“But he’s like my baby……..”

Imagine you are pregnant with your first child. A routine ultrasound scan reveals severe brachycephalic deformities (a shortening of the skull) in your unborn daughter. Her skull structure means that her airway will be narrowed and obstructed and her eyes and face will be incorrectly positioned. She will suffer from lifelong breathing difficulties, painful eye and skin conditions, and possible blindness. The common cold could kill her and she may need repeated surgeries on her eyes, face and throat. Any significant exertion will cause her to collapse from oxygen deprivation, and a minor incident could make her eyes prolapse out of their sockets. She will have to stay indoors on warm summer days, and if she wants to have children of her own she may not be able to give birth normally.

This situation would be a tragedy for most parents-to-be, one that they would do almost anything to avoid. Yet people will spend £2000 or more choosing this for their pet dog [4]. The brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, are more desirable and fashionable than ever. Cats are not unaffected either- see your nearest Persian for details- although they arguably suffer less by virtue of their more sedentary lifestyle. So why this different outlook for animals? Although they may have differences in self-awareness of their own appearance, their sentience and capacity to suffer is not in doubt [2].

As a veterinary surgeon, I have an obligation to safeguard animal welfare. This was the oath I took on graduation. I must treat these dogs, and the pain and suffering inflicted on them by human choices, knowing that there are many thousands of healthy but unwanted dogs destroyed each year. It is difficult to support the claim that an anatomically deformed pet is a better companion than one with a healthy conformation. When I have questioned an owner’s decision to buy an unhealthy dog like this, the near-universal response is: “I know… but he’s like my baby… “.

If he or she was their actual baby, they would probably be crowdfunding private health care to pay for what was necessary to give them a shot at an enjoyable life. When it comes to their dog, they enjoy the validation of friends and family (“ooh she’s just so cute…”), and even sometimes that of veterinary professionals, but when it comes to the cost of treating the many problems these animals suffer from, they are strangers to reality. It’s well established that neotenization (preferential selection for juvenile characteristics) of pets has helped them to be successfully domesticated [1], but has it gone too far?

Brachycephalic dogs are not the only ones who suffer because of their deliberately selected anatomy. Dogs such as Dachshunds and Corgis, with cartilage deficits, do not grow legs in proportion to their body, causing spinal disease, pain and arthritis. Shar Peis lack an essential protein which gives their skin elasticity- the wrinkles that people find so endearing result in recurrent skin infections, plus painful eye and ear conditions.

There is an important conceptual difference between breeds like this and those who have ‘normal’ anatomy but inherited disease. The latter can be bred out. Anatomical disease is unavoidable if it is inherent in a preferred “breed standard”. The English Bulldog’s conformation is now so extreme that recent genetic analysis showed its gene pool to be beyond help [3]. But you will still see adverts for bulldog pups citing “healthy type”. The refusal of the Kennel Club to acknowledge this, despite their empty rhetoric about dog welfare, leaves vets with no choice but to do what they can- trying not to offend their clients while also pulling off the impossible feat of fulfilling the oath taken on entering the profession. How do you “do the best for the animals under your care” when a client wants you to help them breed bulldogs?

Many dog lovers have simply never considered the ethical issues involved in their choice of pet. They love their dog deeply and look after him or her responsibly. They simply aren’t aware, and haven’t thought about whether it is morally right to breed and buy dogs who are born with guaranteed negative welfare. Take away the cultural tunnel vision, and surely they could find a dog aesthetically desirable without resorting to cruelty by anatomy? There is no life without suffering, for anyone, but would they get less pleasure from a companion who was at least born with a fighting chance?

1. Beck, A. M. (2014). The biology of the human-animal bond. Animal Frontiers 4(3): 32-36.

2. Broom DM (2014). The qualities that make up sentience. In: Sentience and Animal Welfare. Oxfordshire.

3. Pedersen N.C. et al (2016). Genetic assessment of the English Bulldog. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 3, 6.

4. Pets4homes.co.uk (2016). English Bulldog Dogs and Puppies for sale in the UK. [online] Available at http://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pets4homes/home.nsf/dogsforsale! [Accessed 02/11/16].

25 thoughts on ““But he’s like my baby……..”

