In dogs, brachycephalic (short-muzzled, flat-faced) breeds have become increasingly common worldwide over the past decade, with this population expansion being especially prominent in the UK.

At the UK Kennel Club, the French Bulldog was the most commonly registered breed In 2018 with the Bulldog ranked at fourth and the Pug at sixth [1]. The currently high proportion of dogs that are brachycephalic, combined with the projected continuing rising trajectory of the popularity of these breeds, suggests that issues around the health and population explosion associated with these breeds should be considered as a major welfare issue for dogs at a population level. Consequently, highly sophisticated epidemiological studies are needed in order to explore these issues with a view to development of evidence-based recommendations on how to lessen the welfare impacts.

Over the past decade, the RVC has developed world-leading expertise in companion animal epidemiology with the development of the VetCompass™ Programme of research. Starting out as a PhD project, VetCompass has grown to hold the world’s largest university-based database of veterinary clinical records that is applied for research on companion animal research. VetCompass currently holds anonymised clinical data on over 10 million UK companion animals from 1,800 UK veterinary clinics (over 25% of all UK clinics). The ethos of VetCompass is to harness the cumulative experience of veterinary teams to generate reliable evidence that can improve the welfare of animals overall. The VetCompass research programme had led to over 70 peer-reviewed publications and has now become a leading reference centre for companion animal information relating to the general population of companion animals in the UK. International collaboration has now led to the establishment of VetCompass Australia.

Specifically in relation to brachycephalic health, previous work within VetCompass at the RVC has investigated demographic and disease patterns of some common brachycephalic breeds under veterinary care. This work has reported sharply rising numbers of French Bulldogs [2] and Pugs [3] with a more gradual ascent for Bulldogs in the wider UK dog population [4]. These findings suggest that these three breeds exert a growing influence on the overall brachycephalism impact on dog health in the UK. Studies that focused on the common disorders of French Bulldogs [2], Pugs [3] and for the Bulldog [4] have shown a distribution of common diseases that is quite different to the patterns shown by the overall dog population. VetCompass has reported disease predisposition in the common brachycephalic breeds across a number of important diseases including corneal ulceration [5], dystocia [6, 7] and upper respiratory disease [8]. VetCompass work has also assessed the welfare impact of a range of common disorders affecting dogs in general attending veterinary practice by quantifying their frequency, duration and severity [9]. In addition, VetCompass has compared the health of brachycephalic dogs compared to non-brachycephalic dogs, revealing that brachycephalic dogs are generally less healthy than their non-brachycephalic counterparts [10].

See also: Latest Research and Published Papers

Cited References

  1. The Kennel Club. Breed registration statistics. 2019  [cited 2019 March 1st]; Available from: The Kennel Club Breed Registration Statistics.
  2. O'Neill, D.G., et al., Demography and disorders of the French Bulldog population under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2018. 5(1): p. 3.
  3. O'Neill, D.G., et al., Demography and health of Pugs under primary veterinary care in England. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2016. 3(1): p. 1-12.
  4. O’Neill DG, Skipper AM, Kadhim J, Church DB, Brodbelt DC, et al. (2019) Disorders of Bulldogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013. PLOS ONE 14(6)
  5. O'Neill, D.G., et al., Corneal ulcerative disease in dogs under primary veterinary care in England: epidemiology and clinical management. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2017. 4(1): p. 5.
  6. O'Neill, D.G., et al., Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency care veterinary practices: clinical management and outcomes. Veterinary Record, 2019: p. vetrec-2018-104944.
  7. O'Neill, D.G., et al., Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency-care veterinary practices: prevalence and risk factors. Veterinary Record, 2017. 181(4).
  8. O'Neill, D.G., et al., Epidemiological associations between brachycephaly and upper respiratory tract disorders in dogs attending veterinary practices in England. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2015. 2(1): p. 10.
  9. Summers JF, O’Neill DG, Church D, Collins L, Sargan D, Brodbelt DC. Health-related welfare prioritisation of canine disorders using electronic health records in primary care practice in the UK. BMC Veterinary Research. 2019;15(1):163.
  10. O'Neill, D.G., et al, Unravelling the health status of brachycephalic dogs in the UK using multivariable analysis. Nature Scientific Reports, 2020.

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