Health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs

BVA is campaigning to raise awareness of the issues brachycephalic animals face as a result of their breeding. Brachycephaly refers to a short skull shape, which gives the appearance of a flattened face. It can affect dogs, cats, rabbits and other animal species.

In the past ten years there has been a rapid rise in the number of brachycephalic breeds in the UK. BVA is concerned that this rise in numbers is leading to a population-based increase of ill health and compromised welfare in these breed types.

These problems include:

  • Anatomical defects of the upper airway causing breathing difficulties often associated with overheating, sleep apnoea and regurgitation eg. Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)
  • Eye disease
  • Inability to mate or give birth naturally (requiring Caesarean section)
  • Repeated skin infections
  • Dental problems

CT scans of a brachycephalic dog skull and a non-brachycephalic dog skull

Here is a comparison of two CT scans, demonstrating the difference in skull shapes between a brachycephalic dog - a dog with a shortened skull shape... 

flat faced dog CT scan

...and a non-brachycephalic dog - a dog with a skull of a proportionate size for their breed type without any abnormality.

non brachy dog CT scan of skull

Images courtesy of Cambridge BOAS Research Group

BVA policy position

Through our brachycephalic working group, made up of BVA Policy Committee and representatives from the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, BVA has developed a policy position on brachycephalic dogs to outline what different stakeholders can do to work together towards:

  • Ensuring healthier future generations of dogs with brachycephalic conformation
  • Reducing the negative health and welfare impacts of brachycephaly on the current generation of brachycephalic dogs
  • Increasing awareness of the health and welfare issues associated with brachycephaly amongst current and prospective owners
  • Encouraging research in order to better understand and address the prevalence of, and trends in, conformation-related ill-health in brachycephalic dogs
  • Encouraging research in order to better understand and address the prevalence of the welfare impacts resulting from brachycephaly
  • The development of objective, robust measures to contribute to the assessment of problematic conformation

As part of this we have set out an action plan outlining how the veterinary professions can take action collaboratively to influence the reduction of unhealthy dogs with brachycephalic conformation and improve health and wellbeing outcomes for the current generation of brachycephalic dogs.

BVA policy position on brachycephalic dogs – executive summary (38 KB PDF)

BVA policy position on brachycephalic dogs – full (557 KB PDF)

BVA has also been working as part of the Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG), comprising the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, leading UK dog welfare organisations, the Kennel Club, scientific and social researchers and relevant breed club representatives, to produce a framework for a partnership approach to improving brachycephalic dog health and welfare. This document will be supported by a series of action plans that will target brachycephalic health and welfare at different stages. 

Join the campaign

BVA campaigning in the media

We are working to get the message out to dog owners to think about choosing a healthier breed or crossbreed instead of prioritising appearance over welfare. Over the last year we have been speaking in the media and our officer team have appeared on television and radio raising awareness of the issues these animals face as a result of their breeding. 

We have also written to major retailers and organisations who use brachycephalic breeds in their advertising asking them to consider the health problems endemic in these breeds. We have had a good response, with brands such as Comic Relief, Costa and Heinz pledging to avoid use of brachycephalic breeds in future.

How you can help

We will keep sending these letters but, unfortunately, it is not possible for BVA to contact every brand directly. Vets and concerned members of the public can support the campaign by contacting brands directly about their use of brachycephalic breeds in advertising. This can be done via social media, or by letter or email.

#BreedtoBreathe is the BVA campaign hashtag. You can use it to keep the conversation going and help us follow your efforts on Twitter.

We are really pleased to see so many members of the profession speaking out on behalf of these animals. You can contact us via email, on our Facebook page or @BritishVets if you would like our support in challenging examples of irresponsible marketing using these breeds.

Action plan for vets

What you can do to help

We know that individual veterinary professionals improve the welfare of many brachycephalic dogs on a day-to-day basis through the diagnosis and treatment of problems linked to brachycephaly. Other actions that they can undertake to improve the welfare of dogs with brachycephalic conformation include:

  • Promoting and undertaking annual brachycephalic health assessments
  • Raising awareness amongst owners of the role of obesity in exacerbating other health problems linked to brachycephaly (for example respiratory disease) and conveying that frequent respiratory sounds by their dog, such as snorting and snoring, are not normal, but instead are clinical signs of compromised breathing
  • Reporting conformation-altering surgery and Caesarian sections, in Kennel Club-registered dogs, to the Kennel Club

10-point plan for veterinary practices

We have developed a 10-point plan for practices highlighting actions veterinary practices can undertake to improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs and promote responsible pet ownership amongst the dog-buying public:

  1. Offer pre-purchase consultations, such as the PDSA “Which pet?” consultation framework, with prospective dog owners. The potential health problems of brachycephalic conformation can be clearly outlined in these consultations.
  2. Strongly advise against breeding if a dog is suffering from BOAS or requires conformation altering surgery – consider neutering (where best practice allows) to prevent further litters with extremes of conformation that negatively impact on their health and welfare
  3. Promote the Puppy Contract (comprising the Puppy Information Pack and contract for sale) through the practice communication channels, eg. website, social media, waiting room displays, newsletters and in local print and broadcast media
  4. Promote and actively participate in available health schemes (eg. BVA/KC Health Schemes), including those for brachycephalic breeds that currently exist amongst Bulldog, French bulldog and Pug breed clubs
  5. Carry out exercise tolerance tests (ETT) and functional grading for brachycephalic breeds as part of their annual health assessment
  6. Enrol the practice in clinical surveillance programmes such as VetCompassTM and SAVSNET, to contribute to data gathering and evidence generation
  7. Develop a practice communication strategy to repeatedly, clearly and consistently communicate the health problems experienced by dogs with brachycephalic conformation through the practice communication channels
  8. Develop practice policy to ensure that practice communication channels (particularly social media and advertising materials) do not portray dogs with brachycephalic conformation as cute, humorous or appealing
  9. Ensure practice policy supports staff to appropriately convey evidence-based information and advice to owners of dogs with brachycephalic conformation
  10. Support local breed clubs and representatives to develop and implement plans to improve the health of dogs with brachycephalic conformation

#BreedtoBreathe toolbox

We know that many vets and members of the public are keen to support our campaign so we have created the #BreedtoBreathe toolbox: a space with resources to support you in raising awareness about the problems associated with brachycephalic breeds.

Downloadable resources:

Social media:

News:

Blogs:

If you need further support in sharing this content or contacting brands directly about their use of brachycephalic animals please contact us via email, on our Facebook page or @BritishVets.

More information