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  • Writer's pictureEmma Kay Bleakley

To breath or not to breath: Fashion over health in the dog world!

Norway bans the Bulldog and King Charles Cavalier.


Popular brachycephalic breeds – Top L-R: Boxer, English Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Bottom L-R: Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Pug

Having lived with five Boxer dogs in my lifetime, I believe I am qualified to comment on brachycephalic dogs, or flat-faced dogs, to use a less horrifying term. These increasingly popular dog breeds are coveted for their baby-like round heads and little button noses.

I grew up hearing snoring that might wake the dead, excessive panting, and other difficulties breathing, so I'm familiar with some of the issues that brachycephalic dogs face. Who dealt them these problems? We did, and it’s up to us to put a dog’s health before their ‘beauty’, especially the organisations that set the “Breed Standard”; how a dog should look to be typical of it’s breed.

In 2019, the Dutch Kennel Club led the way and were the first to stop all new registrations of adults and litters of 12 brachycephalic breeds, including four of the breeds shown above. More recently, February 2022, the Oslo District Court, Norway, stepped up and banned the breeding of English Bulldogs and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (CKCS), stating that they were “a breach of Norway’s animal welfare legislation due to the possibility of health issues with their flat faces”. This kind of action should have been led by the Norwegian Kennel Club!


Skulls showing selective breeding producing brachycephalic dogs

The English Bulldog and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are both classed as brachycephalic breeds, but they highlight two very different health issues. The Royal Veterinary

College (RVC) state that the English Bulldog suffers most commonly from breathing issues, skin infections, and eye problems, all caused by their extreme skull shape. Their flat-faces, prominent lower jaws and wrinkly skin are unfortunately what many people see as desirable, not realising that it's those features which cause severe breathing issues and extremely sore eczema in and around the skin folds. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are susceptible to a more hidden affliction. Those who have experienced a migraine, will know what syringomyelia feels like. This again is due to the extreme roundness of the top of their skulls, causing their brain to be squashed and pushed into the opening at the back of the skull, obstructing the natural fluid flow in the spinal cord between the brain and the spine. Not only does syringomyelia cause headache-like pain, according to the RVC, it can cause a ‘drunk-like’ walk because the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and locomotion, is squashed in the skull.

After years of unrestricted breeding of increasingly serious skull deformities in the pursuit of fashion, it was only in 2019 that the UK Kennel Club (KC), in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, developed its Respiratory Function Grading Scheme for English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Pugs. This scheme advises if a dog has breathing problems due to being brachycephalic and provides breeders with guidance on how to mitigate these issues. It took another four years for the KC to alter their breed standards dictating the aesthetics of the French Bulldog and Pug (2022) and five years for the breed standard for the English Bulldog (2023) to be changed to reflect the guidelines in this new grading scheme.

In my opinion, as with many old institutions, the KC is moving too slowly in enforcing legislative changes, and some breeds continue to suffer because of our fashion ideas. Organisations like the KC must become more proactive in upholding their regulations and react more swiftly and harshly when such regulations are violated. They are after all, a world leader in canine breeding and standards.

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