The rise in popularity of certain dog breeds is causing major concerns among veterinary professionals, here and abroad.

At the recent Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Annual Conference, Dr Sean Wensley, senior vice president of the British Veterinary Association, discussed the health and welfare problems associated with several dog breeds including the English bulldog, Pug and French bulldog.

“We used to selectively breed for behavioural traits like guarding, herding and fighting. Over time the focus became less about behaviour and more about appearance and we started to see dogs being bred with flattened faces and prominent eyes, which people find endearing.

“Unfortunately, these are not traits that promote good health in dogs. Instead, they cause severe health challenges including chronic respiratory disease, skin infections, eye problems, an inability to give birth naturally and spinal disease,” Dr Wensley said.

The rise in ownership of dogs that have been bred with exaggerated features in Australia and the UK and other parts of the world in recent years is driven in part by celebrity ownership, according to Dr Wensley. He says it’s a trend that veterinarians have become increasingly concerned about.

“As veterinarians, we are responsible for improving the welfare of individually affected animals through treatment; but we also have a responsibility to advocate for changes to prevent these health and welfare problems from arising in the first instance.

“In 2015 and 2016 respectively, Swedish and UK vets initiated petitions to improve the health and welfare of dogs bred with exaggerated features. In Australia last year, the AVA and RSPCA initiated a joint Love is Blind campaign to raise public awareness about this growing problem as well.

“Vets work with owners who care deeply about their dogs and we appreciate that we need to deliver our messaging about the need to breed for health over looks in a respectful and sensitive way.

“Some people claim that the breathing sound of a dog with a flattened nose, such as a Pug, is normal for the breeds. As veterinary professionals, this is a notion that we strongly challenge because it is a sound that signifies breathing difficulties, which is a major health and welfare concern.

“Improving the health and welfare of dogs with exaggerated features is something that we all – veterinarians, pet owners, breeders and other animal industry stakeholders – need to work together to address,” Dr Wensley said.

The AVA Conference was held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, 4-9 June 2017. For more information visit conference.ava.com.au