Reality check: Should you avoid buying ‘flat-faced’ dogs for health reasons?

Vets are warning that dogs with flat faces may have health problems. Getty Images

Dogs with flat faces are rising in popularity, but British veterinarians are warning animal lovers to be aware of the many health problems such canines come with.

Brachycephalic dogs, often referred to as flat-faced, squash-faced or shortened-head dogs, include breeds such as pugs, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Shih Tzus and more.

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The dogs are undoubtedly adorable, but the British Veterinary Association (BVA) says their skull shape creates health problems. With a campaign dubbed #breedtobreathe, the organization is raising awareness about issues faced by many such dogs: skin disorders, eyesight problems, breathing difficulties, inability to give birth, and more.

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Through the campaign, the BVA says it wants to encourage dog owners to “think about choosing a healthier breed or crossbreed instead of prioritizing appearance over welfare.”

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The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s (CVMA) position statement on the issue of breeding is similar to its British counterpart. On its website, the organization explains that not all breeding is done with the dog’s health in mind.

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The CVMA adds it is concerned brachycephalic dogs are still being bred, despite known research that they tend to have lifelong health problems. Breeders should follow the Canadian Kennel Club’s (CKC) guidelines on the process, the organization adds.

But are these warnings serious enough to warrant Canadians from choosing different breeds entirely? Not necessarily.

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Andrew Patton, the CKC’s communication manager, explains that good breeders always try to better the breeds they work with in terms of physical health and behaviour.

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“The people who breed those dogs are experts in trying to improve the issues that they’ve recognized,” Patton told Global News. “Each of our breeds has a breed standard, so three or four pages of a description of the ideal breed.”

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Patton explained that those looking to buy or adopt a brachycephalic dog shouldn’t completely rule out the idea. Rather, they should consider whether those breeds, which tend to be less active, will fit into their lifestyle.

“If they don’t go out on walks too frequently, or they’re not too active, then maybe a pug or a frenchie is fine.”


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Kathleen Norman, the president of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, agreed that there’s no need to rule out brachycephalic dogs.

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“I love pugs, I love French bulldogs. They’re great dogs, so much personality,” Norman told Global News, explaining that all types of dogs come with unique health problems — not just brachycephalic breeds.

“There are lots of breeds that have issues. So if you pick a different breed, let’s pick a Labrador retriever for example, they can get hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, skin problems, ear problems.”

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“I don’t think you could make a blanket statement to say a particular dog is going to be seen more often by a veterinarian,” Norman said.

She also cautioned people from assuming that all brachycephalic dogs will have all the health issues listed by the BVA. Rather, Norman suggested that all dog owners do research on the breeds they own, and consult veterinarians with any questions.

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“Before you purchase one of these dogs, just make sure you know what the potential problems are.”

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