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The pug is a very popular brachycephalic dog (with a “squashed” muzzle). Relatively small (about 30 cm at the withers), it is appreciated for its gentle and cheerful temperament. However, this breed is subject to frequent health problems, so much so that veterinarians question the well-being of these animals. A study now shows that their health is so fragile that they can no longer even be considered typical dogs.
Flat-nosed dogs — like pugs, French bulldogs, and English bulldogs — are prone to brachycephalic syndrome, which refers to a set of upper airway abnormalities inherent in this morphology. Affected dogs exhibit mild to severe breathing difficulties, breathe noisily and are easily short of breath. A team from the Royal Veterinary College in the UK looked specifically at the health of pugs. Their study shows that they display more predispositions than other breeds for many common health problems.
The popularity of pugs has risen sharply over the past two decades: annual registration data from the UK Kennel Club shows an increase from 2116 registrations in 2005 to 6033 registrations in 2020. Success explained by the appearance of the pug animal : ” The Pug’s small stature, coupled with a flat face, large head, bulging eyes and wrinkled forehead, can elicit positive emotions by conforming to the ‘baby pattern’ facial configuration, which triggers innate reactions of ailment in humans “, note the researchers in their study. However, you have to think carefully before adopting (and becoming attached to) this type of dog.
An “atypical” dog from the point of view of health
The facial morphology of pugs is not only associated with brachycephalic syndrome, but also with corneal ulceration or dystocia (which refers to the inability of a female dog to give birth naturally, without assistance). Obesity has also been reported as a common Pug disorder. Despite a growing evidence base, there are still gaps in health information about pugs compared to the general dog population. This new study therefore aimed to compare the odds of common disorders between Pugs and other breeds.
The researchers collected clinical information from UK veterinary practices participating in the VetCompass survey; they randomly selected data from 4,308 pugs and 21,835 dogs of other breeds, which had received veterinary care in the UK in 2016. From clinical records, the team identified all disorders diagnosed in each group in 2016, then listed the most common disorders for each.
Data analysis shows that Pugs are almost twice as likely to suffer from one or more disorders each year compared to other dogs. This breed appears to have diverged considerably from the others, as data reveals that Pugs have different ratings (susceptibility or protection) for 30 out of 40 common disorders considered; more than 76% of these differences were predispositions. These disorders included (from highest to lowest risk): brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome, stenotic nostrils, corneal ulceration, skinfold dermatitis, and auditory discharge.
” We now know that several serious health issues are linked to the extreme body shape of pugs, which many humans find so cute. Dr Dan O’Neill, associate professor of companion animal epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“Attractive” but very problematic features
The results of this study do not surprise Dr Myfanwy Hill, a veterinarian at the University of Cambridge. ” The common image we have of pugs, where they are smiling and sticking their tongues out, seeming to pant, is not the ‘happy’ image we may imagine. In reality, they are forced to breathe through their mouths, as they cannot breathe effectively through their noses. “, she explains to the BBC. Because of these breathing difficulties, these dogs are also very sensitive to heat.
Pugs’ skulls are smaller than average, but their organs haven’t followed the same trend; this is what explains his many health problems, explains the specialist. Skin infections thus result from the fact that the skin of their face is too extensive in relation to the latter, and forms many folds. As for their “cute” little curled tail, it results from a vertebral malformation that can lead to a herniated disc.
The study also shows that Pugs are less likely than other breeds to have a heart murmur, a lipoma, to injure themselves or to show aggression – which confirms in passing that Pugs have a very sweet temperament, particularly suitable for young children. But specialists are now calling for the common sense of the population: it is essential to take into account the quality of life that this dog endures before making it your pet.
To reduce these health issues and ensure Pugs’ well-being, their body shape should shift to a more subdued conformation. ” As long as these extreme and unhealthy characteristics persist, we will continue to urge potential owners not to purchase brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs. said Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association.