Lop ears & bubble eyes? Avoid ‘wacky race’ towards extreme features in pets, urge vets

23 October 2018

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging animal lovers to pick health over looks and avoid the internet-fuelled craze for designer pets with ‘cute’, unusual or extreme features, such as English Lop rabbits, Scottish Fold cats, bubble-eye goldfish and miniature horses.

Vets are concerned that many pet owners may not be aware of health and welfare issues that animals bred with extreme features suffer from. These problems may not be immediately obvious, but often cause life-long misery for our pets – for instance, dogs that are unable to breathe normally, rabbits unable to eat, cats with severe arthritis, and fish that cannot see or swim properly.

In a recent BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, breeding and hereditary defects emerged as vets’ top animal health and welfare concern, with the number of vets mentioning it as a pressing issue more than doubling over the previous two years. Among companion animal vets, nearly half (45%) of those surveyed picked conformational deformities and pedigree breeding, particularly of flat-faced breeds, among the three welfare issues that concern them most.

Earlier this year, BVA launched the #BreedtoBreathe campaign to raise awareness about the issues associated with extreme breeding in brachycephalic, or flat-faced, dogs such as Pugs, French bulldogs and English bulldogs, whose shortened skull shape leads to trouble breathing normally, overheating, eye disease and inability to mate or give birth naturally. In the survey, vets said they found only 10% of dog owners could recognise their brachycephalic dog’s breed-related health issues, while 75% were unaware these potential problems even existed before deciding on the breed. Almost half of vets believe their clients who choose flat-faced dogs are swayed by social media or their celebrity idols.

As part of its newly-adopted policy position on extreme conformation, BVA is urging animal lovers, breeders, breed clubs, academics, vets and vet nurses to continue to work collaboratively to tackle the health and welfare impact of extreme breeding across all species. 

To guide prospective and current pet owners on things to keep in mind when choosing a pet, BVA has issued some top tips on responsible pet purchase:

  • Avoid buying a pet bred with extreme designer features and choose a healthier breed or non-pedigree animal instead
  • Always talk to your local vet for advice on the health and welfare issues associated with a particular breed before getting a pet
  • Avoid breeding from animals with known conformation-related health problems and get them health tested, where such tests are available (eg the BVA/Kennel Club Canine Health Schemes) before breeding
  • When buying a puppy, always use the free Puppy Contract (https://puppycontract.org.uk) to ensure you get a happy, healthy pet from a responsible breeder
  • If you already own a pet with extreme features, take it to your local vet for regular health checks
  • Obesity is a cause of concern for many animals with extreme features, so carefully manage your pet’s diet and exercise regime

British Veterinary Association President Simon Doherty said:

“We know that flat-faced dogs have exploded in popularity in the UK in recent years, fuelled by their being a must-have for many celebrities and on social media. While the UK population of some pets with extreme features is small at present, we are worried that the internet popularity of breeds like miniature horses, the English Lop rabbit, the very flat-faced Persian cats, or ornamental fish bred for bubble eyes or shortened bodies may prompt increased demand among consumers who are unaware of the potential serious health and welfare issues associated with such breeding.

“These hereditary problems are distressing for the animals and can be costly for the owners to treat. If you’re looking for a pet, our advice is to pick health over looks and choose a healthier breed instead.

“We would encourage anyone thinking of getting a pet to arrange to speak with their local vet to receive advice on the health and welfare problems associated with certain breed types.”

Related BVA policy

BVA Media Office