Why Flat-Faced Dogs, Like Pugs and Bulldogs, Remain Popular Despite Substantial Health Risks

French Bulldog and Pug

Rescue French bulldog and pug snoozing in basket. Credit: Katy Price

Owners of bulldogs, French bulldogs and pugs are highly likely to want to own their breed again in the future, and to recommend their breed to other owners, according to a study published August 26, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Rowena Packer of the Royal Veterinary College, UK, and colleagues. The development of breed loyalty toward these so-called brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs may lead to their continued proliferation and popularity, despite their substantial health risks.

In the past decade, the popularity of brachycephalic dogs has dramatically increased worldwide. But these breeds are strongly predisposed to a range of severe disorders, including respiratory disease, eye disease, spinal disease, heat stroke and pneumonia, and their lifespan is reduced by on average four years compared to dogs with longer muzzles.

Some veterinarians consider bulldogs, French bulldogs and pugs as having health and welfare too compromised to continue breeding, while owners of pets with chronic illnesses report greater psychological distress and a lower quality of life. It is important to understand factors that influence breed choice to avoid the future proliferation of breeds that are prone to substantial health risks. Toward this goal, Packer and colleagues conducted the first large-scale study to explore owners’ desires to reacquire or recommend the most popular brachycephalic breeds in the UK.

Pug Close Up

Among the 2168 owners surveyed, 93% would choose to own their current breed again in the future, and two-thirds would recommend their current breed to a potential first-time dog owner. The likelihood of reacquisition or recommendation is increased by first-time ownership and increased strength of the dog-owner relationship, and is decreased by an increased number of health problems and dog behavior being worse than expected.

Owners recommend their breed because of positive behavioral attributes for a companion dog, breed suitability for a sedentary lifestyle with limited space, and suitability for households with children. Owners recommended against their breed due to the high prevalence of health problems, expense of ownership, ethical and welfare issues associated with breeding brachycephalic dogs, negative effects upon owner lifestyle and negative behavioral attributes.

According to the authors, these results can be used to inform interventions that highlight undesirable traits of brachycephalic dogs and desirable traits of other breeds to control the population boom in brachycephalic breeds in the long term.

Bulldog

The authors add: “Although dog breed popularity often follows a boom and bust pattern, our results are of real concern as they indicate that this ‘brachy boom’ is here to stay. Owners are becoming hooked on the loving personalities of these sweet dogs, but also accepting and normalizing their shocking health issues.”

Reference: “Come for the looks, stay for the personality? A mixed methods investigation of reacquisition and owner recommendation of Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs” by Rowena M. A. Packer, Dan G. O’Neill, Francesca Fletcher and Mark J. Farnworth, 26 August 2020, PLoS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237276

Funding: RMAP is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council grant number BB/P010881/1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

29 Comments on "Why Flat-Faced Dogs, Like Pugs and Bulldogs, Remain Popular Despite Substantial Health Risks"

  1. Thank you for the great articles, try this Brain Training For Dogs. It can help you Develop your Dog’s hidden intelligence. I hope it helps a lot.
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  2. I didn’t see Boston Terriers on the list. I hope that means that they don’t quite fit in the profile. I absolutely loved my little Boston, she just passed away 6weeks ago, after a wonderful long loving life. If I could, I would get another, in a moment!!

  3. Love my little boy (he’s a pug ) he gave us a shock a week ago as he had s fit not read anywhere about this happening do be warned people he’s fine now thank god but are prone to this the vet told us and other flat faced dogs.

  4. My Freuchie is worth every penny any vet bill cost. Her love and devotion overwhelm me. All she’s asks for is my love, food, her soft toys and a comfy bed. Not much when I consider what she gives me.

  5. Funny how these experts always pick on bull breeds! What about Labradors and alsatians having really bad hip problems. All pedigree dogs have inherited health problems. I’ve had British bulldog, staffie, boxer and 3 frenchies and all lived over 10 years. Please write a fair article about all pedigree dogs!!!

    • I wholeheartedly concur with you!!! There are many other breeds and cross breeds besides the ones you have mentioned that have varying degrees of health issues, so targeting the ” brachycephalic” breed is unfair. I have had boxers (mostly papered) all my 60+ yrs, some developed cancers and passed away young, others lived to 10, my most recent mum & daughter lived to be 13. I am thoroughly enjoying my 7 mth 3/4 bostie, 1/4 Frenchie brindle pup, what a joy she is!!!!!

  6. Be ne vorrei proprio un in regalo bulldog francese mi fanno impazzire 😌

  7. I have a French bulldog his six his had soft pallet and nostrils made bigger his had spine problems and now’s has gut problems plus always scratching because of allergies this is not fair on the dog we love him to bits but I would never have this breed again

  8. I have an 8year old Frenchie who is adorable and relatively healthy. Why not start cross-breeding them to improve their health? Of course I wouldn’t want any other breed, they are funny, intelligent and the most loving of any breed I’ve ever had.

  9. I currently own 4 Boston Terriers an cant image me having any other breed. They’re silly,funny,cuddle bugs. Like Lay’s Potato Chips “Can’t Have Just One”

  10. The first photo. This is boston terrier not french buldog.

    • Well, you may be correct, however I have been in the company of a few black & white Frenchies. Also the ears, although pulled back appear to be shorter than a bostie would be. Just my observation.

  11. Well, you may be correct, however I have been in the company of a few black & white Frenchies. Also the ears, although pulled back appear to be shorter than a bostie would be. Just my observation.

