In the beginning I wanted this piece to be a public shaming of people who participate in either of these two activities: all those who are involved in the breeding of brachycephalic dogs and all those idiots who keep posting pictures of „cute“ and „adorable“ Pugs / Bulldogs / Shih Tzus / Pekingneses without thinking about what suffering their action is indirectly evoking.
Then I realized that the majority of people engaging themselves in the latter activity are not idiots, but merely ignorant. Which is why I set out to rewrite parts of this article and make it more educational for mainstream social network users who repost and reblog pictures of aforementioned dog breeds without realising the effect of it.
Let’s get factual.
What is brachycephalia?
Brachycephalia derives from the Greek words brachy, meaning „short“, and cephalus, meaning „head“. It mostly affects the front of a face, making brachycephalic beings have a „shorter snout“. I think you can figure out the rest. If you can’t here’s a visual stimulus for you :
Now, you might wonder why I posted a picture of humans, even though this article is supposed to be about dogs. The thing is, brachycephalia exists in all kinds of species and is even physiological in individuals of neonatal and/or young age. So what’s the deal here? If you look at the picture (despite my shitty drawing skills) you will probably find the left baby-like creature more adorable. The round head, button nose and big eyes are what manipulate our perception of „cuteness“. This is the reason why we all go „AWWWWWWW“ upon seeing puppies, kittens, ducklings or any other kind of babies (except maybe cockroaches and spiders…).
Without getting to deep into the whole „cuteness“ theory, there is a simple conclusion to be made:
Something looks cute. We immediately associate it with something infantile and childlike. This induces our instinct to be protective and caring towards this something.
Kind of explains why brachycephalic dogs, having these traits of neoteny, are so popular – people are just drawn to be affectionate towards them.
An important detail which is often disregarded, however, is the fact that brachycephalia is a pathological condition in adults!
The Breeding of Defects
Believe it or not, this is actually a very accurate term when it comes to the breeding of brachycephalic dogs. Most of you will be familiar to Darwin’s concept of „Survival of the fittest“ in which individuals with the most efficient and adapted traits are more likely to procreate and therefore alter the overall phenotype of a species to better the chances of survival in a certain environment. Having a short nose, an unproportionally elongated soft palate and too little space in your cranium definitely work against the chances of a healthy life with good quality. In nature creatures with features like that will simply die, because their anatomical anomalies are lethal; sooner rather than later. Normally the strongest of a species will reproduce; for this illustration that means those with a long snout and a good respiratory system. Crippled animals will not even get the chance to breed and pass on their sucky genes.
Now comes the preposterous part. Unfortunately this planet hosts a fairly shitty species: Humans. For some reason they felt that they had to break nature’s law just because they can. They took dogs with short snouts and bred them deliberately. Out of these broods they selected the pups with even shorter snouts and bred them as well. Over centuries the skull of these dogs deformed more and more. Yes. Deformed. These dogs are really a malformation of nature.
On a different note, I think it is perverted how humans intentionally create cripples for the sake of their entertainment and to post „cute pictures“ on social media.
The idea of Pugs and Pekingneses originated in China ages ago. In the early 16th century Pugs were imported to Europe, while Pekingneses came after the British occupied Beijing in the 19th century. All year dates aside, my point is made clear by these two following pictures (Thanks, Wikipedia). These portraits were made between 1750 and the early 1800s and as you can see, these Pugs look quite different than the ones you encounter these days.
So what makes them look less familiar? For one, the snout; it’s not as squished as it is today. These dogs are taller and more slender than contemporary overweight, heavy-breathing pugs. And this is only the conformation that we see, not the interior anatomical variation. And I can assure you that the features in above dogs are a lot less troublesome.
You’d have to be blind to not see what the problem is.
