Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Time to get tough


It is...

• soon to be 10 years since Pedigree Dogs Exposed
• five years since The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding highlighted the issues linked to the head conformation
• 18 months since the publication of research (funded by the kennel club) spelling out the link between stenosis (pinched nostrils) and respiratory issues, especially in French Bulldogs
• a year since a veterinary petition demanding urgent reform for flat-faced dogs
• almost a year since the Kennel Club set up the Brachcycephalic Breeds Working Group in response to that petition

.. and of course I have highlighted the issue of pinched nostrils endlessly here on this blog.

Endlessly.

And yet... the picture at the top is one the Kennel Club has used as the ideal depiction of the French Bulldog in its new edition (2017) of its Illustrated Breed Standards.

And it isn't a one-off. Here's the one the KC has used for the Boston Terrier standard.

©  The Kennel Club


The Bulldog.
©  The Kennel Club
And the Pug.

©  The Kennel Club
Dogs are as near-as-damn-it obligate nose breathers. And even if they can supplement by mouth-breathing when they are awake, they are unable to do so when they are asleep, meaning thousands of these dogs live lives of interrupted sleep as they have to wake up in order to not asphyxiate.

Study after study has shown that these dogs pay the price for not being able to pull in a decent lungful of air and that starts with the nostrils.

These pictures are all the proof you need that the Kennel Club is not taking this issue seriously; that at its very core the KC is paying nothing more than lip-service to the demands for reform by the veterinary profession and animal welfare campaigners.

At one of the first meetings of the Brachycephalic Breeds Working Group, then KC Chairman Steve Dean expressly said that he didn't want "changing the breed standards" to be at the top of everyone's list of actions that could be taken.

And indeed, it hasn't been.

There have been some new measures.  The KC continues to fund brachy research. There is also now a brachy learning resource available on the KC website, the promise of better education of judges and a breed club commitment to educate better about the importance of keeping brachycephalics slim. There are also now health schemes for the Bulldog, French Bulldog and the Pug which do test for respiratory issues.

All this is welcome. But, bottom line, the Kennel Club continues to bat for the breeders who do not want the basic phenotype to change because it's the breeders that pay their wages.

Of course the simplest, quickest remedy is to give these dogs back some muzzle - to help not just with breathing issues, but to help protect their eyes from trauma and to give their teeth some room in their overcrowded mouths (a Pug here compared to an Australian Shepherd).



The problem is that  breeders are wedded to flat faces, particularly in Pugs and Bulldogs. They talk about the perfect "layback" - which essentially means that the nose should not interrupt the line between the forehead and tip of the dog's chin.

In fact, there's a new book out on the Pug head (yours for only $159) which reminds everyone that the word Pug comes from the latin for "fist" and that this is the shape the Pug's head should be in profile - i.e. totally flat.

Source

Here's a reminder from a top UK show breeder of what the Bulldog's head should look like.

Source



As you can see, a  protruding nose or a less severe underbite is considered a fault.

There was a big review of breed standards following Pedigree Dogs Exposed but it was mostly to add vague qualifiers such as, in the Pug standard,  "relatively" short rather than just short when describing the length of the muzzle. This gives the breeders way too much wiggle room.  We need proper metrics - a defined minimum skull/head/muzzle ratio and we need to find more profound ways to change their minds about what constitutes their breed in their eyes.

Large open nostrils is now a requirement in brachy breed standards, but this is widely ignored because other points of the breed are considered more important. There would be outrage if a Frenchie with one lop ear  or a Bulldog with a liver-coloured nose won in the show-ring, but dogs with slits for nostrils continue to be made up to champions. 

Meanwhile, on my CRUFFA group, whenever you post a picture of more moderate examples of the breed, current of historical, the breeders heap scorn. A few days ago, one breeder insisted that the dog featured in this famous painting of a Pug by Carl Reichert, dating from the late 19th century, was a crossbreed.

Same for these ones. Mongrels, the lot of them.


