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Cute or cruel?

Living

LIFETIME OF PAIN  Brachycephalic breeds’ purposely deformed heads cause a myriad of health problems, as well as constant suffering.

Ask The Vet

Esther Van Luipen

The breeding of brachycephalic breeds is a topic close to my heart. The term ‘brachycephalic’ comes from Greek roots: brachy, meaning short and cephalic meaning head. Brachycephalic dogs and cats have been bred to have a shorter jaw in proportion to their body, and a compressed upper jaw. Examples incude Pugs, French and British Bulldogs, Shih-tzus, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Persian cats and many, many more.
Looking at old pictures of the breed standards of about a century ago, you wouldn’t believe that they were the same breed as the ones we have nowadays. They look totally different now because of the fact that breeders have been changing the breed standards to make these dogs look ‘cuter’ – a bit like a ‘furry babies’. However, for the animals themselves, a lot of these breed changes appear to be very hard, sometimes impossible, to live with.
Brachycephalic breeds often make snorting noises when breathing. Some even snore the whole house down. People often laugh about this, but it is no laughing matter for the dog. It actually can not breathe properly. It’s comparable to having to constantly live with a terrible head cold.
Brachycephalic breeds have lots of medical problems because of how their breeders want them to look. For example, their nostrils are too narrow, their soft palate is too long, their teeth don’t fit in their jaw, their tongue is too big for their mouth, their eyes bulge and their skull may be too small for their brain.
As a consequence of these deformities, not only are these dogs unable to breath, snorting and coughing constantly, they also have overcrowded teeth, making the teeth decay much faster than normal; often lose eyes because of eye injuries; get seizures and have a massive pounding headache day and night. A lot of them can’t even go for a ‘proper’ walk without getting out of breath.
This is why every time I see a Pug or French Bulldog coming into my surgery my heart sinks. I think it is a tragedy that animals are bred that will never be able to have a normal life without suffering.

‘Torture breeding’
In German-speaking countries they have a name for breeding of animals with characterisitics that are associated with pain, suffering, deformities or behavioural disorders. They call it ‘qualzucht’ (‘torture breeding’). In some countries, breeders have already been convicted under a law that criminalises qualzucht. This legislation makes it possible for people to take civil action to get compensation for the financial costs that occur when an animal gets a predictable inherited condition. When breeders know that they can be held accountable for the animals they produce, they may be more careful to produce healthy ones.
Wouldn’t it be great if Ireland would follow and get a law against qualzucht? Or if people would just refuse to buy brachycephalic breeds and therefore make sure that there will be no demand for them, ending their suffering?
Even better, if you’re looking for a dog, adopt from an animal shelter instead, where there are so many dogs waiting for a good home. Of course there is no guarantee that any dog or cat will be healthy, but purposefully breeding animals with deformities is in my eyes a crime!
Better still, consider adopting a lovable mongrel, mutt or Heinz 57 from an animal shelter. This way you can end animal suffering in two ways: Refusing to buy a purebred dog that is designed to suffer all its life and ending the suffering of an animal craving a warm, loving home. Now those dogs are designed for life!

Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at living@mayonews.ie.

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