Owners of brachycephalic dogs are a complicated lot

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Most owners of Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs believe their dog to be in "very good health" or the "best health possible" despite documented health and welfare problems associated with brachycephalic breeds, according to a PLOS One study published in July.

Pug and French Bulldog
Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs remain popular among dog owners despite documented health problems associated with brachycephalic breeds.

Researchers reported responses from 2,168 owners of brachycephalic dogs in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada—789 Pug owners, 741 French Bulldog owners, and 638 Bulldog owners—to an online survey about veterinary diagnoses, conformation-related surgeries performed, veterinary costs, and emotional bonding.

The most common owner-reported disorders in their dogs were allergies, corneal ulcers, skin fold infections, and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. One-fifth of owners reported that their dog had undergone at least one conformation-related surgery, 36.5% of dogs were reported to have a problem with heat regulation, and 17.9% were reported to have problems breathing.

Despite these health issues, 70.9% of respondents considered their dog to be in very good health or the best health possible. Paradoxically, just 6.8% of owners considered their dog to be less healthy than average for its breed.

Dog-owner relationships were extremely strong across all three breeds. Emotional closeness to their dog was highest for owners of Pugs, female owners, and owners with no children.

"Ownership of brachycephalic dog breeds is a complex phenomenon, characterized by extremely strong dog-owner relationships and unrealistic perceptions of good health set against high levels of disease in relatively young dogs," the researchers wrote. "Perceptual errors in owner beliefs appear to exist between brachycephalic owner perspectives of their own dog's health versus the health of the rest of their breed, which may be fueled by cognitive dissonance processes."

Despite the high levels of disease reported, the dogs in this study were generally young, with a median age of 2.17 years. It is likely that the prevalence, spectrum, and severity of disorders in these dogs will increase as the population ages. "This suggests that even the alarmingly high disease prevalence values reported in the current study may still be an underestimate of the true age-standardized disease prevalence that will be shown by the study dogs over time," the researchers wrote.

These novel data, researchers concluded, elucidate the cognitive processes and relationships that facilitate the rising popularity of breeds affected by high levels of conformation-related morbidity.