dog’s snouts/muzzles is what has happened as a result [1]. The bony structures of the head have reduced in size, but in most cases the soft tissue in the back of the mouth and throat has remained the same. This means these dogs have to breathe around this extra tissue. Other things have happened as a result of the bony changes:

  • The size of their nostrils is reduced – they are tiny! Many of these dogs’ struggle to get enough air through their nose and so resort to ‘open mouth’ breathing;
  • Their trachea, or airway, is too small for them. It is also very weak. They really have to work hard to get air into their lungs – sometimes they work TOO hard and their airway collapses. This is an emergency situation!

Overall, their breathing could be likened to trying to suck air through a thin drinking straw that has cloth over one end. Most of these dogs have to breathe with their mouth open, and snorts or snoring sounds result from the extra soft tissue in their mouth flopping into their airway.

This snoring sound may seem ‘cute’ to many people, but it actually means the dog is struggling to breathe properly! Their small airway and all that soft tissue in their mouth is making it very difficult for them.

These dogs get very hot in Summer and can often over-heat to the point of suffering from heat stroke – another emergency situation. Dogs in general cannot sweat as well as people. This means they rely on open-mouth breathing to cool them down. If a dog is not able to breathe very well, as is the case in these ‘brachy’ dogs, then this can be a problem. And again, if they work too hard breathing, their weak airways can collapse!

Other issues with these dogs include: their eyes bulge out of their skull resulting in dry eyes and sometimes ulcers; skin conditions and/or infections due to excess facial skin – all those rolls and folds are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria; and often these dogs struggle to give birth as puppies’ heads are too big for their mothers’ pelvic bones to pass through. Most British Bulldogs are delivered via caesarean section with the help of a veterinarian.

How has it got to this point?

Because so many people want these dogs, there are a lot of people breeding them. It is big business! One puppy can fetch thousands of dollars. But because dog breeding is unregulated in New Zealand, there are no rules about who can do it and how. As a result, people have kept breeding for what people want – short ‘cute’ snouts. Supply equals demand. The problem has got worse.

Not only this, but oftentimes breeding animals (the parents) are kept in poor conditions and become ‘breeding machines’. There are obviously exceptions to the rule, and voluntary members of organisations, such as Dogs NZ (formerly the New Zealand Kennel Club) are bound by self-imposed breeding regulations. However, many ‘backyard’ breeders of these dogs are less conscientious.

What can we do?

This move by Trade Me to stop these three breeds being sold on their platform has been celebrated by many animal welfare organisations and veterinarians. By stopping a major avenue for the sale of ‘backyard’ bred dogs, there is hope yet! This will stop unwitting puppy buyers from purchasing their pet ‘sight unseen’. Often these puppies are sent to them, or they collect them from a mutual meeting place, so that the breeding area and parents are not seen. These buyers have no idea what conditions the parents are in (what their purchase is supporting), or what the parents are like (a good indication of what their puppy may be like).

However, as the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) has proposed, there are still things that can be done. Their webpage has a list of additional information and their companion animal spokesperson, Rochelle Ferguson, has written a Spinoff feature with advice. To summarise, before adopting prospective owners should:

  • Consider adopting a dog from a shelter, rather than buying one that may be supporting poor breeding practise;
  • Visit the breeder and meet the parents of the puppy they are considering adopting;
  • Support breeders who screen for inherited diseases and who don’t breed puppies with these extreme features;
  • Ask about the mother’s health and whether a caesarean was needed;
  • Consider whether the mother’s (and other dogs) behavioural needs are being met by the breeder. This all affects the puppy.

In the future:

  • Regulations that require people to have a license to breed and sell puppies would be beneficial;
  • Sales on premises (and not ‘sight unseen’ or online) could be a requirement.

I will conclude by quoting Rochelle’s message:

“The fallout from puppies that have been irresponsibly bred is shouldered, not by the breeders who profit from their sale, but by the families that purchase these animals and the veterinarians that treat them.”

References
  1. Packer, R.M.A., et al., Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. Plos One, 2015. 10(10).

 

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