Improving the health of flat faced dog breeds

French bulldog (credit: Neil Cooper)

Research at the University of Cambridge led to the development of the world’s first objective testing criteria for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), a condition that affects flat-faced dogs.

Flat-faced dogs such as pugs, bulldogs and French bulldogs have increased in popularity in the past decade, with French bulldog registrations reaching 36,785 in the UK in 2018. In recent decades, breeding selection for extreme brachycephalic features (typically short noses) has resulted in dogs that are predisposed to upper airway tract obstruction due to an excess of soft tissues in that region, causing respiratory distress and BOAS. Medical or surgical intervention is required by 65% of pugs.

The low-cost Functional Grading Scheme developed by the researchers provides a standardised method for veterinarians to improve diagnosis and treatment outcomes for affected dogs, where there previously was no such method for quantitative assessment.

Within the UK, 40 vets are trained in the technique, which was endorsed by the Kennel Club in 2019 and the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, which represents pedigree dog organisations in 99 countries, in 2020.

Stakeholder and media engagement by the researchers has raised public awareness of BOAS. This has led to a revision of pedigree dog health certification standards, changed how Disney advertised their recent film featuring a pug, and contributed to a 38% reduction in the number of flat-faced dog purchases within the UK from 2018 to 2019.

“The Respiratory Function Grading Scheme is the strongest mechanism we have to show a commitment to tackling BOAS within these breeds,”

– The Kennel Club