By looking at the number of dogs spanning 180 breeds registered over the past 28 years in Australia, researchers have been able to build up a picture of trends in dog ownership. What they found was a growing trend and popularity for shorter and smaller pedigree dogs with wider and shorter faces.
"Australians are favouring brachycephalic breeds, dogs with shorter and wider heads, such as the Pug and the French bulldog, more than those with longer and thinner heads,” explains Kendy Teng, who co-authored the research published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. “Looking at data spanning 28 years, we found that the demand for smaller dogs has increased every year from 1986."
The researchers looked at pedigree dogs registered over a period between 1986 and 2013. What they actually found was a dramatic decrease in the number of pooches on the books, crashing from 95,792 to 66,902. But within that data was another trend, as the drop in larger breeds registered was bigger than that for medium and smaller dogs, and within that, there was a massive increase in those with wide, flat faces.
Pugs, French bulldogs, and other breeds with such wide, flat snouts are what are known as brachycephalic dogs. This simply means that their skull looks like it has been compressed from front to back, and can lead to some severe health problems. The main issue to affect these dogs is difficulty breathing, as despite having shorter airways and narrower nasal slits, the dogs retain all the internal soft tissue making it harder for the animals to draw the air in. This is why the dogs are often heard wheezing and snoring.
The eye sockets of brachycephalic dogs are also shallower, causing their eyes to protrude and making the cornea more exposed. Not only that, but the excessive skin on the dog's face also forms folds and crevices, giving bacteria and yeast the ideal environment in which to grow. This can ultimately lead to the micro-organisms invading the skin and causing infection and inflammation. Despite being able to treat the dogs with antibiotics and cleaning of the folds, this unfortunately only treats the symptoms, and not the cause.
"Veterinarians are concerned about brachycephalic dogs' welfare, as these breeds commonly suffer from breathing difficulties, skin and eye conditions, and digestive disorders,” said Teng. “In New Zealand, brachycephalic breeds are number four of the top five dog breeds considered by veterinarians to be unsuitable for continued breeding due to compromised health and welfare. We expect to see vets in Australia treating more dogs with the conditions described.”
But it seems that this isn’t just a trend for Australia and New Zealand. In the U.K., the Kennel Club has also reported an increase in these types of breeds. What is driving their popularity is still up for debate. The authors suggest that it could be a number of different reasons, such as city-living people downsizing their homes, or a shift towards more people now keeping dogs as companions rather than as work animals.