Bulldogs and Pugs Are Cute, but New Campaign Warns of Health Risks

Every time I open Instagram or walk down the street, I seem to see a pug, bulldog or similar brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breed. And the internet has its fair share of brachycephalic feline stars, too. It’s starting to feel like I see them everywhere, despite years of education and outreach to discourage people from breeding and buying animals in general — and especially to steer clear of these breeds.

A lot of people think these animals are cute. And sometimes they cite the very things that make brachycephaly so dangerous as evidence of cuteness, rather than disease and stress created by overbreeding.

But the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is trying to bite back with its “Cost of Cuteness” campaign. It stresses that these animals may look winsome, but they come with serious, sometimes life-threatening health problems.

French bulldogs, bulldogs, boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, shih tzus, Boston terriers, mastiffs, pugs, Lhasa apsos and Pekingese are all dog breeds with brachycephalic traits. Brachycephalic cats include Persians, Himalayans and Burmese.

While some have these traits more strongly than others, all tend to have slightly flattened, squished faces that lack the definition of other dogs and cats. The reasons for the selective breeding that cultivated the trait aren’t clear, but fighting and hunting have both been floated as possibilities for dogs.

persian cat breed in an armchair

Persian cat | Credit: FluxFactory/Getty Images

The first problem some of these pets can develop is brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, in which the structures in their airways are actually malformed, making it hard to breathe. You may have heard animals snorting, gasping or making other labored signs while trying to breathe, especially in their sleep. That’s not cute. Instead, it suggests they are not getting enough air to meet their needs.

Even if an animal appears to breathe normally, they can have symptoms, including heat intolerance, inability to cope with strenuous exercise and frequent vomiting. They may also develop recurrent upper respiratory infections. And overweight animals are at especially high risk of complications. The excess fat on that beloved chubby pug can put further strain on their breathing, causing them to develop life-threatening problems. Furthermore, the skin folds found in many breeds can get unpleasantly infected, requiring regular cleaning and sometimes medication.

Some of the physical anomalies associated with these breeds are so serious that they require surgical correction. The cost of taking care of such animals over their lifetimes can be much higher than people might expect, and it’s a serious commitment. Between breathing problems, skin infections and other issues, they require careful and constant monitoring.

Some people may claim that “ethical breeders” can breed dogs and cats to bring out desired traits without going too far in the extreme. But they’re still breeding pets for sale and promoting a “cute look” that’s dangerous. Dogs especially are more likely to require C-sections when delivering brachycephalic puppies, which adds another element of risk.

The Cost of Cuteness campaign is focused on consumer outreach and education. But members of the public should also educate each other and discourage pet decisions that allow these breeders to remain in operation.

It’s always better to adopt a rescue animal, and there are rescue groups that place brachycephalic breeds with experienced owners who are able to take on their unique medical issues. Rescues can also help place people with animals they might not have considered without an introduction. One of the pleasures of adopting is discovering someone new and amazing who you wouldn’t have found in the window of a pet store or on a breeder’s website.

So the next time you spot people cooing over a “cute” pet online or at the park, say something. The pet’s guardians may in fact be caring for a rescue animal, so there’s no need to immediately go on the offensive with them. But definitely encourage people to expand their definition of “cute” to include the millions of pets without homes who are killed in shelters every year.

Photo credit: GCShutter/Getty Images

33 comments

Leanne K
Leanne K8 days ago

We've always known this. Do breeders or buyers care. Nope. And they'll continue to breed and buy. It's time for some compulsory desexing laws

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Mark T
Mark Turner8 days ago

Ty.

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Joanna P
Joanna P8 days ago

How can a freak be cute? Do we look at human physical mutations and call them "cute" - look at that cute spina bifida, 6-fingered hand, club foot? Since humans are wired to find flat noses babyish and therefore cute, some people may extend this to dogs. But bearing in mind that all dogs are bred from tundra wolves, the farther they get from their ancestral DNA, the weaker they will be. Furthermore, many extreme breeds are produced by medical research laboratories for the purpose of testing on animals for cures that may be used in humans (after which the test animal is killed). This is disgusting. One Medicine is now a well established philosophy whereby research can be tested on animals with the animal's best interests at heart. If the treatment works, it can be tested in humans. Everyone wins, no-one is euthanised unnecessarily.

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Donna T
Donna T8 days ago

stop breeding them

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Tania N
Tania N8 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N8 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N8 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elsie A. O
Elsie A. O9 days ago

Glad to hear about the launching of the "Costs of Cuteness" campaign.
Dog breeding over the years has taken study, practical pets and turned them into freaks. I recall reading about the breeding of bulldogs, for instance. Bulldogs originally were taller, faster dogs who resembled boxers and could run, hunt, or play with ease. Today's ridiculous breed standards expect the bulldog to have an underbite and legs that are set wide enough for the head to fit through. The once-healthy bulldog has turned into a handicapped animal who can barely waddle, and I don't see the breeders doing a thing to change that.

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Anne Moran
Anne M9 days ago

Only a face a Mother could love...

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Alea C
Alea C9 days ago

There is no such thing as an "ethical breeder", and it's a shame we can't put them all "to sleep". Now that would be ethical.

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