Dr Samantha Gaines, dog welfare expert at RSPCA, was far from impressed by the exaggerated features of several dogs at Crufts 2022 – features which were celebrated despite being detrimental to the dogs’ welfare.
Brachycephalic (flat-flaced) dogs are prone to severe breathing issues that have a detrimental effect on their quality of life, and may require surgery to fix. Many breeds can be subject to genetic conditions as the result of careless breeding, but the situation becomes particularly dire when extreme features are deliberately bred for.
The health issues that come with a flat muzzle are so prevalent that a Norwegian court ruled recently that the breeding of the English bulldog was a violation of the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act. Animal welfare organisations and vets in the UK have been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue and put an end to the use of flat-faced animals in advertising; the RSPCA has recently launched its #SaveOurBreath campaign.
“Across all three dogs, exaggerated features were still very obvious, including flat faces, folded and wrinkled skin as well as short and curly tails”
Yet, despite all the campaigning and the pledges from the Kennel Club to work to improve the situation, dogs with exaggerated features keep being named Best in Breed and Best in Group at Crufts – with less extreme examples of the breed overlooked time and time again. This year was no exception.
Jemima Harrison, founder of CRUFFA (Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat-Faced Animals) and author of the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was far from impressed and called the choice for English Bulldog Best of Breed “very, very disappointing”.
CRUFTS 2022: Best of Breed Bulldog. Very, very disappointing. pic.twitter.com/zfm67FerDT
— Jemima Harrison (@JemimaHarrison) March 12, 2022
Dr. Gaines was not impressed either.
“Despite the overwhelming body of research highlighting the welfare impact of extreme body shapes and particularly brachycephaly, progress has been incredibly slow,” she wrote.
“However, recent positive amends to the French bulldog breed standard and prizes given to healthier examples of typically exaggerated breeds earlier in the week did offer a glimmer of hope.
“Sadly, this glimmer rapidly faded as we saw the dogs awarded Best in Breed brought out for Best in Group. Across all three dogs, exaggerated features were still very obvious, including flat faces, folded and wrinkled skin as well as short and curly tails.”
RSPCA chief vet Caroline Allen said, “Our desire for cuteness and the selection for shorter, flatter faces – known as brachycephaly – has resulted in dogs who struggle to breathe.
“Their excessive soft tissue causes obstruction in their airways and their abnormally narrowed nostrils and windpipes leave them gasping for air. Struggling to breathe, or even sleep is very distressing and affected dogs are struggling with this every day, with serious impacts on their welfare. They also face eye problems, skin concerns due to excessive wrinkles, and painful back conditions due to corkscrew tails.
“We understand why there is so much love out there for these breeds. But it’s wrong that we’re knowingly breeding for features which compromise their basic health and welfare.
“What’s concerning about events such as Crufts is that these breeds – who have no quality of life – are being celebrated, which further popularises them with potential buyers.”