Why flat-faced pugs and bulldogs are still so popular: Owners see snoring and grunting as CUTE rather than a sign their dog is sick and struggling for breath, study warns
- Flat-faced dogs are popular with people and celebs but have more health issues
- Experts looked at why this is even when these issues have been well publicised
- Results challenge theory it’s because they’re good at eye contact with humans
Dog breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are known to suffer from a range of health issues related to their flat faces, including severe breathing problems.
But people still buy them because they see their laboured grunts and snores as cute, rather than a sign their dog is sick and struggling for breath, researchers claim.
The experts, based in Budapest, surveyed more than 1,000 people about their attitudes towards flat-faced breeds and knowledge of their health problems.
Those with a positive attitude towards flat-faced dogs were younger and female with ‘lower levels of education’ but higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Popular flat-faced or ‘brachycephalic’ dogs breeds include French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, shih tzus and boxers.
Academics wanted to explain the so-called ‘brachycephalic paradox’ – why the popularity of flat-faced dogs constantly rises despite their welfare problems, high veterinary costs and short lifespan
Holly Willoughby (left) and Kelly Brook (right) are just a few of the famous faces who have shared their lives with flat-faced dogs
At least half of flat-faced dogs struggle with breathing difficulties and over 80 per cent of them require C-sections during delivery, the experts say.
READ MORE: Flat-faced dogs are up to 50 TIMES more likely to suffer painful skin conditions
Vets are urging people not to buy pugs, as new research shows flat-faced dogs are up to 50 times more likely to suffer from skin fold dermatitis – a painful skin condition
Other issues include a lack of oxygen in the blood stream causing complications of the heart, ear and eye problems, neurological issues and skin conditions.
David Beckham, Holly Willoughby, Hugh Jackman, Kelly Brook, Paris Hilton, Madonna and Reese Witherspoon are among the celebs known to have shared their lives with flat-faced dogs.
The new study was conducted by experts at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
‘It is not true that enthusiasts of flat-faced breeds are unaware of the dogs’ health problems or are insensitive to their emotions,’ said study author Eniko Kubinyi.
‘On the other hand, it has been revealed that they are relatively inexperienced dog owners.
‘Thus, it is most likely that they are unaware of the dogs’ communication signals, may not necessarily recognise signs of pain, and likely consider health problems as normal breed characteristics.
‘For example, a snoring and grunting Bulldog appears cute to them, rather than sick and struggling for breath.’
Flat-faced dogs are becoming increasingly popular, with the Kennel Club reporting a 2,747 per cent rise in the number of French bulldogs registered since 2004.
But due to their health issues, flat-faced dogs typically live three to four years less than what would be expected based on their body size.
For the study, the researchers wanted to explain the so-called ‘brachycephalic paradox’ – why the popularity of flat-faced dogs constantly rises despite their welfare problems, high veterinary costs and short lifespan.
David Beckham, Holly Willoughby, Hugh Jackman, Kelly Brook, Paris Hilton, Madonna and Reese Witherspoon (pictured) are among the celebs known to have shared their lives with flat-faced dogs
David Beckham is pictured with his flat-faced dog. It’s thought there’s been a rise in popularity of English bulldogs, pugs and French bulldogs among celebrities and the public
Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman pictured with his beloved French bulldog, Dali (left) and another dog right
Pugs are significantly more likely to suffer from breathing, eye, and skin disorders than other breeds, according to vets from the Royal Veterinary College
‘The aim is to understand what features of flat-faced dogs contribute to their popularity and what motivates owners to choose such a breed,’ Kubinyi and colleagues say in the paper.
Flat-faced dog breeds
– English bulldog
– French bulldog
– Shih Tzu
– Boston terrier
– Cavalier King Charles spaniel
The academics conducted a questionnaire and an online test with 1,156 participants, the overwhelming majority of whom were women (1,020).
Participants were surveyed about their personality traits, empathy levels, education history and any dog breeds they had owned, as well as their opinion and knowledge of flat-faced dogs.
