New health scheme for brachycephalic dogs

Black and white French Bulldog lying on grass, pantingThe Kennel Club and University of Cambridge have launched a new Respiratory Function Grading Scheme to try to improve the health and welfare of short-nosed breeds, specifically Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs.

All of these breeds are susceptible to a condition called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Disease, or BOAS.  The aim of the scheme is to help breeders to lower the risk of producing puppies affected by this disorder.

What is a brachycephalic dog?

Shih Tzu puppyBrachy means short and cephalic means head.  A brachycephalic dog is one with a short, wide skull, often with a flat face as well.  Breeds of dog which are classified as brachcephalic include:

  • Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Pug
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Mastiff
  • Shih Tzu
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Pekingese

These dogs still have the same amount of soft tissue to fit into a smaller space so this can lead to blockage of the airways causing breathing difficulties.  They are also more prone to dental problems due to the teeth not having enough space, as well as skin problems and brain and spinal cord disorders.

What is BOAS?

Pug sitting and pantingBOAS is the condition where the excess tissue in the mouth, nose and upper airway partially obstructs airflow.  This causes breathing difficulties, which are often exacerbated in hot weather or when under stress.  It affects a dog’s ability to function normally, impairing exercise, eating and sleep.  It often progresses, becoming worse as a dog gets older.

Signs of BOAS include:

  • Snoring/noisy breathing
  • Sleeping when sitting down rather than lying down
  • Inability to walk long distances or play
  • Panting after very little exertion
  • Burping after eating

Tan and white bulldog wearing red harnessWhat does the scheme assess?

The new scheme involves an assessment by a specially trained vet.  The dog’s breathing is examined when they are calm and relaxed and then again after a 3 minute period of exercise.

The dog is then given a grade out of 3, where 0 is unaffected and 3 is severely affected.

How will the scheme help reduce BOAS?

BOAS is not directly inherited, so getting a puppy from parents who are unaffected does not guarantee that they will be fine.  However, it is hoped that by breeding away from the extremes which cause BOAS, the level of problem will be reduced.

The advice from the Kennel Club is that dogs with a grade of 3 should never be bred from.

Dogs with grade 2 should only be bred with dogs of grade 1 or less.

What should I do if I want to buy a puppy?

Pug puppyCheck that the breeder has had both parents of the puppy tested under the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme and ask to see the certificate.  You can also find test results on the Kennel Club website.  Make sure that they have followed the above breeding advice.

Look at the puppies.  If they have very small nostrils, or are showing any signs of noisy breathing, walk away.  Surgery to treat BOAS can cost thousands of pounds, and if the puppy is affected at such a young age, you will not be able to get any insurance to cover this.

Steer clear of puppies with excessively flat faces as these are more prone to all sorts of problems.

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