  1. I don’t know how vets and their staff bite their tongues when they see evidence, daily, of seriously poor choices, poor care and poor training on behalf of animals from their human customers, so many of whom, have no desire or intention to change anything for the better. Sad state of affairs 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Because they have to balance trying to do what’s right vs. actually maintaining their jobs/reputation. The general populace doesn’t treat their veterinary staff in any way like they’d treat their own medical staff. It’s so easy for a veterinarian to cross a dog owner enough for a flood of drama, threats against the clinics, horrible reviews online, bullshit spread through their community, etc. Not to mention the loss of income that comes with all of that.

      Like

  2. There are absolutely no words to express the disgusting and selfishness actions of what people do for that oh so perfect and cute thing. Doesn’t seem to be at all relevant to the animals health and wellbeing! GREED AND NEED sums it up! Wake up everyone this just can’t be tolerated

    Like

  3. I heartily agree with the article and have often wondered why these poor dogs were bred like this. It seemed to be for fashion or to make money. Also docking tails particularly of horses who desperately need them for controlling flies on them!! Thankfully these practises seem to be dying out. Humans have a lot to answer for!!

    Like

  4. However, be aware that some of us rescue these dogs after they have been rejected by ignorant owners and we do our best to ensure they live out their days in comfort and free from distress. My one pug was once run alongside a bicycle for 6 miles!! She can barely breath because of her short airway, I cannot imagine what she went through! Some humans disgust me. Dogs are more worthy of our love, trust and time.
    Unless these breeders are made accountable and animal abuser is more severely punished, nothing will change.

    Like

  5. Look, I understand where you’re coming from and agree with what you are trying to say. However I will also call you out on being unbelievably insensitive to parents who -like myself – have experienced foetal abnormalities and often been traumatised by the loss of a very much wanted baby, either through miscarriage or termination.
    You might want to reconsider how you phrase things.

    Like

    1. I’m sorry to hear of your experience. Unfortunately, comparisons with humans are a widely used tool in animal ethics, without which the point would be lost. It’s always going to be emotive, if it weren’t there would not be much generation of energy for change.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a pug, and as a RVN I knew what I was letting myself in for, but he has no breathing issues, and his eyes don’t bulge. I also thing not all Brachycephalic should be labeled the same! They may be the same shape, but these issues aren’t apparent at all. As are aggressive breeds.
    My pug can keep up with a spaniel on an 8 mile walk through Welsh countryside. Without any issues.

    Like

    1. Hi, it’s sad to hear of an RVN choosing this breed. I’m glad your pug doesn’t have any problems… YET! But the real point here is whether it is ethically acceptable to breed animals with health-limiting deformities. Even if they’re lucky enough not to get ill, is that something we want to promote?

      Like

  7. Congrats on the well written article.. The saddest part is that those that breed and buy these animals are the ones inclined to be the most deaf and obtuse about this issue. The stupidity of humans deliberately breeding deformities into any animal is evenly matched by the stupidity of people that see them as ‘cute’ (or whatever) whilst ignoring the obvious. Even worse is the supposed governing bodies that have failed to halt this. Looking back at any early breeds book it’s difficult to even recognise what some of them have now become – gone from healthy robust animals into the poor things they have become now.

    Like

  8. The most damning argument against breeding pedigree pets is the one you so compellingly express here: the blighted animals it produces and the suffering they endure. I’d like to go a step further, though, and propose that all breeding of dogs and cats, whether it generates unhealthy individuals or not, should cease – at least until their numbers become more manageable.

    You say that when anatomical abnormality is inherent to a breed, poor welfare is “guaranteed” and the only humane course is complete phase-out. You explain, however, that breeding out inherited disease in future generations of otherwise anatomically sound animals may be possible. This is certainly preferable to perpetuating disease-prone animals, but nevertheless I feel it should be discouraged simply because it brings more puppies and kittens into the world.

    If this sounds prejudiced against extant pedigree animals, let me hasten to add that all pets, from pavement special to pure-bred alike, should be cherished – as indeed they are by most owners. I have a predilection for those azure-eyed eccentrics, Siamese cats, myself. Along with fire station Dalmatians, the Queen’s corgis and Lassie, they are integral to cultural history.

