Brits Bash Pugs, American Dog Lovers Respond

It’s a good thing Instagram celebrity Doug the Pug lives in the United States.

If he were from the United Kingdom, he might confront an unexpected stigma this week after the British Veterinary Association called for prospective dog owners to avoid flat-faced dog breeds.

The warning targets canines of the brachycephalic variety, or dogs with little to no snout, like pugs, bulldogs, and shih tzus.

According to The Guardian, Sean Wensley, president of the BVA, said “prospective dog owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer a range of health issues throughout their lives, from eye ulcers to painful spine abnormalities and severe breathing difficulties that can result in otherwise preventable surgery.”

Many domestic canine lovers say the Brits are grossly overreacting.

Richard Goldstein, chief medical officer at Manhattan’s Animal Medical Center, explained that nearly all thoroughbreds will come with baggage because of their specializations; if you’re looking for a problem-free dog, he recommended swinging by a shelter and picking out a medium-sized mutt.

That said, Goldstein has his own brachycephalic pooch, an 8-year-old English toy spaniel he absolutely adores. 

“Our role is not to try to eliminate certain breeds or tell people that they shouldn’t get them,” said the vet. “I definitely feel like there’s a place for them, and I don’t feel like we should be discouraging the appropriate owner from adopting one.”

The American Kennel Club agrees with the message, writing that it “emphatically supports freedom of choice in selecting a pet.” 

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“AKC actively promotes efforts to ensure that people are educated, understand the demands of responsible ownership and have access to healthy, well-bred dogs that are right for them,” a spokesperson told NBC.

They emphasized “that breeding programs should be undertaken responsibly for the purpose of preserving breed characteristics and producing healthy, well-socialized purebred puppies… Owners should be diligent in the care and overall well-being of their dog by keeping track of their exercise, health visits, vaccinations and other preventative measures that aid in their dog maintaining its best health.”

All breeds have their pros and cons, and flat-faced canines do come with flaws.

Goldstein allowed that brachycephalic dogs are more prone to airway and back problems, and sometimes suffer from skin damage, like many breeds.

According to Julie Legred, executive director at the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, “brachycephalic breeds have an increased risk of complications during anesthesia.” But, she countered, by following protocols and using certified veterinary technicians, such surgical errors dramatically decrease.

Because the dogs’ faces are so close to the objects they sniff, their owners must be attentive, said Cynthia Cool, a pug breeder in Vacaville, California.. They’re also more sensitive to weather than other breeds. 

“If you’re walking the dog, you need to exercise them when it’s cooler as opposed to too warm outside,” she advised. 

In terms of life expectancy, Cool bragged that some of her pugs celebrated 16th birthdays. On average, the animals make it to 11 or 12, which is typical for a dog under 20 pounds. By contrast, Goldstein said that large dogs tend to have the shortest lives, with some considered geriatric at only 5 years old.

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John Little, president of the Bulldog Club of America, didn’t seem convinced about his favorite pooch’s deficiencies.  

“The fact is that the bulldog is an exceptional breed,” he added. “It’s a tremendous pet, and it has all the characteristics we want in it.”

Not all canine experts pushed back hard against the BVA’s recommendations.

The American Veterinary Medical Association said in a statement to NBC that flat-faced dogs and their associated physical attributes “that negatively affect the animal’s welfare should not be bred, as those characteristics and related problems are likely to be passed on to their puppies.” 

But rescues are a different story, the group said. 

“Existing dogs with these conditions should not be passed over for adoption as long as the potential owner is informed of the animal’s potential health risks and is willing to provide an appropriate lifestyle and necessary veterinary care as issues arise.”

Photo Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

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