She admitted that the eye-white showing was undesirable but  preferred the look of this Crufts dog.


To those who say you cannot rebuild Rome in a day I say... rubbish. There are already more moderate versions of these breeds out there being bred by breeders more interested in health than the current fashion. 

For more than 10 years, I have called for moderation and hoped it would come from the breeders. But  I now know it won't. If we want anything more than a wee bit of tweaking round the edges, then we need to demand it. 

It is time to get tough. These dogs suffer - not all of them all the time but too many of them too often. 

Brachycephalics live a third less long than non-brachy dogs. Fifty per cent have significant airway disease. Almost all struggle to cool themselves. Most Bulldogs still can't mate or give birth naturally. Pugs have 19 times the risk of developing corneal ulcers.  All suffer from very low genetic diversity. And so on.

Today, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs make up one in five of the dogs registered with the Kennel Club - up from one in 50 in 2005.

Yesterday, a new petition was launched asking for a ban on brachycephalics.  Over 20k people signed it in the first 24 hrs. 

Have we reached a tipping point?  With your help. 

I haven't been able to blog much recently because I am busy finishing off a television series for BBC2. But I have taken time out to write this because the new breed standard pictures made me so angry.

So please... Although it's moderation I want, not a ban, sign the petition. Make your feelings known to the Kennel Club (see here). Complain if brands or media use generic pictures of brachycephalics to sell their wares. 

Vets: thank you so much for all that you are now doing, but please keep the pressure on.

And, of course, to everyone out there - please don't buy that puppy. 

It is not safe to buy a Pug, Bulldog or French Bulldog. Not safe for them and not safe for your wallet. 




Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Frenchies that win by a nose


The dog on the left is Arnie - a former AKC show-dog. You can read more about him here.

The dog on the right is Flint, bred in the Netherlands by Hawbucks French Bulldogs - a breeder trying to establish a new, healthier template for French Bulldogs.

They are both Frenchies. Both purebred. The difference is that the dog on the left has been bred to meet the current interpretation of breed standard - and the dog on the right is the result of selection for a more moderate dog by a breeder who believes that good health is more important than fashion.

I posted the image on Twitter and my CRUFFA Facebook page a couple of days ago and it has already been shared thousands of times, with many people thinking it has been Photoshopped. It hasn't.

I am pleased that most people are deeply shocked by Arnie's profile.  In truth, most Frenchies are not quite this extreme. But he is not totally untypical either - particularly in the US where the breed standard does not have a minimum muzzle length.

Unfortunately, some people are so wedded to the type of dog seen in today's show-ring that they prefer Arnie - or are more shocked by Flint's comparatively-long muzzle. Some have even called Flint "extreme".

"[I prefer] the one on the left to me it's a French bulldog and what I see and love in a French bulldog -the one on the right I don't recognise as a French bulldog," wrote one breeder.

And then this:

"I'd definitely own the left over right! Right is a disgusting example of the breed."

 As ever, what is considered "good type" changes with fashion. This Frenchie was a Champion in 1914.


And this is a famous French Bulldog from 1925.


This dog won Best of Breed at Crufts last year.


And this dog, a slight improvement, won BOB this year.


Neither of the Crufts dogs has a muzzle length anything like the 1/5th of the total head length advocated by the French Bulldog Club of England - or indeed the one-sixth the length of the head demanded in the FCI standard. They are also extremely cobby - particularly the 2016 BOB.  The show Frenchie's back has shortened over the years too, robbing them of the tail they once had and likely contributing to another Frenchie problem - spinal issues.

Unfortunately, stenosis - pinched nostrils - is almost ubiquitous in the show version of the breed, adding to the respiratory risk.

We know from newly-published research  that there isn't an absolute correlation between any one physical feature and breathing difficulties  (there is a panoply of contributory factors that interplay, including neck/chest girth,  intra-nasal obstruction, stenosis, trachea size and obesity).

