Pug health so poor it 'can't be considered a typical dog'

A new study suggests that pugs face such serious health conditions they can "no longer be considered a typical dog from a health perspective."

Research from the Royal Veterinary College has revealed the health of pugs is now substantially different and largely worse than other dogs.

The study compared the health of 4,308 pugs and 21,835 non-pugs.

UK pugs are almost twice as likely to experience one or more disorders annually, compared with other dogs.

Brachycephalic, or "brachy" dogs - like pugs, bulldogs or boxers - are bred for their distinctive looks.

In recent years, pugs have increased in popularity, with a five-fold increase in Kennel Club registrations of pugs from 2005-2017.

Health issues

Overall, pugs were found to be around 1.9 times as likely to have one or more disorders recorded in a single year compared to non-pugs.

The findings do not "come as a surprise" to Dr Myfanwy Hill, a veterinary surgeon who works at the University of Cambridge.

"The issue you've got is a dog with a smaller skull, but nothing else about the dog has gotten equivalently smaller."

She says "their brains are squished into a box that is too small", and other soft tissues are "squished into a smaller space".

That causes a lot of the problems pugs face - including issues with breathing, skin and their back.

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome - a breathing issue - was the disorder with the highest risk in pugs, with the designer breed almost 54 times more likely to have the condition.

Dr Hill says the narrow nostrils pugs have, is like "trying to breathe through a really narrow straw" and makes simple things like breathing "much harder work".

She adds the "common image we have of pugs" where they're smiling and have their tongue sticking out, looking like they're panting, is not the "joyful" image we may think.

"Really, they're having to breathe through their mouths, because they cannot breathe efficiently through their noses."

Pugs were also found to be at higher risk of skinfold infections. Dr Hill says "they have more skin than they need for the size of their face", which can cause skin infections to occur, creating soreness and itchiness.

And the "attractive tail" that people like actually shows a "malformed vertebra" which can result in more slipped discs.

The research also showed pugs have a reduced risk of some conditions, including heart murmur, aggression and wounds.

But researchers suggest their findings indicate many pugs may suffer from seriously compromised health and welfare.

"We now know that several severe health issues are linked to the extreme body shape of pugs that many humans find so cute," Dr Dan O'Neill, associate professor in companion animal epidemiology and lead author of the paper, said.

He says it's important to "focus on the health of the dog rather than the whims of the owner when we are choosing what type of dog to own".

"While these extreme, unhealthy characteristics remain, we will continue to strongly recommend potential owners do not buy brachycephalic breeds such as pugs," Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association added.

What can you do?

Dr Hill says people who buy dogs do so "in good faith" and it's important "not to attribute blame".

But there are things that can be done for existing pug owners - like looking out for symptoms of breathing difficulties, such as excessive panting or lots of noise during breathing.

In summer months, pugs are more at risk of heat-related problems because they have less airway - so need to be kept cool, she says.

And while the "barrel-shaped bodies are really cute" - weight management is important because "an overweight short face dog like a pug is at even greater risk".

"Animals have thoughts and feelings of their own. And we need to make sure that they live long, happy and healthy lives," Dr Hill adds.