Copenhagen Congress calls for brachycephalic dog action

According to the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations (FECAVA), the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the Danish Small Animal Veterinary Association (DSAVA/FHKS), the increased popularity of brachycephalic breeds – including pugs and French bulldogs – is linked to concerning trends for dog health and welfare.

Issues facing these breeds and implication for veterinarians were discussed during a panel at the recent FECAVA-WSAVA Congress, held in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the end of the session, panel members released a number of recommendations to veterinarians to help improve health and welfare of brachycephalic dogs.

FECAVA vice president Wolfgang Dohne called on vets to help brachycephalic dogs but to advise owners to neuter their animals if they have conformation-altering disorders.

“Our members see the results of extreme brachycephalic confirmation in practice on a regular basis and it is one of our top animal welfare concerns,” WSAVA president Walt Ingwersen said. “A reduction in the health problems faced by these breeds will be most effectively achieved through education of veterinary professionals, breeders and owners and through leadership and consensus-building between stakeholders.”

Gudrun Ravetz, senior vice president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said that in the UK, both owners and breeders consent to having conformation-altering surgery reported, but expressed concern at a recent BVA survey which showed that while 67 per cent of vets reported seeing breed-related problems, few submit conformation-altering data to the Kennel Club, “even though this would support the development of evidence-based solutions.”

“There is no easy answer but by working together and sharing experiences and successes, we will start to change the minds of pet owners who think that these animals are cute when many of them are, in fact, born into a life of suffering,” DSAVA president Anne Sørensen said

“As veterinarians, we put the best interests of our patients first. For affected animals – including flat-faced dogs but also cats and rabbits – this may involve performing surgical procedures to correct or overcome conformational disorders, such as enlarging the nostrils, shortening the soft palate, correcting the bite or performing caesarean sections,” FECAVA president Jerzy Gawor said. “We are concerned these procedures – which should be exceptional – are becoming the norm in many brachycephalic breeds,”

All three associations committed to develop and contribute to initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of these animals.

Expert panel recommendations: the vet’s role
As advocates of, and experts in, animal health and welfare, veterinarians should speak up and show leadership in taking action against the breeding of dogs with excessive traits which can lead to health and welfare problems, such as brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

At a practice level, veterinarians should:

  1. Advise the public not to buy animals with extreme conformation. This applies both to breeds and to individual dogs.
  2. Raise awareness among dog owners and advise them about health and welfare issues in dogs with extreme conformations.
  3. Raise awareness among breeders, breed clubs and show judges and advise them as to health and welfare issues in dogs with extreme conformations. Take an active role in pre-breeding examinations and in giving advice regarding potential breeding stock.
  4. Inform dog owners and breeders about breeding restrictions if a dog is surgically treated for BOAS or other problems related to extreme traits linked to breeding. (In countries where no such restrictions exist, strongly advise against breeding.) Advise neutering at the time of surgery if good practice allows.
  5. Share data on health and welfare issues related to extreme breeding. Where a national submission system exists, submit details on conformation-altering surgery and caesarean sections related to extreme breeding traits.

At professional organisation level, veterinarians should:

  1. Implement a communication campaign to proactively raise awareness among the public in general and to advise them about health and welfare issues in dogs with extreme conformations.
  2. Work together with national cynological organisations and other stakeholders to set up registers of confirmation-altering surgeries and caesarean sections as well as relevant screening programmes (i.e. pre-breeding examinations).
  3. Call for the revision of breed standards to help prevent BOAS and other brachycephalic-related disorders. Breed standards should include evidence-based limits on physical features (e.g. muzzle length) and approaches such as outcrossing should be considered.
  4. Launch and distribute veterinary health certificates for puppies and/or checklists for prospective buyers in support of responsible, healthy breeding.
  5. Develop evidence-based international standardised protocols for the examination of breeding animals regarding respiratory function and thermoregulation.
  6. Set up systems allowing the gathering of data from veterinary practices regarding health and welfare-related issues in dogs with extreme conformations.
  7. Set up undergraduate training/CPD to equip vets to take a more active role in providing breeding advice to breeders, breeder organisations and judges, related to extreme conformation and screening procedures.

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