But as David Sargan from the Cambridge BOAS research team says: "I think breeding for sound open nostrils, for longer and less wide heads, for less boxy body shapes and for less skin would all improve the [extremely brachycephalic] breeds." 

The good news is that there are breeders like Hawbucks breeding for a longer-muzzled, lighter, more athletic dogs with truly open nostrils. I would urge everyone tempted by a French Bulldog to seek them out - and of course be aware that health tests are important too.

The best Frenchie breeders screen for BOAS, hemivertebrae (HV), hereditary cataracts, luxating patellas, degenerative myelopathy (DM) and skin issues/allergies. A low co-efficient of inbreeding is a plus, too - and also ask about longevity (i.e. what age dogs in the pedigree died). Despite the French Bulldog Club of England's claim  that Frenchies can live to 12-14 "on average", this is not true.  In fact, Agria insurance data in Sweden has found that they are the shortest-living of all the breeds and the Finnish KC's database documents an average age of death of just five years old. It's possible that UK dogs live a bit longer, but essentially they're all from the same stock, so it's unlikely to be much longer.

I am an avid collector of pictures of more moderate Frenchies.  Here are a few of them. The first is Flint's mum, Yara - and the last another pic of  Flint. Enjoy!












© Krijn de Haas



Friday, 28 July 2017

Shocking new study: German Shepherds die because they can no longer stand up



In March last year, the footage of the best of breed German Shepherd (above) scurrying bent-backed and stressed round the big ring at Crufts sparked an outcry way beyond the dog-world. (See the footage here).

Now, a new study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology articulates the troubling state of the breed today in finding that the two leading causes of death for the German Shepherd in the UK are musculoskeletal disorders and "inability to stand".

In fact, if you add in deaths from spinal cord disorders (which often lead to paralysis in GSDs) this new study suggests that almost half of German Shepherds (45%) die from issues that are likely linked to the stresses caused by abnormal conformation.

Says author Dan O'Neill: "These results are higher for causes of death related to osteoarthritis/inability to stand/spinal problems in GSDs compared with some other larger breeds that we have explored and therefore are a point of note."

One can only say "likely", because the study does not differentiate between Sheps with a sloped or unnaturally curved back and those with a more normal one. This is simply an overall snapshot of the breed in the UK and all the more depressing for that.  For something more specific, we will have to wait for the results of a KC-funded locomotion study at the University of Surrey which is quantifying the different GSD types.

The truth is that there are very few German Shepherds in the UK (or indeed elsewhere) that are anything like as sound in body as this favourite-of-mine dog from 1925, Ch Klodo vom Boxberg.



To compare, here's the dog that was named best female at last year's Sieger show in Germany.


As a result of measures introduced by the Kennel Club after the Crufts 2016 GSD scandal (including - I kid you not - adding to the breed standard the line "Must be capable of standing comfortably and calmly, freely and unsupported in any way") the UK GSD show scene is in some turmoil.

We are indeed seeing dogs with somewhat straighter backs and sturdier back ends in the UK show-ring but there remains a hard-core group of GSD breeders and judges who still want dogs like the 2016 Crufts winner. They continue to cling to the German showline dog - as evidenced by  this logo for the British Singer Show held last month.



In Germany, whose show breeders are ultimately responsible for fucking up the breed, there has been a lot of discussion and some small indicators that change might be on the way.  There will be many watching to see if there is any moderation in the dogs at this year's Sieger Show (the German showline dog's flagship event) in September.

There is also now a splinter group in Germany - the RSV2000  - which promotes a more workmanlike dog.

And just look at this dog which won Best Puppy at a show in Sweden earlier this year.

Uxås Criga
To those of us who weep when we look at the modern show German Shepherd it all offers a small glimmer of hope.

Then I go to the breeder website for the 2016 Crufts best of breed Cruaghaire Catoria - or "Tori" as she is known - and see that they are planning on breeding her (for the third time) this autumn (see here).

I am not sure who is going to win the battle of the GSDs.

