A bulldog, Thor, has just won best dog in the National Dog Show in the USA.
The increasing popularity of brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds like Thor is a major welfare concern. Their features such as flat faces, skin wrinkles, protruding eyes, and narrow nostrils have been selectively bred to create dogs that have this appearance. However, many owners are unaware of the health problems these dogs endure as a result of their malformed conformation (Packer 2012, Fawcett 2017). It is important to constantly be educating owners that brachycephalic dogs may have a compromised quality of life.
Most brachycephalic dogs have dental problems and constant respiratory distress due to their abnormal skull shape. These respiratory disorders are termed 'Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)' (stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, tracheal hypoplasia, everted laryngeal saccules) and severely impact quality of life.
The protruding eyes of brachycephalic dogs cause a higher prevalence of ocular disease than in other breeds including corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, and corneal trauma. Other conditions that brachycephalic dogs experience more than other breeds are skin disorders, digestive disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, urinary tract infection, pneumonia, and intervertebral disk disease, and ultimately reduced longevity.
Besides clinical health issues, brachycephalic dogs struggle to communicate with other dogs as a result of their conformation and limited ability to express emotion.
Looking at images of Thor in articles online, he appears to have numerous skin folds, stenotic nares (narrowed nostrils), and an extremely flat face. Therefore, it is highly likely that this dog suffers from a number of conformational problems, negatively impacting his welfare.
Celebrating breeds like this is likely to encourage ownership and breeding of brachycephalic dogs, consequently breeding dogs with poor well-being. In the UK, legislation was passed in the UK to protect the welfare of such breeds - 'The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. It states that “No dog may be kept for breeding if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype, phenotype, or state of health that breeding from it could have a detrimental effect on its health or welfare or the health or welfare of its offspring". However, there is little evidence to support its effect as yet.
Let's hope America takes notice and proposes action to safeguard the welfare of suffering dogs.