Pugs should no longer be considered a "typical dog" due to the overwhelming health issues the breed faces, suggests a new study. The researchers argue that the massively increased risks associated with "designer dog" breeding have pushed respiratory and brain difficulties in pugs to such an extent that the breed has now diverged from other mainstream dogs, and that there are a variety of healthcare challenges that must be overcome for both pugs and other brachycephalic dogs.
The research was published in BMC Canine Medicine and Genetics.
Pugs – along with bulldogs, boxers, and other "designer breeds" with heavily pushed-in noses – are considered brachycephalic dogs, meaning they have shortened snouts and often smaller heads. This causes obstructed airways and other health concerns. In recent years, brachycephalic dogs have seen an explosion in popularity, with famous celebrities posing with their pugs and a large social media presence perhaps partially to blame.
Despite their obvious shortcomings, pugs are still being bred to have even shorter noses, while welfare groups have cropped up in an attempt to create a healthier breeding standard.
In the latest piece of research, a team from The Royal Veterinary College, UK, took a sample of 4,300 pugs and almost 22,000 non-pug breeds and compared their risks of developing 40 common disorders.
Compared to non-pugs, pugs had a 1.86-times higher chance to be diagnosed with one or more disorders. Of the 40 tested disorders, pugs had a higher prevalence in 23 of them. Among the most common were obstructive airway syndrome (almost 54-times higher risk), stenotic nares (pinched nostrils that make it difficult to breathe; 51-times higher risk), and corneal ulceration (13-times higher risk).
Pugs did score well on 7 of the disorders, including heart murmurs and aggression, suggesting the breed does have some redeeming qualities in regards to health. Still, the results suggest an overwhelmingly increased risk of multiple different disorders in pugs, most of which are directly linked to the shortening of the snout.
"The issue you've got is a dog with a smaller skull, but nothing else about the dog has gotten equivalently smaller,” said Dr Myfanwy Hill, a veterinary surgeon at the University of Cambridge, to the BBC, noting the results do not come as a surprise.
According to the researchers, the array of health concerns mean pugs can “no longer be considered as a typical dog”.
"The current study highlights that predispositions outnumber protections between Pugs and non-Pugs for common disorders, suggesting some critical health welfare challenges to overcome for Pugs,” the authors write.
“Highly differing heath profiles between Pugs and other dogs in the UK suggest that the Pug has diverged substantially from mainstream dog breeds and can no longer be considered as a typical dog from a health perspective.”