2017-04-20 / Pet Tales

Achy brachy dogs

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Bulldogs and other short-faced breeds can have shorter, less healthy lives than other dogs. Bulldogs and other short-faced breeds can have shorter, less healthy lives than other dogs. If you live with a bulldog, French bulldog, pug or other brachycephalic breed, you’re probably familiar with large veterinary bills related to breathing difficulties, eye injuries and nasty skin-fold infections. But you might be surprised to learn that those dogs are also more prone to common conditions that affect all dogs.

That was the finding of a research team at Nationwide after analyzing its database of 1.27 million dogs from 2007 to 2015. They looked at 184,748 dogs of 24 breeds identified as brachycephalic — meaning they had large heads, short snouts and protruding eyes — to determine whether those dogs were less healthy, as healthy or more healthy than dogs without those features.

When accidents, infectious diseases and conditions related to brachycephalic anatomy, such as elongated soft palate and a smaller-than-normal trachea, were removed from consideration, brachycephalic dogs were less healthy across the board. Ear infections, allergies, bladder infections and pneumonia were all found at higher rates in dogs with shortened faces.

“The relative disease rates for pneumonia are particularly noteworthy,” the report states. The prevalence of pneumonia was twice as high in brachycephalic dogs — 1.6 percent compared to 0.77 percent in other dogs.

Brachycephalic dogs also had greater rates of digestive issues (including their infamous flatulence), tooth extractions, hyperthermia (overheating), valvular heart disease, bacterial skin infections, anal gland problems, patellar luxation, intervertebral disc disease, corneal ulcers and conjunctivitis.

Which breeds fall into the brachycephalic category? The breeds mentioned above are no surprise, but the list also includes the affenpinscher, Boston terrier, boxer, Brussels griffon, cavalier King Charles spaniel, dogue de Bordeaux, Japanese chin, Lhasa apso, mastiff, bull mastiff, Neapolitan mastiff, Pyrenean mastiff, Tibetan mastiff, Spanish mastiff, Pekingese and Shih Tzu.

Even before this information was announced at the 2017 North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Florida, veterinarians have been concerned about the health of brachycephalic dogs.

In a presentation at NAVC in 2016, veterinarian Philip A. Moses addressed the health-related welfare of flat-faced dogs. A study by Niels C. Pedersen published last July in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology reported that loss of genetic diversity in the bulldog was pronounced in the region of the genome that contains many of the genes that regulate normal immune responses. And at an Aug. 6 session at the 2016 American Veterinary Medical Association conference in San Antonio, Dr. Gail Golab, AVMA’s chief advocacy and public policy officer, noted that breeding dogs for extreme physical characteristics such as brachycephaly and wrinkled skin had led to a multitude of health issues.

What can be done?

Dr. Moses says that beyond treating individual dogs surgically to relieve their breathing difficulties, it’s important for kennel clubs, breeders, owners and veterinarians to recognize and learn about the health problems in these dogs and how they can be improved through better breeding. He regularly speaks to breed clubs about the issues associated with their breeds, especially those with a genetic basis.

In the 2016 NAVC proceedings, he says: “For example, hemivertebrae is highly heritable and could be virtually removed from most of these breeds if radiographic screening was compulsory. I advise that all dogs should have good-quality spinal radiographs taken at 6 months of age, and any dog with any vertebral body abnormalities should be neutered.”

He urges breeders to educate new puppy owners about the problems associated with their breeds. ¦

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