What You Need To Know About Flat-Faced Dog Breeds

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Flat Faced English Bulldog
English Bulldog with Flat Face

Over the past few years, flat-faced dog breeds have become increasingly popular across the United States as well as in other countries. Their short snouts and squishable faces hold a certain charm that many people find irresistible. While there is no denying these dogs have become popular due to their unusual looks, there is much controversy in the dog breeding world about the ethical implications of these breeds, as along with their cuteness, their unusual features cause flat-faced breeds to have serious medical issues.

Common Brachycephalic Dog Breeds

  • Affenpinschers
  • American Bulldogs
  • Apple-Headed Chihuahuas
  • Boston Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Bulldogs
  • Bullmastiffs
  • Cane Corsos
  • Chows
  • Dogue de Bordeauxs
  • English Mastiffs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Griffon Bruxelloiss
  • Japanese Chins
  • King Charles Spaniels
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Neapolitan Mastiffs
  • Pekingeses
  • Pugs
  • Rottweilers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Valley Bulldogs

History

Breeds such as English bulldogs, Pugs, and French Bulldogs have been around for hundreds of years. These dogs fall into a group called Brachycephalic, which means “short head”. Over the last few years, demand for brachycephalic dogs has skyrocketed, due to the dogs’ suitability for apartment living, low exercise requirements, as well as celebrity influence.

Because of high demand, breeding of brachycephalic dogs has increased, with breeders selecting dogs with the most desirable features i.e. the flattest faces, to breed. As a result, brachycephalic dogs are being born with increasingly flatter faces, which, while endearing to many owners, leads to numerous health issues for the dog.

One of the most common medical issues for these dogs is brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome or, BOAS. This condition is common in flat-faced breeds because selective breeding has changed the shape of their skulls, but their soft tissues have remained the same. What this means is that these dogs have skulls that have become too small to accommodate their palates and soft tissue.

This results in the palate blocking the airway which causes the snorts and grunts typical of these breeds. Veterinarians have seen a sharp increase in the number of operations performed to treat BOAS in brachycephallic breeds over the past few years.

Dr. Shaun Opperman of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stated that he performed 62 BOAS operations in 2019, a stark increase from the 7 he performed in 2015. This condition is hereditary and is likely to become more prevalent as demand for these dogs continues to increase.

Medical Issues

Shar Pei with Stenotic Nares
Shar Pei with Stenotic Nares

BOAS is not the only medical issue facing flat-faced breeds. In addition to short noses and small skulls, these dogs also tend to feature tiny nostrils, wrinkled faces, and bulging eyes. The small nostrils of flat-faced breeds make breathing through their noses difficult, and many dogs require surgical corrections. This condition is known as stenotic nares, and can actually cause a dog to develop BOAS. This condition is hereditary, so it is important for potential owners to check the medical history of a dog’s parents and try to purchase a dog from a reputable breeder. This is not always plausible, however, as it can be difficult to tell if a breeder is responsible and because many owners adopt these dogs from shelters where the medical history of each dog is not known.

The wrinkles that are typical of flat-faced dogs, while cute, are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and must be cleaned frequently to avoid skin infections from taking hold. Eye issues are also common in these breeds since the eyes protrude from the sockets, leaving them vulnerable to scratches and bumps.

Considering it? Be prepared

Flat-faced breeds can make wonderful companions. In one study, researchers surveyed 2,000 owners of brachycephalic breeds and found that 93% would consider owning these dogs in the future and that 65% stated they would encourage others to own these breeds. Although these dogs are prone to many health issues, some experience only mild symptoms while others do not experience these problems at all. Even if your dog does not show signs of any medical issues, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind if you own or are planning to own a flat-faced breed.

Exercise

Flatt-Faced French Bulldog Running on Beach
French Bulldog Running on Beach

All dogs need to have at least some exercise to stay healthy. Taking your dog for walks, playing fetch, and just enjoying the outdoors are not only great ways to keep your dog active but are great ways to bond with your dog and stimulate their minds. While most dog owners don’t think twice about taking their dogs outdoors, owners of flat-faced breeds need to be very careful.

Because brachycephalic dogs like English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and pugs have such short noses, it can be difficult for them to take deep breaths during physical activity. These dogs often also have trouble panting, as their flattened skulls result in narrow airways. This can be especially dangerous if the dog is outside in high temperatures, as they won’t be able to effectively regulate their body temperature. Because of this, flat-faced breeds are at a higher risk for suffering heatstroke than other dogs, and so owners should limit the time their dogs spend in the heat.

Collars/Harnesses

In addition to monitoring their dogs’ exercise, owners of flat-faced breeds should be careful about what type of equipment they use on their dogs. Because these dogs have restricted airways, using a collar on walks can cause too much pressure on the neck, making it very difficult for the dog to breathe. Flat-faced dogs also have eyes that protrude from their sockets, and can actually fall out of the socket if there is too much pressure on the eyelid.

For these reasons, owners of flat-faced breeds should never use a collar for walking their dogs, and should, instead, use a harness that does not put pressure on their dog’s necks.

Is it ethical to breed Brachycephalic Dogs?

Brachycephalic Dog Skull
Brachycephalic Dog Skull

Many veterinarians and dog professionals feel that breeding flat-faced dogs is unethical and should be stopped or, at least, should be bred to have longer muzzles. With so many health issues stemming from these dogs’ selectively bred features, it is easy to understand why people feel that continuing to breed these dogs is wrong. In spite of their health problems, however, demand for these dogs continues to rise.

Many people are unaware of the severity of medical issues these dogs can face, while others are blinded by their adorable looks. If you are considering owning a flat-faced dog, it is important to be aware of the problems these dogs are likely to have, so you will be able to provide your dog with the best care possible.