  12. We have been married 50 year and have always had Boston Terriers. 3 died of health long lives 13-16 years. One our sweet Maggie had to be put down at 8 for congestive heart failure. We how now have Libby but at 4 she had a stroke regained her use of the back leg but has problems with the front right. We will always have these dogs . Love their joy for life.

  13. Lucas Kane Marsh | September 15, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Reply

    My wife and I are first time small, flat-faced dog owners and we absolutely adore our little pug. Her name is Luna-Bell and she has brought so much joy and happiness to our family. She plays with our 6 year old son, loves on him non-stop and sleeps with him. We got her knowing her potential health risks and how her life span may be reduced. While it saddens us at the thought of her being taken from us prematurely, the amount of joy and love she has brought to our family will never be diminished; no matter what. I would absolutley reccomend pugs to anyone who wants a family/kid-friendly, loving, smart, precocious, and well-tempered dog. 20/10 good girl.

    • how could nature have made such a mistake in allowing these kinds of dogs to survive and reproduce or has mankind played some role in it all?

  14. In my experience, labs and lab mixes die of cancer at the age of six or eight:(

  15. People need to stop buying these dogs. They think they are cute while they are struggling to breath and spend their entire life suffering. They are so inbred that they cannot even give birth naturally. Anyone breeding these dogs are scum and should be in jail.

  16. I believe many of these veterinarains have mental, health, and welfare too compromised to continue being allowed to breed. Control your canine eugenics desires and enjoy these wonderful breeds. I have had German Shepards and two English bulldogs. The Shepard are wonderful, but suffer from hip dysplasia and ear infections regularly even when cared for at the highest level, then they died of testicular cancer at 15. My bullies have each lived past 12 despite being rescues and having foolish human behavior thrust on them they are little bundles of personality and physical strength. They are not long distance runners but they live well and are a joy. These “vets” are hyper-OCD professional morons. Why is there always someone who “knows what’s good for ya” but actually knows nothing?

  17. I have had Boston’s for 30 yrs!! The only time I have ever come a crossed a issue is when my daughter bought one from a horrible back yard breeder! My little Bella had horrible health issues!! Due to poor breeding! My thoughts, inbreed! Not the breed !! It’s the breeder! I will always have Boston terriers! I have 2 now, plus a adopted staffenshire from LA Cali!! Who was homeless! Living on the street! She also is awesome & treats her Boston terriers brother & sister like their her pups!! Again not the breed it’s the HUMAN!

  18. I have a wonderful 2 year old frenchie. She is healthy and happy. She doesn’t have breathing problems. Her vet says she has perfect airways. And perfect bo e structure. She is very playful, smart, and so loving. I will keep buying frenchies. This breed has my heart. And @RY I suppose I am scum because she is having puppies. Her mate also has no health problems. And they are not imbred.

  19. Reply to Agnen. Dog is definitely Frenchy. If you look close you can see he is brindle and white not black and white. Almost identical to my own frenchy

  20. Clover Svea Hedlund | September 15, 2020 at 10:10 pm | Reply

    I have bred and years ago shown french bulldigs..the european line is nuch more healthy. I have half american half eurooean atm…most my frenchies lived to 8-9 yrs old. I am currently laying here w my 14 yr old bitch,whos littermate just passed 4months ago, and her 2 daughters who are 12. Kiwi is a muct have for this breed,it reduces natural swelling and actually makes them breathe so well you cant hear them and find yrself watching to be sure there tummy is moving while they sleep there so quiet…i swear by it..KIWI!!! and honey and coconut oil for any infection or cut..local or oral..they love it…diatimatious earth for flea prevention…minimal vaccines…and most of all..LOVE..iv never lost one younger than 7. And iv had over 40 of them…family to me…

  21. I have an 11 year old pug and she still looks and acts like a puppy. She shows no signs of slowing down. I don’t agree with demonizing the owners. Would I get another pug? No, but that’s only because I would feel like I was replacing my original one.

  22. I have had Boston Terriers for over 35 years, they’re the sweetest dogs ever, they do have issues,but what good breed doesn’t. I have had to put two down for health reasons,and it killed me, I cried for months. The one I have now, her name is Chelby, Igor her from a dude that had two fat Boston’s, mom and dad of Chelby, he was trying g to tell me how to feed her with noodles,frozen veggies, and canned dog food! I was like, are you nuts!I paid him for he for her and got the hell out of there. Her birthday was 2 days ago, she is 10 yrs old, she’s fine, other than skin issues. She is our sweet baby girl.

  23. I have owned four flat faced dogs of pugs and Frenchies and not one had a breathing problem.

  24. Why? Because the human selfishness in indulging their own needs/pleasure trumps everything else. F*** the unhealthy breeds and their pitiful struggles to breathe, it’s cute!

    Not like they can’t get the same or higher kind of love from any other dog 🙄 – I have never seen a dog more devoted to her owner than my friend’s rescued staffie. It’s like the poor girl knew what she was saved from and was grateful to the moon & back.

  25. I absolutely love my Frenchie, and wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. Yes she has some health problems (two compressed discs in her back and acid reflux) but we know exactly how to manage/treat them and exactly what to do if (goodness forbid) they ever got worse. She is the sweetest dog and loves everyone, she just wants cuddles and to play. I definitely would get another frenchie or even English bulldog despite the health risks. But I did my research, I knew about the potential health risks, honestly they didn’t seem that bad compared to other breeds I was looking at. I would just tell anyone who was looking to get a frenchie, or any dog, to do your research, be aware of the possible health problems and treatments.

  26. I can’t wait to pick up my 6 weeks old Boston Terrier. I had one years ago and they are great dogs. For the guy who made a comment about “dont get dogs like Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, Pugs, etc..” you’re a piece of scum who is lonely miserable LOL!

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