Norway banned the breeding of brachycephalic dogs – is it time for other countries to follow suit?,Robyn Lowe,The Skeptic

Last month, Norway banned the breeding of Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, with the Oslo District Court ruling that selective breeding, which leaves them prone to health problems, breached Norway’s Animal Welfare Act. The ruling comes after years of attempts by veterinary and animal professionals to highlight the severe and negative health consequences of brachycephalic breeds like these. Despite raised public awareness, the market for these breeds still thrives – which prompts the question: why?

‘Brachycephalic’ is the term used for a number of breeds who are bred to have shorter skulls than is usually typical of the species, commonly resulting in a large-eyed appearance and a flat, short muzzle. Brachycephalic dogs have an array of health concerns intrinsically linked to their conformation, ranging from eye disease, respiratory disease, dystocia (difficulty giving birth), spinal disease, heat stroke and pneumonia to name but a few.

It has been shown that owners of brachycephalic dogs’ value the aesthetic appearance of brachycephalic dogs, along with their behaviour and ability to fit into a sedentary lifestyle, but this comes at the expense of the animal’s longevity and health. Over time, the desire for these breeds has led to an acceptance of health issues as ‘normal’ for the breed. This normalisation phenomenon creates a subconscious or cognitive bias, whereby the general public are inadvertently accepting certain attributes that are typical of brachycephalic breeds as falling within the domain of good health. Many owners do not recognise these concerning signs as an issue, despite the fact that in normocephalic dogs, these same clinical attributes would not be accepted as good health.

For those of us in the veterinary industry, the desire and motivation of owners to purchase dogs with such clear links to health consequences is concerning. Here in the UK, the Animal Welfare Regulations (2018) state:

No dog may be kept for breeding if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype, phenotype or state of health that breeding from it could have a detrimental effect on its health or welfare or the health or welfare of its offspring.

Despite their exaggerated morphology, the demand for brachycephalic breeds has only grown. We are breeding a culture of normalisation and acceptance of poor health. Veterinary professionals and animal welfare advocates continue to attempt education, but if the public value appearance and character over longevity and health, where do we stand in education attempts?

French Bulldogs are fashionable and have short snouts with associated health problems

Over the years there have been various education attempts by veterinary professionals, organisations, veterinary practices, rescues and animal welfare regulators alike to educate the general public on health implications of brachycephalic pets. The #EndTheTrend and British Veterinary Associations Breed to Breath campaign, and Vets Against Brachycephalism have all pushed this issue into the media spotlight. However the RVC note that although owners of brachycephalic animals are completely devoted to them, many owners still interpret their animals’ sign of distress – such as noisy breathing, exercise intolerance or snoring from brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) – as normal. The RVC hope to investigate the effectiveness of veterinary-led campaigns at raising awareness about health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs to better understand how veterinary efforts can be best directed to maximise their impact.

As evidence mounts on the health issues caused by selective breeding, perhaps it is time for other countries and animal welfare authorities to follow Norway’s stricter stance on the breeding of dogs who clearly violate the Animal Welfare Regulations guidance. Currently the area is poorly regulated and rarely sanctioned. For substantial and meaningful changes to be made, we need to see a harsher sanctions for those breaching the Animal Welfare Regulations, easier and more proactive reporting facilities, and a systemic societal shift in perception of these breeds.

It is a gargantuan task to start changing the societal attitudes towards brachycephalic dogs in order to raise enough awareness as to their suffering, and ultimately reduce the breeding of dogs with such exaggerated conformation. As the market is flooded with unethical breeders for designer breeds, as long as the demand is present and owners are willing to pay thousands for a dog that is likely to experience substantial health and welfare implications, the breeders will continue to provide this service. When demand drops, the breeding stops.

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The breeding of brachycephalic dogs like bulldogs and King Charles spaniels results in health problems that should not be ignored or normalised
The post Norway banned the breeding of brachycephalic dogs – is it time for other countries to follow suit? appeared first on The Skeptic.