    But however attached we are to these breeds (and they are breeds, let’s remember, not distinct species),1 surely we shouldn’t be deliberately generating more of them when, as you also mention, there are so many strays, each equally special in their own way. Adopting strays not only dramatically improves their welfare, but it reduces the incidence of diseases such as rabies; euthanasia of healthy animals; and feral cat and dog predation.2,3

    We must also consider the wild animals struggling to survive on dwindling natural resources. While many species teeter on the brink of extinction, populations of those most useful to humans keep expanding. Compare, for example, the number of tigers (3000, roughly) to that of domestic cats (600 million). Overpopulation of domesticated species is a function of our overpopulation (7.4 billion at last count): more of us means greater demand for companion animals and the resources to care for them.4,5,6

    In this time of global environmental crisis and mass extinction, it is inappropriate to add to already excessive companion animal numbers. Nor is it appropriate to value the aesthetics of animals over their welfare. They are not cultural artefacts to be admired; this may have been forgiveable centuries ago when famous breeds were first established (and were then less anatomically abnormal),7 but not in 2016 with the benefit of knowledge about their sentience and capacity for suffering.

    The Kennel Club’s introduction of the “Scrufts” competition, where mongrels are judged on looks and temperament, is one example of how we can move towards a wider definition of canine “attractiveness”, and, more importantly, towards making health, well-being and longevity the most sought-after attributes when choosing a pet.8

    Humans and their non-human best friends have co-habited for centuries, and long may we continue to do so. But let this be in a way befitting not centuries past but the current century, with a focus less on superficial values and more on the welfare of those with whom we share this finite planet.

    References

    1. Rischkowsky, B and Pilling, D. (2007). The state of the world’s animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Available from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a1250e/a1250e00.htm [Accessed 16 November 2016.]
    2. Loss, S. (2013). The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications. 4. Article number: 1396. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380 [Accessed 14 November 2016.]
    3. Young, J (2011). Is Wildlife Going to the Dogs? Impacts of Feral and Free-roaming Dogs. BioScience. 61 (2): 125-132.

    4. Guynup, S (2016). How many tigers are there really? National Geographic. 20 April 2016. Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160420-tigers-conservation-trafficking-world-wildlife-fund-panthera/ [Accessed 16 November 2016.]

    5. Gehrt, S et al (2010). Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation. 156-157. Johns Hopkins University: JHU Press.

    6. Population Reference Bureau (2016). World Population Data. Available from: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2016/2016-world-population-data-sheet.aspx [Accessed 16 November 2016.]

    7. Lewis, T (2016). Here’s what popular dog breeds looked like before and after 100 years of breeding. Business Insider Australia. 18 February 2016. Available from: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-dog-breeds-looked-100-years-ago-2016-2?r=US&IR=T
    [Accessed 18 November 2016.]

    8. Philipson, A (2013). Crufts to bring mongrels centre stage. The Telegraph. 20 February 2013. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/pets/9882115/Crufts-to-bring-mongrels-centre-stage.html [Accessed 16 November 2016.]

    Like

      1. And I couldn’t agree less. Despite being a campaigner on purebred dog health, I feel passionately that we must keep breeding dogs – just in a much better way.

        I am also so passionate about rescue that I run one that has rehomed 600 dogs in the last 7 or so years – but still believe that we need a reliable supply of healthy, temperamentally sound, well-socialised dogs with a known ancestry (crossbred as well as purebred) bred by people who care to be great pets/great assistance dogs/great working dogs. These dogs do not often end up in rescue.

        Sometimes a puppy from a known line simply *is* the best choice.

        There is a lot that is bad about dog-breeding, but we need to reform it, not stop it. There’s also the small matter of what would happen practically and genetically if all dog-breeding stopped tomorrow. How would you continue after the shelters have cleared?

        BTW, there is no dog over-population problem in Sweden. To meet the demand there, they import them from countries such as Ireland.

        Like

      2. Sure, but yes- after the shelters have cleared and the thousands that are killed every year are re-homed instead. Have you ever had to euthanase dogs because there’s nowhere for them to go? What about the stress on people who do?

        Like

  9. The most damning argument against breeding pedigree pets is the one you so compellingly express here: the blighted animals it produces and the suffering they endure. I’d like to go a step further, though, and propose that all breeding of dogs and cats, whether it generates unhealthy individuals or not, should cease – at least until their numbers become more manageable.

    You say that when anatomical abnormality is inherent to a breed, poor welfare is “guaranteed” and the only humane course is complete phase-out. You explain, however, that breeding out inherited disease in future generations of otherwise anatomically sound animals may be possible. This is certainly preferable to perpetuating disease-prone animals, but nevertheless I feel it should be discouraged simply because it brings more puppies and kittens into the world.