Hopefully the dog.

PS: there was one other fascinating finding in this study: that female GSDs lived longer than males - 1.4 yrs longer on average in fact.  They found that they are markedly lighter, and less aggressive, too.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Bulldog revival video: irresponsible Jodie Marsh puts other dogs' lives in danger




Yesterday, UK media personality Jodie Marsh - a glamour model and bodybuilder - posted this video of herself on Facebook reviving her lifeless Bulldog, Louie. It's already been seen by millions.




Jodie revealed in the comments that this dog collapses every two months or so and each time she has brought the dog back from the dead by doing what you see above. Moreover, she tells everyone to watch because one day it may save their own dog's life.

Her fans think she's a hero.

I think she's irresponsible and a danger to dogs.

Despite this being a regular occurrence, Ms Marsh shows no sign of having availed herself of the many dog first aid courses available that show owners how to do this properly  (see bottom of page)..

How do I know this?  Because she has the most basic tenet of it wrong: you don't do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with dogs - you do mouth-to-nose.  This is partly because it is impossible to get an air-tight seal on a dog's mouth - but also because dogs don't breathe through their mouths: they breathe through their noses.



Even when they are panting, they still take in air through the nose - they just exhale through their mouths. (For more info  on how dogs breathe/cool themselves, see this excellent article from Carol Beuchat over at the Institute of Canine Biology)


Now dogs are not quite the obligate nose breathers horses are, but dogs only breathe through their mouths - and very inefficiently - if they are not able to get enough oxygen in through their noses. If you block off the nose on a normal dog, they will go into a meltdown panic.

Jodie is clearly managing to bring her dog round each time he collapses,  and she is doing the right thing in clearing the blockage from his throat, but she is putting her dog at further risk by doing the rest of it wrong. Wiggling a limp dog's body about a bit while blowing air into a dog's mouth is not CPR. The danger is that in copying what she does, rather than what they should do, a dog that would otherwise live will die.

Jodie isn't totally clear what causes the dog to collapse so often - she mentions that the dog choked on a treat this time, but  also refers to overheating and to 'tracheal collapse'. All are common-enough in Bulldogs and other brachycpehliac (flat-faced) breeds - as is keeling over from exertion or stress. However,  she says the root cause is that the dog has an elongated soft palate that blocks his airway. This, too, is very common in Bulldogs and is the reason why so many sound like a freight train.

The technical name for this sometimes-life-threatening laborious breathing is "stertor" and the sole reason Bulldogs and other brachycephalics suffer from it (and other airway compromise) is because humans think it's cute to breed a dog with no muzzle, essentially crushing all the flesh that would be appropriate for a longer muzzled dog into a much smaller space.

There is surgery to fix this that can transform these dogs' lives. But, worryingly, Jodie reveals on her Facebook page that she thinks the operation  "is a con" and claims it costs £4,000 (about four times the average real cost).  Instead she would prefer a life of respiratory compromise for her Bulldogs (some of which she admits have died at three years old).



Bulldog Louie is a 13-yr-old rescue and anaesthesia has risks for Bulldogs and older dogs, so one can  understand why Ms Marsh has not opted for surgery for this particular dog, although it would have been less of a risk two years ago when she first got him. What a kindness it would have been for this dog who has to be watched like a hawk every time he eats or when out for a walk in anything other than cool weather.

It is true that the surgery is not always 100% successful - but in the majority of cases it offers at least some respite (and often a great deal of relief) to these dogs. It is, at best, irresponsible to put others off what can be life-saving surgery. At worst, it could lead directly to another dog's death.

Jodie claims it's a con because the soft palate grows back - in fact not true. Scarring from the op can go on to cause problems later on, but modern techniques minimise this.

