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The A-Z of everything veterinary (and animals): B is for Brachycephalic Animals

07 Apr 2024 6 minute read
A to Z with Siôn Rowlands

Siôn Rowlands 

B is for Brachycephalic Animals

It simply means short (brachy) head (cephalic), nothing more elaborate than that.

From Boxers and Pugs to French and British Bulldogs, all distinguishable by their common features; broad heads and shortened noses, often unflatteringly termed flat-facedbreeds.

There are also brachycephalic cat breeds, the Persian and Burmese, for example.

It will not come as a shock to anyone to hear that brachy breeds have been exceptionally popular choices for new dog owners over recent years.

It is widely accepted that the covid-19 pandemic drove an exponential increase in the purchasing of puppies, with breeders charging and new owners paying eye-watering fees for their must-have pets.

Some sources report seeing French Bulldog prices exceeding £7,000 for a new pup, with seemingly many breeds in demand and all with a new covid premiumsurcharge.

The wheels quickly came off as the demand outstripped the supply, resulting in an increase in both the wrong people entering the world of dog breeding and in illegally imported dogs.

One study (Packer, RVC.2023) estimated that 10% of puppies purchased in 2021, during the pandemic were imported, an increase of more than double the figure in 2019.

Data

The Kennel Club (KC.UK) holds and posts some interesting data on dog trends on its website. The values are different to the total number of all puppies born and sold in the UK, but the KC data certainly shows some indicative trends.

There was a sizeable increase in the number of puppies born, and registered, during the pandemic puppy boom, with 2021 seeing an approximately 40% increase from 2020.

The French Bulldog, the most popular brachy dog breed for some time saw registrations increase from near 33,000 (2019), to 39,266 (2020) and 54,074 in 2021.

Of course, all these extra new dog owners needed to find veterinary practices to register their dogs with (including those not registered with the KC).

Some non-brachy breeds have stood the test of time and remain very popular choices, the reliable Labrador being one stalwart.

Inevitably, with rising costs, owners have, when looking for their first or next dog, considered smaller dogs, with many owners now looking for breeds that will complement changes in lifestyle and their home set ups.

And, whilst there is considerable breed loyalty, there are multiple factors that can see owners scale down in size over time.

However, when you ask some owners, they remain adamant that they wont change from their preferred longer nose breeds to a brachy. For some, the desire to own a brachy breed is a mystery, even anathema.

Attraction

Its worth asking ourselves then, what do people see in the brachy breeds that others do not, what is their attraction? One theory is that brachy breeds are viewed as infant like.

During day-to-day problem-solving activities the brachy breeds are understood to look more frequently at their owners, possibly seeking help and resulting in the creation of bonds akin to those between parents and children.

Whilst in no way a scientific study, but Ive heard countless owners of Pugs and French Bulldogs over the years share their views on their brachy dogs, its like having another child in the house, he behaves like a naughty toddler.’ 

Of course, with the accessibility of social media, many brachy breeds have also found popularity in the lives of celebrities with a voice and an influence.

Those involved in providing veterinary services and canine animal care will be able to cite a list of legitimate health concerns associated with the brachy breeds. From breathing difficulties, to eye, skin, spinal and birthing issues, all potentially life-impacting problems.

Breathing

If we take one of the most common challenges; breathing difficulties, in examining the anatomical differences of the upper airways, there is no surprise that getting air into the lungs is a more difficult task for brachy breeds when comparing to those dogs with longer noses.

Many brachy breeds suffer with narrowed nostrils, immediately putting these dogs at a disadvantage, coupled then with many having longer soft palates which can partially obstruct their windpipes and some with windpipes of a smaller diameter (and other frequently seen anatomical disadvantages), all of which compound the difficulty in inhaling at rest, during exercise and even whilst sleeping.

In some of the worst examples of their breeds (brachy), breathing, when compounded by exercise, warm weather or even, for some, eating, becomes such an effort that significant problems can result e.g. heat exhaustion, fainting, choking, pneumonia etc

Veterinary teams will often advise owners not to breed from their animals when they identify various conditions and abnormalities, including temperament, general conformation etc. 

More specifically, certain brachy breeds can be assessed prior to breeding for respiratory function grading, with the intention of informing owners of dogs, with certain upper airway anatomical issues, that should not be bred from.

The advice given and the ensuing results are not an exact science, but is provided with the sole intention of abating negative outcomes and sparing animals from potentially crippling problems.

Family dog

In recent years our family had begun discussions on sourcing a dog, vigorously debating what size and breed. Id had always envisaged our first family dog being one that could join the us on long mountain walks and me the odd run.

Despite some careful planning our recently acquired beloved canine resident very much found his way in through the backdoor.

A one-eyed 3 month old, abandoned rescue French Bulldog, named Frank, joined us in August of last year.

He was everything I wasnt looking for in a dog, but since arriving he has nestled his head under the warm blanket of our familys love and is here to stay.

Heres the picture I foolishly sent my wife when I first came across Frank in the vet practice, it quickly became apparent that there was no turning back!

Frank (Photo Siôn Rowlands)

You can follow some of Franks adventures on our Instagram page.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: The Secret Life of a Vet by Siôn Rowlands is published by Two Roads and is available from all good bookshops.

Read the first instalment in this series here.


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