    If this sounds prejudiced against extant pedigree animals, let me hasten to add that all pets, from pavement special to pure-bred alike, should be cherished – as indeed they are by most owners. I have a predilection for those azure-eyed eccentrics, Siamese cats, myself. Along with fire station Dalmatians, the Queen’s corgis and Lassie, they are integral to cultural history.

    But however attached we are to these breeds (and they are breeds, let’s remember, not distinct species),1 surely we shouldn’t be deliberately generating more of them when, as you also mention, there are so many strays, each equally special in their own way. Adopting strays not only dramatically improves their welfare, but it reduces the incidence of diseases such as rabies; euthanasia of healthy animals; and feral cat and dog predation.2,3

    We must also consider the wild animals struggling to survive on dwindling natural resources. While many species teeter on the brink of extinction, populations of those most useful to humans keep expanding. Compare, for example, the number of tigers (3000, roughly) to that of domestic cats (600 million). Overpopulation of domesticated species is a function of our overpopulation (7.4 billion at last count): more of us means greater demand for companion animals and the resources to care for them.4,5,6

    In this time of global environmental crisis and mass extinction, it is inappropriate to add to already excessive companion animal numbers. Nor is it appropriate to value the aesthetics of animals over their welfare. They are not cultural artefacts to be admired; this may have been forgiveable centuries ago when famous breeds were first established (and were then less anatomically abnormal),7 but not in 2016 with the benefit of knowledge about their sentience and capacity for suffering.

    The Kennel Club’s introduction of the “Scrufts” competition, where mongrels are judged on looks and temperament, is one example of how we can move towards a wider definition of canine “attractiveness”, and, more importantly, towards making health, well-being and longevity the most sought-after attributes when choosing a pet.8

    Humans and their non-human best friends have co-habited for centuries, and long may we continue to do so. But let this be in a way befitting not centuries past but the current century, with a focus less on superficial values and more on the welfare of those with whom we share this finite planet.

    Word count: 524

    References

    1. Rischkowsky, B and Pilling, D. (2007). The state of the world’s animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Available from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a1250e/a1250e00.htm [Accessed 16 November 2016.]
    2. Loss, S. (2013). The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications. 4. Article number: 1396. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380 [Accessed 14 November 2016.]
    3. Young, J (2011). Is Wildlife Going to the Dogs? Impacts of Feral and Free-roaming Dogs. BioScience. 61 (2): 125-132.

    4. Guynup, S (2016). How many tigers are there really? National Geographic. 20 April 2016. Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160420-tigers-conservation-trafficking-world-wildlife-fund-panthera/ [Accessed 16 November 2016.]

    5. Gehrt, S et al (2010). Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation. 156-157. Johns Hopkins University: JHU Press.

    6. Population Reference Bureau (2016). World Population Data. Available from: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2016/2016-world-population-data-sheet.aspx [Accessed 16 November 2016.]

    7. Lewis, T (2016). Here’s what popular dog breeds looked like before and after 100 years of breeding. Business Insider Australia. 18 February 2016. Available from: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-dog-breeds-looked-100-years-ago-2016-2?r=US&IR=T
    [Accessed 18 November 2016.]

    8. Philipson, A (2013). Crufts to bring mongrels centre stage. The Telegraph. 20 February 2013. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/pets/9882115/Crufts-to-bring-mongrels-centre-stage.html [Accessed 16 November 2016.]

    Like

    1. The two aspects are two sides of the same coin.. same point though- we think it’s cute so we make dogs suffer. Completely arbitrary choice of phenotype for no purpose- why is that something worth improving? Human life would be unbearable without wrinkly dogs? Hardly.

      Like

  10. No breed standard should be permitted where it is causing dogs to be born with these anatomical deformities that cause pain and suffering and impact negatively on the animals’ welfare. The choices made when breeding in these traits are not for the dogs’ benefit so therefore we have to assume that such decisions are made for perceived aesthetic benefits that humans choose. No animal should have to suffer because a human wants it to look a certain way. The Kennel Club has shown itself unable to check the excesses of these extreme breeding practices so it seems surprising that more robust enforcement of animal welfare laws have not been used to prevent this from happening.

    A large amount of these dogs such as pugs end up in rescues because their owners cannot cope with the cost of their vet bills or manage the specialist care that they need due to their medical needs. Some end up being sold on or given away through free ad sites, a dangerous route for any dog. Yet more are sadly used purely as breeding machines in puppy farming, whether large scale or by backyard breeders making their holiday money, because there is still a market for the ‘cute’ puppies with the big eyes and the squashy faces.