“This is a very distressing video that demonstrates just how serious BOAS (brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome) is as a condition for those dogs living with it," says Gudrun Ravetz, President of the British Veterinary Association. Gudrun praises Jodie for highlighting the dangers of walking flat-faced dogs in hot weather and the choking hazards that eating can present for dogs with an abnormal soft palate, but adds:

“No dog should have to endure the distress of regularly collapsing, though sadly this is a reality for many flat-faced dogs. We would strongly advise anyone with a pet suffering these symptoms to talk to their vet urgently to agree the best way to ensure the health and welfare of their pet. This may include opting for surgery and will definitely include taking special measures in hot weather.

“BVA has been highlighting the significant health problems suffered by flat-faced dogs, such as bulldogs, and asking potential owners to choose healthier breeds or crossbreeds.”

Ms Ravetz also commented on the use of CPR on dogs.

“In emergencies an owner can give CPR until veterinary care is available. This mouth-to-nose resuscitation should only be used if the dog has stopped breathing and has no pulse. You can use your fingers to feel for a pulse at the top of the inside back leg. We would advise owners to take veterinary advice, or attend a veterinary-led course, to learn how to deliver CPR in the safest way.”


The BVA recommends owners to be cognisant with the first aid advice offered by veterinary charity PDSA, which recommends the ABC resuscitation method for dogs until you receive veterinary assistance:

Airway:
  • Pull the tongue forward.
  • Check there is nothing in the throat.

Breathing
  • Look and listen.
  • If the dog is not breathing, extend the dog's neck, close the mouth and blow down the dog's nose, using your hand as a 'funnel' so that you do not directly contact your dog's nose.

Circulation
  • Apply regular, intermittent gentle pressure to the chest if you are sure there is no heartbeat.
  • Check the heartbeat/pulse.

Jodie clearly loves her dogs - and has two perfectly sensible Rottweillers.  It always astonishes me that people who are obsessed with their own looks and take so much trouble to keep fit are drawn to Bulldogs.  Whatever the reason, she needs to think carefully about continuing to inflict air hunger on dogs she loves when a veterinary surgeon's knife can relieve the suffering.

Better still, she should stop supporting the breeding of Bulldogs in their current, compromised form.  Yep, even rescuing them plays a role in perpetuating their existence, especially if you're a celebrity.

For more info on  Bulldog breathing issues, check out the Cambridge BOAS Group's website here.

If you would like to learn how to save your dog's life in similar circumstances, please check out the excellent courses from Dog First Aid UK.

11/7/17 update:

Looks like Jodie has accepted an offer to do a proper first aid course... Great news.


12/7/17 update:

Very sadly, Louie was found dead in Jodie's garden today. RIP Louie... May you be re-incarnated as a dog with a muzzle.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

CRUFTS 2017: Boxer noses

© CRUFFA

In January, I wrote to  the UK Boxer Breed Council Health Committee enclosing some pictures of Boxers taken at UK shows in the past couple of years. I pointed out that I felt that stenotic nostrils (nares) in the breed was a growing problem and that I hoped it could be nipped in the bud.

As some will know, I am currently on a bit of a mission re Pug, Frenchie and Bulldog noses via the CRUFFA Facebook page. Pinched nostrils are a huge problem in these breeds, particularly in Frenchies (a blog to come on that). 

We produced some nice stickers to help get the message across - and I even offered to let the French Bulldog club have the artwork without CRUFFA's name on it. Sadly, I wasn't taken up on the offer (we're the enemy...) and I was forbidden from distributing the stickers at Crufts. As it happens, just mentioning on CRUFFA that I wanted to, created a big and rather silly fuss in the dog press, so we managed to get the message across that way.



Anyway, I was delighted to get this reply from the Boxer Breed Council Health Committee.

"While the Boxer Breed Council’s Health Committee does not believe that pinched nostrils are a significant issue in Boxers we will take the opportunity of reminding Breed Clubs that open nostrils in the broad, black nose required by the Breed Standard are desirable. We will be doing this by circulating your original email together with this response."

I wrote back and thanked them.

Unfortunately, though, stenotic nares are now a major problem in this breed, as the picture above and those below show - all taken at Crufts last Sunday. 

