Demand for short-headed dogs drives health problems


The past three decades has seen increased demand for brachycephalic dogs – those with short, wide heads. Not only is there a monetary cost associated with those breeds, there's a health cost too. Phil Ritchie reports.


Short-skulled dogs such as this French bulldog can experience a range of health problems. – Westend61/Getty Images

An increased demand for dogs with short skulls is leading to an increase in number of pets with serious health issues, researchers in Sydney say.

“The moment you depart from a normal dog shape, you’re trending towards disorders,” said study co-author Paul McGreevy from the University of Sydney.

“There’s a thing called a breed standard that dictates what the breed should look like, and we need to ensure that those breed standards are reviewed if they encourage extreme morphology.”

The number of dogs with short, wide heads, such as pugs and French bulldogs, has been on the rise for at least three decades, according to the study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

Known as brachycephalic dogs, these breeds are prone to breathing difficulties, skin and eye conditions, digestive disorders, and dental problems.

The study says veterinarians need to prepare for more and more patients with these conditions.

“Vets are going to be confronted with more of these short-skulled dogs, and they need to make sure they’re completely conversant in what is normal for these dogs and what can be considered clinical disease,” McGreevy said.

With treatment costs pushing tens of thousands of dollars, coupled with a short life expectancy compared to other dogs, experts urge buyers to make informed decisions about the kind of dog they want.

“People need to think seriously about how they’re going to care for these dogs with extreme body shapes, and they need to appreciate why these dogs cost more to insure,” McGreevy said.

The trend is prevalent around the world. The numbers of bulldogs and French bulldogs registered with the American Kennel Club have increased by 69% and 476% respectively and the United Kingdoms has also seen a rise in popularity.

A previous study by scientists at the University of New South Wales showed that the selective breeding of domestic dogs is not only dramatically changing the way the animals look but is also driving major changes in the canine brain.

The brains of many short-snouted dog breeds have rotated forward as much as 15 degrees, while the brain region controlling smell has fundamentally relocated, according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Related reading: What smart dogs can teach us.

How breeding is changing the looks of dogs

Many dog breeds have changed a lot in appearance as we have bred them for specific traits and in the process created at least 167 breeds of dogs.

Here we look at how three well-known breeds have changed dramatically over the past 100 years.

The bull terrier

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The Alsatian

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The daschund

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Phil Ritchie is a Melbourne-based journalist.
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