Crufts has finally arrived, but with Battersea performing more surgeries on flat-faced dogs than ever before, animal welfare advocates are struggling to watch as dog after dog in the show ring are celebrated for having physical features associated with serious health issues.
Is enough being done to save and protect the welfare of our dogs?
From dogs who are at high risk of problems with their spine or hips to those who can’t breathe freely because of the their flat faces, the RSPCA and other welfare and veterinary organisations are calling on breeders to protect the health and welfare of some of the UK’s most popular dog breeds.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Hens said, “Like all animal lovers we love to see the bond between dogs and their owners on display at Crufts and always enjoy watching healthy, happy dogs flying around an agility course; but we find it difficult to watch as judges choose their winners with titles often going to dogs with visibly exaggerated features that are associated with serious health issues.
“Is enough being done to save and protect the welfare of our dogs? We’re really concerned that the answer is a resounding no. We believe this will continue to be the case because rather than addressing the cause we are trying to fix the symptoms. Fundamentally it is breeding practices that need to be changed.”
Irresponsible selective breeding produces serious health issues to popular breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs. Breeding often closely related dogs in order to achieve a certain look has caused high levels of inbreeding; the animal welfare charity is calling for approaches such as evidence-based outcrossing to counteract this.
Lisa continued, “Sadly, some of our breeds have become so inbred that there’s very little room to breed away from their physical and genetic issues without introducing new genetic material, such as outcrossing. So even when responsible breeders are identifying the healthiest dogs to breed from, there may be so few that by eliminating less healthy dogs from breeding stock, genetic diversity keeps decreasing. And that can increase the risk of inherited diseases like cancer and blindness.
“We know that many breeders absolutely dote on their dogs and the responsible breeders who are trying to improve practices should be supported. While there are individual breeders and clubs who are outcrossing to different breeds in order to create dogs who are less exaggerated and less inbred, we need systematic change to breeding practices and standards so that all breeders are prioritising the health, welfare and temperament of their dogs above their appearance, above tradition, above breed standards, above ‘the norm’.”
Lisa added, “There is no doubt this is a complicated issue and we’re not saying that outcrossing is simple, risk-free or instantaneous, but it could be the only answer to improving the health of pedigree dogs. To save and protect the dogs we love, surely a different approach is required if we’re serious about breeding dogs who can have a better chance of a happy, healthy life doing the things they love and if we are serious about breeding dogs to be dogs, not just for us.”
The RSPCA promotes The Puppy Contract which supports responsible breeders and gives them a tool to demonstrate the care and measures they have taken to breed happy, healthy puppies. The charity is also part of the UK Brachycephalic Working Group and supports the British Veterinary Association’s #breedtobreathe campaign which aims to raise awareness of the issues brachycephalic animals face as a result of their breeding.