When you think back on all dog cartoon characters like Disney’s Pluto or Dug from the movie Up , I’m pretty sure you have the image of a dog smelling on the ground or elongating their neck to sniff out a trail. Cartoons have led us to believe that the specialty of a dog’s nose is defined by its olfactory function. They’re not wrong. But the primary importance of the dog’s upper respiratory system lies in thermoregulation. Mammals have to keep their body temperature stable despite changing climatic circumstances. When it becomes too hot, humans start to sweat: vaporising fluids on the skin have a cooling effect. Dogs, on the other hand, do not sweat. They pant and increase the airflow through their nasal cavity (red circles in picture), so that heat can be emitted. It’s not hard to imagine that the large cavity of the German Shepherd on the left is way more effective than that tiny remnant of conchae nasales of the Pug. Furthermore, brachycephalic nostrils are narrow (see picture 2), so even less air actually enters the nasal cavity. I’m not sure whether you ever had a heat stroke, but take any two pugs, and I’m pretty sure one of them could tell you what that’s like. Brachycephalic dogs are incredibly prone to overheating and the amount of dogs brought to the clinic in the summer traditionally increases. I won’t elaborate on further effects of your cells basically boiling, but we can all agree that it’s definitely not healthy!
Another issue is the anatomical structure I marked in the blue triangle: the soft palate / velum palatinum. As seen in the picture, it’s main function is to separate nasopharynx from oropharynx a.k.a it separates your mouth from your nose. You probably never knew this thing existed, let alone thought about it, but the velum is what hinders food to enter your nose when you swallow. The funny thing about brachycephalia is, that while the skull is so squished, other soft structures remain in their „normal“ size, which means that in relation to the skull, tongue and velum are too big. If you look closely at the blue triangle in the pug CT, the soft palate hangs down so much it is narrowing the pharynx immensely. This is also known as BAOS = Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome. During waking hours of the dog, with no extra strain, the hanging velum is managable. The real danger becomes apparent when dogs sleep. Or at least try to. With muscles relaxing in REM cycles, the soft palate just drops and literally blocks the airway by falling into the larynx. There are tons of videos of dogs awaking with a start in the middle of the night, and owners laughing about it. Stupidly enough, people get a good giggle from these videos, because they think it’s „cute“ when their pug jolts out of their sleep and looks around confusedly. What they don’t know is, that their dog nearly just died from suffocation. With the soft palate blocking the entrance of the trachea, the dogs stop breathing. Their oxygen levels drop and at some point the brain will send warning signals in order for the dog to wake up, hence the panicked and confused startle. For some dogs this even gets so bad, that they refuse to sleep at night, because they’re simply scared. Yeah, it’s that horrible.
In case your brachycephalic dog snores: that’s the soft palate hanging down into the airway and vibrating during expiration. No, it’s not cute. It’s a fucking airway obstruction!
In order for you to visualise what I am talking about, just in case you haven’t seen sleep apnea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDzd_4DFCDE
This is an incredibly eye-opening video compiled by Jemima Harrison (producer of the investigative documentary „Pedigree Dogs Exposed“.
Even though your anatomical and physiological knowledge may virtually be zero, you will know that oxygen is essential for your metabolism. Brachycephalic dogs with above symptoms are chronically undersupplied with oxygen (hypoxia), which means that a lot of metabolic stress is an addition to the respiratory symptoms. With bad metabolism, dogs tend to become fat. Also, in order to compensate for the little oxygenated blood, the heart has to work harder, making cardiomyopathies a probable outcome.
The worst part is that dogs with respiratory problems have difficulties moving around and get tired quickly. Therefore they are even more prone to obesity. And it’s the same as all those obese, sedentary, fat humans:the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases. Circulus vitiosus, really. (And just to rub it in, don’t forget the orthopedic problems resulting from all those unnecessary extra pounds).
Alas, the troubles don’t end here. Brachycephalic dogs like Pugs or Shih Tzus are prone to eye problems as well. Due to the weird skull conformation and the bulging eyeballs, hair constantly rubs into the eyes. Now imagine something incessantly scratching against your cornea and your eyelids being deformed (entropion/ectopion) too much so that it doesn’t really protect your eyes. Ulcers, keratitis and conjunctivitis, just to name a few consequences.
Brachycephalic dogs are all-rounders when it comes to diseases and health problems so let’s lose a few words about their food intake. Dental deformation is probably illustrated quite well in the first picture and doesn’t need further elaboration. Something more unpleasant is regurgitation of food. This is caused by the elongated soft palate that, when inconveniently situated, blocks not only the airways, but the esophagus as well, which means the dog can’t swallow his food and „pukes“ it out again. Regurgitation in brachycephalic dogs is more common than you think.