In the online test, the researchers presented 25 pairs of photos of different dog breeds looking into the camera (appearing to make eye contact) and looking away from the camera.
Flat-faced dogs are better at establishing eye-contact with humans, previous research at Eötvös Loránd University has shown.
The team therefore wanted to see if participants with a positive attitude towards flat-faced dogs preferred photos of dogs making eye contact than those looking away.
Establishing a connection between the two would indicate that a preference for eye contact with dogs would explain the love for flat-faced dogs – however, the team found no such link.
The researchers presented 25 pairs of photos of dogs looking into the camera and looking away, in an online survey (flat-faced breed top left)
Flat-faced dogs, such as French and English Bulldogs, are extremely popular despite suffering from severe innate diseases
Results also challenge the theory that flat-faced breeds are popular due to their tendency to engage in eye contact with humans
‘We expected that one of the main attractiveness of flat-faced dogs lies in their large eyes and that their owners would be delighted when the dogs look at them,’ said Kubinyi.
READ MORE: Celebrity-driven obsession with flat-faces means breed endures a ‘lifetime of suffering’
Gerard Butler is one of famous face who has shared his life with a flat-faced breed
‘However, we did not find this to be true, at least not from the photographs.’
Overall, researchers found that younger people and women are more likely to have a positive attitude to flat-faced dogs compared with older people and men.
In terms of personality traits, agreeable, conscientious and empathic respondents also showed a positive attitude to brachycephalism.
Results also showed that a higher level of education and ‘dog-related professional expertise’ were linked to a negative attitude towards brachycephalism, as the team had expected prior to the study.
What’s more, enthusiasts of flat-faced dogs are aware of the health issues that the dogs suffer, the team found, and strive to provide the best for them.
People who choose to purchase a flat-faced dog are likely to ‘normalise’ their health problems, considering them as features of the breed.
‘Normalisation of these problems among veterinarians, owners, and breeders may prevent the improvement of the breed’s well-being and reduce the likelihood of seeking veterinary intervention, even though the symptoms could often be reduced,’ the team say in their paper.
One other potential explanation is that people who are aware of the health issues of flat-faced dogs are sympathetic and feel the need to care for them.
Another possibility is that the shortening of the head creates a resemblance to baby faces, as brachycephalic dogs have large foreheads and big eyes.
Pictured, the English or British bulldog. Vets have previously warned that the breed is riddled with painful diseases and deformities, largely due to centuries of inbreeding (file photo)
Younger people, women, and parents were more positive towards brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, the study found
‘People are drawn to these infantile features, which elicit increased attention and a willingness to care for individuals,’ they say.
The new study can serve as a basis for educational campaigns that can help ‘reverse the brachycephalic dog welfare crisis’, according to the experts.
‘In many countries, there are awareness campaigns about the health issues of flat-faced breeds,’ said study author Zsófia Bognár.
‘However, the growing popularity of flat-faced dogs suggests that these campaigns are not very effective.
‘It is clear that simply listing the health problems does not deter people from purchasing these dogs.
‘Instead, the emphasis should be on highlighting that health issues should not be considered normal or acceptable characteristics because they often cause pain and suffering for the dogs.
‘Dog owners need to be made aware that their choices play a significant role in shaping the health of dog breeds.’
Flat-faced dog breeds have the shortest life expectancies
Longest life expectancy:
Jack Russell Terrier – 12.72
Yorkshire Terrier – 12.54
Border Collie – 12.10
Springer Spaniel – 11.92
Crossbred – 11.82
Labrador Retriever – 11.77
Staffordshire Bull Terrier – 11.33
Cocker Spaniel – 11.31
Shih-tzu – 11.05
Shortest life expectancy:
French Bulldog – 4.53
English Bulldog – 7.39
Pug – 7.65
American Bulldog – 7.79
Chihuahua – 7.91
Husky – 9.53
Beagle – 9.85
Boxer – 10.04
German Shepherd – 10.16
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – 10.45
Source: Royal Veterinary College
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