© CRUFFA

It is astonishing that I even have to say it, but clearly I do:

While the show-ring continues to obsess about minor cosmetic points, completely ignoring basic necessities for life, it deserves all the crap it gets from campaigners like me. 

© CRUFFA

Dogs are obligate nose breathers. They exhale hot air through their mouths when panting, but all the air they draw into their lungs is through their nose, so a fully functioning nose is important.

© CRUFFA

Dogs don't sweat like we do, so their nose and airways are critical - and particularly in an active breed like the Boxer that suffers from heart problems. (NB we know that heart problems can be a consequence of the continual fight for air in the extreme brachycephalics).

As Professor Gerhard Oechtering wrote in the Guardian a few years ago:

"...the noses of wolves and dogs are not just for smell; they are an indispensable tool to control body temperature. Dogs are not able to sweat like humans or horses. They need the large mucosal surface of the nasal turbinate and a specific gland producing "water" in hot weather or when internal heat is produced after physical exercise. Vaporising this water on the large intranasal turbinate surface is the cooling principle; the tongue plays only a minor role in canine thermoregulation. This is the reason why dogs are obligatory nose breathers. No nose – no thermoregulation – no health – no animal welfare."

© CRUFFA

Meanwhile, the KC's Breed Watch has absolutely nothing listed as a health concern for the Boxer. 

© CRUFFA

Perhaps now the KC will add stenotic nares?  And while they're at it, the ectropion, too.

© CRUFFA

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Please don't breed if they cannot breathe

Fighting for air their whole lives

© Ralph Rückert

Take a good look into this French Bulldog's eyes. He has just woken up from an anaesthetic and the endotracheal that supported his breathing during the procedure is still in place. Dogs always fight it because it makes them gag. But not this dog - and many other brachycephalics.  The ET tube has opened his airways, enabling him to breathe properly - possibly for the first time in his life.

His story was posted on Facebook last week by a German vet,  Ralph Rückert.



I was so moved that I asked Dr Rückert if we could translate it and post it here.

Here's what he wrote:

It might sound implausible, but the French Bulldog in the photo just woke up from anaesthesia. The eyes focus on me and see me. Seconds later we removed the pulse oximeter from the tongue, and the dog rolled itself upright. 
Every (every!) other dog will immediately try to dislodge the endotracheal tube at this moment, which is why we usually take it out much sooner. But with Frenchies (and other flat nosed dogs) we leave the tube in position as long as possible, dreading respiratory collapse during the home stretch of their anaesthesia. 
This frequently leads to the moment - a moment that regularly sends cold chills down my spine - when you realise that these dogs, while fully conscious, are enjoying the ability to breathe without effort (through a tube) for the first time in their life. I know that I am anthropomorphising unashamedly but nonetheless: when you pull the tube eventually, the wheezing starts up again and you see - I swear to high heaven - a glaze of resignation and disappointment fall over their eyes that were previously bright with fascination. 
This is a moment where the lifelong - and too often ignored – suffering of many brachycephalic dogs becomes crystal clear to see. Sadly it is a moment only vets witness. The first time I noticed this phenomenon, I was inclined to dismiss it as my own sentimental fabrication. But as time passed, I heard stories of the same curious and touching moment from several colleagues with a lot of experience with flat nosed breeds. You absolutely have to ask yourself honestly what it means when a dog prefers the discomfort of an endotracheal tube to its natural airway.

Meanwhile, the Kennel Club has just revealed that the French Bulldog is now the third most popular breed in the UK with over 21,000 registered in 2016; up from just 526 ten years ago.

In fact, one in six Kennel Club registered dogs today is an extreme brachycephalic - either a Frenchie, Bulldog or Pug - up from one in 50 ten years ago. Thousands more are being bred outside of the Kennel Club, feeding the obscene demand for flat-faced "cute". 

It is, frankly, the biggest explosion in suffering the purebred dog world has seen in modern times.