Now, I could go on with more problems that result from breeding (for example the predisposition for Pug Meningoencephalitis or a Shih Tzu’s pyloric stenosis), but I’ll just explain one more thing, that I personally think is quite shocking. Did you know, that a lot of brachycephalic dogs cannot birth naturally anymore? Yes. You read correctly. Humans have bred these dogs so intensively, that they can’t even give birth in a normal way!!! This is caused by two reasons: 1) The heads of brachycephalic dogs are relatively too big, making it hard for puppies to exit the mother’s birth canal, leading to dystocia. 2) The mothers have no stamina (due to the breathing problems) to actually be able to give birth naturally. A survey that was released in the Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2010, shows that five of the ten most frequent breeds to require C-Section are brachycephalic. To be fair, „only“ 27,4% of Pugs are in need of surgery during birth according to that study, and Pekingeses fare higher with 43%. What’s really quite condemnable is the fact that a whopping 81% (!!!) of French Bulldogs have to undergo surgery in order to give birth. Eww.
Something to think about
How is it acceptable, that humans create suffering dogs, just to satisfy their need for „pure breed standards“?
Do you still think Pugs and French Bulldogs are cute when they snore?
In hindsight, isn’t it disgusting how these dogs are showcased in social media and nobody knows the horrible truth about what is going on?
This is not only a matter of animal welfare, but it’s a sickening case of human superficiality and arrogance. (And they wonder why I’m a misanthropist)
You may have a brachycephalic dog yourself. Did you know all this before you got your dog? Or did you just buy one, because they’re „cute“ and you could score many likes on Instagram, if you post a picture with them? Your dog might not show these symptoms. Good for you! But know, that there are thousands of dogs out there who are not so lucky as yours. There will be dogs who won’t make it through the summer, because they won’t stand the heat and dogs who will suffocate in their sleep. Yes, it is not the majority. But the amount is still an unnecessary number, that can easily be avoided by simply not following the overrated „Pedigree standards“. (Yes, there is actually a federation that sits down and determines how a certain breed has to look like. Google FCI and look at the PDF documents they have on each authorised breed. They have specific ratios and measurements set out for body parts. Only if a dog meets all of their criteria, can it be acknowledged as pure breed, no matter how unhealthy and problematic their standard is. It’s perverted, in my opinion)
I just recently got back from an Animal Welfare Conference for international veterinary students in Utrecht and during the small animal discussion panel I started the topic of the breeding of these dogs. There were speakers representing various important organisations such as the British Veterinary Association, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe and even the Federation of Asian Veterinarian Association. Although „fixing“ these deformations with elective surgeries is a decent source of income for us vets, we shouldn’t just stay silent on this matter for personal gain. It may be idealistic. We all agreed that this breeding trend is unacceptable, but there are no effective regulations that can actually prevent it from continuing, because it would require a national law in every country that has to be implemented.
My professor Dr. Gerhard Oechtering (whom I have to thank for the amazingly eye-opening two pictures above) has actually called for a ban on breeding extremely brachycephalic dogs. However, there is a lot of resistance against such a ban from lobbyists and breeders, who would lose a lucrative business model with it. (In Germany there is in fact the prohibition of „Qualzucht“, but obviously it is not realised rigorously enough, again, because there is opposition)
And this is where YOU come in.
In an era that is circled by social media, I am certain you have seen several „cute“ Instagram pictures or reposted tumblr posts that involved a pug with a hilarious caption. This may not sound like much, but I believe that this strong social media presence is what motivates ignorant dog „lovers“ to acquire one themselves. Therefore, there is a „high demand“ for these breeds and this serves as a justification and excuse for breeders to keep breeding brachycephalic dogs. Next time a super squished Pug face appears on your smartphone screen when scrolling through your timeline, remember about what suffering this dog is probably going through – for the sake of what? Human entertainment? A few likes? Its owners social position and recognition? Stop liking, reposting, hyping and giving this trend such positive response, it will only lead to the breeding of even more malformed dogs! In theory, the less people are fascinated by these dogs, the less demand there is. In fact, if you want to share anything about these breeds, it should be the truth about their anatomical pathologies: a price they have to pay for self-given, inequitable and unfounded human superiority.