Brachycephalic means short-faced and it is selected for in certain breeds of animals, most notably dogs, cats and rabbits. It is completely unnatural and as we have bred animals to have shorter and shorter faces we have caused a huge array of problems, deformities and disease. Dogs such as French and English bulldogs, pugs and Pekes and cats like the Persian and Exotic shorthair have become more extremely brachycephalic in the last few decades.
The consequences of breeding for a shorter face are many, most notably that of BOAS. This is brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. These animals can have a variety of problems contributing to their breathing problems such as narrow nostrils, excessive soft tissue in the mouth and throat like the soft palate and relatively large tongues and they also tend to have very narrow tracheas (windpipes) compared to normal animals of a similar size. The spectrum of severity is wide but recent studies suggest that more than half of bulldogs and around two thirds of pugs have clinical problems with breathing, often accepted as normal by their owners. While snoring and snorting are seen as normal they are signs of problems and respiratory distress. Many of these animals collapse when exercising or take much longer than normal to recover from exercise. Many require surgery to make life possible.
Dogs also use a very important part of their nose to cool themselves down. This is virtually non-existent in brachycephalic dogs and as a result they are much more prone to heatstroke, which can be life-threatening. It is not uncommon to see videos on social media, shared as funny or cute, of brachycephalic dogs falling asleep sitting up or with hollow toys or chews wedged in their mouths. There is nothing funny about this. It is in fact how these animals have learned to sleep in order to keep their airways open. Breathing problems are made much worse if animals are overweight and obesity is now a huge problem across all dogs and cats including brachycephalic breeds. To add to this problem, the current pug breed standard says they should, “never… be lean nor leggy”.
As well as the respiratory problems these animals suffer severe dental problems because their jaws and teeth are deformed, they may struggle to pick up and eat food, have exposed eyes that are prone to injury, skin folds on their face that cause inflammation, infection and sometimes trauma to their eyes, spinal problems in the dogs bred for a curly tail as well as inherited diseases due to the narrow gene pool. Gastro-intestinal disease is also common because of altered pressures in the chest and abdomen during breathing that can cause acid reflux and even herniation of the stomach into the chest cavity. Recent studies also suggest an alarming increase in inherited, and often inoperable, heart disease in bulldogs.
Respiratory problems in cats may go unnoticed because when they struggle to breathe they simply become more sedentary in an effort to stay comfortable. Cats strongly dislike to mouth-breathe and the worst affected will find it very distressing, as do the dogs. For our brachycephalic rabbits the dental issues can be fatal. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their life and if they do not meet perfectly as nature intended they overgrow and cause pain, gum infections, abscesses and often death.
It is the opinion of the vets, nurses, related professionals and organisations from all over the world listed on this website that the breeding of extremely brachycephalic animals is fundamentally wrong on welfare grounds and should be stopped. We would urge policy-makers and veterinary organisations from far and wide to use the strength of opinion on this website to try to affect positive change for the future well-being of our pet animals.
Below are links to just some of the studies documenting the problems in brachycephalic animals;