RSPCA launches new ‘Save Our Breath’ campaign calling on public to help save beloved but ‘flawed’ dog breeds. While we usually do not cover dog focussed content we thought it would be worthwhile sharing these efforts as the more people share this more likely people will take notice.
British bulldog Brutus is just two-years-old but can only walk for 10 minutes before he struggles for breath.
He’s just one example of a surging number of brachycephalic (or flat-faced) dogs who find it impossible to carry out normal dog activities such as walking, playing, or even sleeping.
The warning comes as the Crufts dog show kicks off in Birmingham, sparking concerns that the showing of breeds, such as the British bulldog, French bulldog, pug and Cavalier King Charles spaniel, will further popularise them.
The number of British bulldog puppies being registered with the Kennel Club increased 149%, between 2011 and 2020, while the number of French bulldogs registered soared by 1,317%.
This is also reflected in the number of Frenchies who are coming into RSPCA care having been abandoned or signed over, usually due to the cost of their veterinary needs. While Staffies still account for the largest proportion of dogs coming into the RSPCA, their numbers are steadily declining, while the number of Frenchies increased by 1,567% from three in 2015 to 50 in 2020.
Brachycephaly isn’t exclusive to dogs, it’s also a growing problem in cats, rabbits and horses.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Sadly we are now seeing this desirability for short noses and flat faces in cats and rabbits despite the severe health issues that result from this type of breeding.
“For years we have deliberately been breeding dogs in our pursuit for extreme body shapes including shorter, flatter faces.We’ve created generations who struggle to breathe, struggle with heat regulation, are chronically tired and can’t exercise without collapsing, and have to sleep with their head propped up on a pillow or with a toy in their mouth, just to help them breathe.
“In dogs, particularly, this has become such a huge welfare concern that we are left with only one option; to urge people not to buy them at all. Unfortunately, it is too risky to buy these pets because it is practically impossible to find a healthy one. This is a growing animal crisis and urgent intervention is required.”
With the surge in demand for pets during lockdown there are fears that more brachycephalic dogs, cats and rabbits will have been bred by breeders resulting in even more sickly animals who require expensive veterinary treatment to help them carry out the simplest of everyday tasks such as walking and playing.
And the RSPCA fears that more of these animals could be abandoned or relinquished to charity as their owners struggle to cope with costly veterinary bills as the cost of living soars.
RSPCA chief vet Caroline Allen said: “Our desire for cuteness and the selection for shorter, flatter faces – known as brachycephaly – has resulted in dogs who struggle to breathe.
“Their excessive soft tissue causes obstruction in their airways and their abnormally narrowed nostrils and windpipes leave them gasping for air. Struggling to breathe, or even sleep is very distressing and affected dogs are struggling with this every day, with serious impacts on their welfare. They also face eye problems, skin concerns due to excessive wrinkles, and painful back conditions due to corkscrew tails.
“We understand why there is so much love out there for these breeds. But it’s wrong that we’re knowingly breeding for features which compromise their basic health and welfare.
“What’s concerning about events such as Crufts is that these breeds – who have no quality of life – are being celebrated, which further popularises them with potential buyers.”
Four-year-old French bulldog Mavis (pictured above) was taken in by RSPCA Martlesham, in Suffolk, in December 2021 when her back end became immobile due to intervertebral disc disease (or IVDD) – a degenerative disease that can affect a dog’s spine and mobility and is, sadly, common in some breeds.
Her owner couldn’t afford the expensive surgery she would need and signed her over into the RSPCA’s care for urgent help. She was referred to a specialist for a suspected slipped disc in her spine and had decompression spinal surgery costing more than £4,000.
She’ll need physiotherapy for the rest of her life as well as ongoing treatment for allergies, and will likely be uninsurable.
Two-year-old British bulldog Brutus (pictured top) was taken into the RSPCA’s Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home, in Gloucestershire, with his French bulldog pal, Daisy, when their owner could no longer take care of them. They both needed treatment for skin problems but Brutus faced other health issues.
Staff grew increasingly concerned about his laboured breathing and vets diagnosed him with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) – a group of conditions that make it very difficult for flat-faced dogs to breathe properly.
He had surgery this week to widen his nostrils and remove some of the excess skin at the back of his throat to improve airflow, as well as a ‘face lift’ to remove excessive skin rolls around his head.
Eight-year-old British bulldog Miss Pickles was taken in by RSPCA Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford & District Branch, in West Yorkshire, when her owner could no longer take care of her.
She would wheeze and snort as she struggled to get her breath and terrified staff when she collapsed and went blue. Staff sought urgent veterinary assistance and Miss Pickles was diagnosed with grade three BOAS. They launched an appeal to raise £2,500 for surgery to help her breathing and she’s recovering well from the surgery and is now seeking a special new home.
‘We need your help to save these breeds’
The public has an important role to play in helping to improve the future health of these breeds. We need to stop seeing these pets as cute and recognise the serious health issues they face.
Our Save Our Breath campaign seeks to educate the public about the impact of this type of breeding on dog welfare. We’d like people to consider getting an alternative breed or consider a crossbreed that has a lower risk of problems.
Dr Gaines added: “The future of these beloved breeds is in jeopardy and we need your help to save them. We need to do something about it, now.”
For those wishing to get involved in the Save Our Breath, there will be two surveys available to members of the public. One survey will collect crucial information on brachycephalic animals in advertising, while the other will allow the public to share their own experiences with these animals. This vital research will help inform the RSPCA’s experts as it works to protect future generations of these animals.
Supporters can also sign up to the Give Animals a Voice campaign network for the latest information and access to campaign materials.
To support the RSPCA in its work investigating cruelty; rescuing and rehoming animals in need; and campaigning to create a better world for animals, please donate at www.rspca.org.uk/give.