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Reference Desk May 2012

Many Short-nosed Dog Owners Don't Acknowledge Pet's Breathing Problems, UK Researchers Find

    LONDON, United Kingdom, May 10, 2012—Owners of certain popular “short-nosed” dog breeds, including pugs, bulldogs, Pekingese and French bulldogs, are unknowingly putting their pets’ welfare at risk and not seeking essential treatment because they consider their pets’ signs of breathing difficulties to be "normal" for that breed, according to a new study from the Royal Veterinary College published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) in the journal Animal Welfare. Other affected breeds in the study included the Boston terrier, Dogue de Bordeaux, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and short-nosed crossbreeds.

    Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College surveyed the owners of 285 dogs referred to the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals over the course of 5 months for all clinical services. A total of 31 dogs affected by brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) were identified, and their owners surveyed. The researchers found the marked disparity between owners’ reports of severe clinical signs and their perceived lack of a breathing problem to be of great concern.

    All affected dogs were reported by their owners to snore (some even when awake), compared with less than 2% of unaffected dogs. Over two-thirds of affected dogs were also reported to show breathing difficulties during exercise on a daily basis. Yet, 58% of owners of affected dogs stated that their dog did not currently have, or have a history of, breathing problems, despite reporting high frequency and severe clinical signs consistent with BOAS. This suggests that most owners of dogs with BOAS do not recognize the problem and do not seek veterinary advice to help alleviate welfare issues associated with the condition.

    Spontaneous comments were also provided by several owners of affected animals who declared that their pet did not suffer from breathing problems. These included “No to breathing problem – other than being  a Bulldog” and “(No,) but he is a Pug!”

    Rowena Packer from the Royal Veterinary College, who carried out the research, said: “Our study clearly shows that owners of brachycephalic dogs often dismiss the signs of this potentially severe breathing disorder as normal and are prepared to tolerate a high degree of respiratory compromise in their pets before seeking help. It may require a particularly acute attack, such as the dog losing consciousness, for owners to perceive a problem.”

    Dr Charlotte Burn, who led the research, said, “Short noses may make dogs look cute and human-like, but the frequent association with breathing difficulties means that owners need to be aware that this appearance can come with a serious cost to the animal.”

    “'Just because a problem is common, that doesn't make it less of a problem for the individuals who suffer it.”

    Packer continued, “We would urge dog owners not to simply dismiss abnormal breathing sounds and breathing difficulties as ‘normal’, and instead seek professional help if they notice any signs, as there may be things that can be done in both the short and long term to provide a better a quality of life for affected dogs.”

    “Without serious appreciation of the clinical signs of BOAS, affected dogs may be left untreated to suffer for the rest of their lives, may continue to be used in breeding programs, and efforts to reduce the number of dogs affected by this condition may be hampered.”

    James Kirkwood, Chief Executive and Scientific Director of UFAW, which publishes Animal Welfare, commented, “It is likely that many other genetic welfare problems, caused by selectively breeding for particular physical characteristics, are also perceived by pet owners as ‘normal’. This could be a major constraint to working towards eliminating the problems since pet owners, through their pet-buying decisions for example, can pressure changes in breeding practices that would improve the health and welfare of pets. Lack of information has been a problem for pet owners and UFAW has addressed this by developing a web-based information resource that describes genetic conditions and their welfare consequences on a breed-by-breed basis. It can be seen at Genetic welfare problems of companion animals.

    Source: Royal Veterinary College


    Did you know... Dogs remain the most popular pet in America, as 36.5% of all households own a dog, compared with 30.4% owning cats. But cats are still the most common pet (74.1 million), compared with 70 million dogs. Cat owners are more likely to own multiple cats—2.1 per household—compared with dog owners, who average 1.6 dogs per household.Read More

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