Eight-year-old British bulldog Miss Pickles was taken in by RSPCA Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford & District Branch, in West Yorkshire, when her owner could no longer take care of her. When she arrived it became apparent that she needed urgent surgery to help her breathe more freely.
Animal centre manager Claire Kendall said: “We very quickly realised that Miss Pickles was struggling to breathe and vets diagnosed her with grade three brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome – also known as BOAS.
“This is a group of conditions that we see in dogs selected for shorter noses and flatter faces, like bulldogs, which compromises their ability to breathe normally and Miss Pickles was sadly the most serious grade possible.
“She really struggled for breath and could often be heard wheezing and snorting as she tried to breathe. We had to be incredibly careful exercising her as she has gone blue in colour and collapsed in the past.
“It was heartbreaking that this sweet, fun dog couldn’t run or play because she couldn’t breathe normally.”
The branch launched a fundraising appeal to raise the £2,500 needed to carry out the operation and Miss Pickles recovered well from the surgery. And now, she’s been reserved and will soon be going off to her new home.
But she’s just one of a growing number of brachycephalic (or flat-faced) dogs who find it impossible to carry out normal dog activities such as walking, playing, or even sleeping.
The RSPCA has launched a new campaign Save Our Breath urging the public not to buy breeds who cannot live normal lives due to the irresponsible way they’ve been selectively bred.
The warning comes as the number of British bulldog puppies being registered with the Kennel Club increased 149%, between 2011 and 2020.
With the surge in demand for pets during lockdown there are fears that more brachycephalic dogs will have been bred by breeders resulting in even more sickly animals who require expensive veterinary treatment to help them carry out the simplest of everyday tasks such as walking and playing. And the RSPCA fears that more of these animals could be abandoned or relinquished to charity as their owners struggle to cope with costly veterinary bills as the cost of living soars.
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 dog shows and events is that these breeds – who have no quality of life – are being celebrated, which further popularises them with potential buyers.”
The public has an important role to play in helping to improve the future health of these breeds. We need to stop seeing these pets as cute and recognise the serious health issues they face.
The Save Our Breath campaign seeks to educate the public about the impact of this type of breeding on dog welfare. We’d like people to consider getting an alternative breed or consider a crossbreed that has a lower risk of problems.
For those wishing to get involved in the Save Our Breath, there will be two surveys available to members of the public. One survey will collect crucial information on brachycephalic animals in advertising, while the other will allow the public to share their own experiences with these animals. This vital research will help inform the RSPCA’s experts as it works to protect future generations of these animals.
Supporters can also sign up to the Give Animals a Voice campaign network for the latest information and access to campaign materials.