    It would be better for people to adopt healthy dogs from rescues instead of buying unhealthy & welfare-compromised puppies. A rescue dog can be a happy and healthy companion despite not having its breeding or lineage known.

    Like

    1. Absolutely- there are literally thousands of healthy dogs with no behaviour issues killed every year. The pure breds don’t appear in the stats so much because they often get re-homed via breed-specific networks. And if you included greyhounds……. There simply cannot be a justification for killing dogs of one type and producing more of another type. The mental stress on the people who have to kill these dogs, bag them up and incinerate them is rarely considered. 80% of the world’s dogs are strays- we really, really don’t need any more. The reasons given for not adopting rarely have evidential support, they’re just what people want to believe.

      Like

    1. That source does not give a source. I guess it might be true across the whole word, but it isn’t true for major dog owning countries.

      US dog population: about 80 million; with about 10 per cent ending up in shelters and around 5% euthanised (Ref: HSUS). (With Natan Winograd maintaining that many of these are due to problems in how the system works – i.e. that rehoming figures could be improved considerably).

      UK dog population: about 8 million. Last stats showed about 100,000 lost or abandoned per annum with about half reclaimed. About 5,000 PTS. (About half considered adoptable).

      Australia dog population: 4 million. About 200k stray/abandoned dogs PTS per annum. (Australia RSPCA)

      Italy dog pop: 8 million dogs; 800,000 strays (about 10 per cent) .

      Ireland dog pop: 400,000 dogs. 13,000 strays; 2,000 PTS. (2015 Government stats).

      Sweden: 1 million dogs; no strays

      As you can see, it varies a lot – but it is nowhere near the 80 per cent figure quoted if you look at only the 1st world dog-owning countries (for want of a better term) and, actually, the shelter supply would be incapable in most countries of meeting the demand for dogs even in one year.

      But of course we need to be doing everything we can to reduce the stray dog PTS stats (and in some countries they ARE dropping – e.g. in 1997 in the UK 23% of stray/abandoned dogs were PTS and it is now 7%). Far too many healthy dogs are still killed.

      But, for me, the solution lies in education, neutering and improved shelter policies rather than stopping all breeding of dogs – because a) the shelter population cannot meet the demand and b) there *are* people doing it right out there whose dogs do not end up in the shelter system. We need more of these. And c) there is a conservation/preservation argument. For some breeds it would be like saying… let’s stop breeding giant pandas because there are too many animals in zoos. By the time there are less animals in zoos, you will have lost the Pandas. These are also usually breeds that you never, EVER see in a shelter.

      The focus is often – rightfully – on the breeds we have messed up. But there are many beautiful, functional and still healthy breeds/crossbreeds out there (some being bred outside the kennel club system) whose loss would be felt.

      A more sensible/nuanced approach would be to look (as indeed people are) at the types of dog that end up being euthanised (e.g. greyhounds/pitbulls/staffies) and work harder on what can be done about that.

      Like

      1. I don’t disagree with most of what you’re saying. 1st world countries couldn’t meet the demand for dogs with strays from developing countries for a whole load of reasons, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that..

        Also I think very few people are advocating a total and permanent ban on dog breeding- not sure if that’s what you think is being argued for here? Not by me anyway, just enough to stop the killing of healthy ones, and stopping breeding types of dogs that should never have existed in the first place. People are looking at various things, but it still goes on year after year, and in some ways is getting worse as we become more selfish and consumerist as a society.

        The official figures on PTS are only a proportion (unknown) of the total amount- there are many private PTSs that never appear in stats.

        Education- absolutely, of canine behaviour, canine needs and canine costs in particular. I don’t really accept a conservation argument for dog breeds- the characteristics of most breeds are entirely arbitrary and originate from dubious human decisions. There is no inherent reason for them to continue on the basis of tradition. A bit like the metaphor of the Panda- there’s no particular reason to save them ahead of other species except that the dominant species on the planet (us) has deemed them aesthetically pleasing.

        Better regulation of dodgy breeders would be a tremendously helpful place to start. Just the other day I heard of a pyramid puppy selling scheme which is widespread in a particular area of the UK- the breeder sells a puppy on a payment plan to someone who can’t afford it, with a condition of sale being that they breed from them and return a bitch puppy to the breeder. None of the parties have the provision to look after them properly. An endless chain of neglect, pain and suffering 😦

        Like

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