Published: 24 May 2017 | Last Updated: 08 Feb 2019 11:50:53

The popularity of flat faced brachycephalic dogs in the UK continues to rise.

The French Bulldog is set to become the most registered dog in 2017, overtaking the Labrador Retrievers’ 27-year reign at the top. But why?

New research shows that appearance is the number one reason owners purchase flat-faced breeds, attracted by their large, round, wide-set eyes, and flat rounded faces. However, such characteristics are linked with a variety of inherited diseases.

French bulldog
French bulldog

Flat-faced dogs often suffer from lifelong respiratory, eye and skin problems, and a reduced lifespan compared with longer faced breeds. The study, which was conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), in collaboration with Plymouth University, found that the perceived health of the breed was of less concern in owners who purchased a brachycephalic dog such as the Pug or French Bulldog, compared to owners of longer faced breeds, such as the Labrador Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels.

The study sought to find out what influences owners to purchase a flat-faced breed, and once this decision has been made, how they go about acquiring a puppy. The study surveyed owners of the top 10 most popular Kennel Club registered breeds in the UK, to compare how influences upon breed choice and purchasing processes differed between owners of flat-faced breeds and popular longer faced breeds.

Key influencing factors associated with the choice of a brachycephalic breed include:

  • The size of the breed being suited to owner lifestyle as owners of flat-faced dogs were more likely to live in apartments.
  • The breed being perceived to be good with children and for companionship as owners of flat-faced dogs were more likely to live with children.
  • Owners of the breed were more likely to be younger and buying that breed for the first time – this may reflect increased media influence among younger people, with flat-faced breeds commonly used in the media and advertising.

The study raised concerns over how the owners of brachycephalic dogs purchase their desired breed, with owners of flat-faced dogs:

  • More likely to use puppy selling websites to find their dog,
  • Less likely to see either parent of their puppy,
  • Less likely to ask to see any health records.

Recommendations from the study include:

  • identifying and promoting breeds with fewer health conditions that fit the lifestyle niches associated with flat-faced dog owners,
  • moderating the use of flat-faced dogs in the media,
  • educating the public regarding the consequences of breeding animals based on looks rather than health,
  • promoting responsible puppy-buying practices for all breeds of dog.

Dr Rowena Packer, lead author of the study and Research Fellow at RVC, said: “With their small size and baby-like features, some people cannot resist the looks of a brachycephalic dog. With growing evidence that these breeds are faced with a range of chronic and severe health conditions directly linked with their appearance, it is of huge concern that many people drawn to these breeds prioritise a dog’s looks over their long-term health and wellbeing.

“Potential puppy buyers attracted to the appearance of these breeds should seriously consider whether they are emotionally and financially prepared to take on a breed with high risks of health complications, and consider whether alternative, lower-risk breeds would better fit their lifestyle”

Co-author of the study and Associate Professor of Animal Welfare at Plymouth University, Dr Mark Farnworth, said: “Owners must be aware that as puppy-buyers, they are consumers, and their choices affect not only the health of the puppy they purchase, but also the health of the breed more widely. If owners do not follow recommended processes when purchasing a puppy, for example those set out in BVA AWF & RSPCA ‘Puppy Contract’, unscrupulous breeders will be kept in business, and continue to profit from the breeding and sale of unhealthy dogs. Without consumer awareness, breed health improvements are not possible and the overall health of these breeds will likely decline”.

Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, said: “The increased popularity of breeds such as Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs is a huge welfare concern, particularly as this research indicates that the health of the breed was not a major consideration for potential puppy buyers. Many people mistakenly believe that the breathing sounds these breeds often make are endearing traits, rather than an indication of respiratory problems associated with their conformation.  Dogs Trust urges anyone thinking of getting a puppy to look beyond the appearance of a breed, understand the impact on health, research the seller and buy responsibly.”

Research Reference

The research paper is published in the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) scientific journal, Animal Welfare:

Packer RMA; Murphy D; Farnworth MJ (2017) Purchasing popular purebreds: Investigating the influence of breed-type on the pre-purchase attitudes and behaviour of dog owners. Animal Welfare 26: 191-201

UFAW has an extensive web-based information resource on genetic welfare problems in dogs and other companion animals see Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals.

Brachycephalic Expertise

The RVC opened the UK's first specialist Brachycephalic Clinic in 2014. This brings together all the different clinical services that may be needed to treat the many conditions that flat-faced dogs can suffer from.

Press Office Contact

Uche Graves / Zoe Chadwick
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Notes to Editors

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a constituent College of the University of London. The RVC offers undergraduate, postgraduate and CPD programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences, being ranked in the top 10 universities nationally for biosciences degrees.  It is currently the only veterinary school in the world to hold full accreditation from AVMA, EAEVE, RCVS and AVBC.

A research-led institution, in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) the RVC maintained its position as the top HEFCE funded veterinary focused research institution.

The College also provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals; the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital in central London, the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (Europe's largest small animal referral centre), the Equine Referral Hospital, and the Farm Animal Clinical Centre located at the Hertfordshire campus.

RVC Press Release 24 May 2017

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