Why do people love dogs with crushed faces? In fact, some of the most popular purebred dogs are those with noses that look like they’re pressed against glass in the uterus: pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and Boston terriers all fall into these categories. The technical term for this type of distorted face dog is “brachycephalic”. (The root brachy- means “short,” while cephalic means “of the head.”) Perhaps humans love them because brachycephalic dogs are intolerably adorable with their snouts squeezed toward the skulls until their faces are flat. Her large, round eyes appear friendly, curious and friendly; their wrinkled faces convey a delightful spectrum of moods, from grumpy to overjoyed; and when the tongues protrude from the mouth, as they often do, they look like they’re blowing raspberries.
“I think there is good reason to believe that one of the things we like about a dog with a shorter nose is that it looks more like a human primate face,” said Alexandra Horowitz, cognitive scientist and author of Our Dogs, Ourselves “. said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year. “We have to acknowledge that it has gone too far.”
Appearances can be deceiving, however. While brachycephalic dogs seem to lead the lives of happy cartoon characters, their actual everyday life can be fraught with discomfort – and often worse. From diseases to genetic disorders, brachycephalic dogs don’t just have problems – their problems keep getting worse. That’s because such breeds receive more inbreeding over time than they did 100 years ago – which raises ethical questions about further breeding for some dog lovers and veterinarians. Indeed, humans may be dogs’ best friends, but in our quest to breed more best friends, we may have accidentally hurt those we claim to love.
What it’s like to be a brachycephalic dog
It starts with eliminating the snout; Although aesthetically pleasing to breeders and owners, this anatomical change forces the dog to breathe through nasal passages that are simply too small.
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“We can imagine that we have a cold and it is harder to breathe and we tend to snore a lot,” wrote Erica Feuerbacher, Associate Professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech at Salon. “So it could be for these dogs.”
It is an ailment that is literally unimaginable for humans. People are occasionally born with brachycephaly, although their symptoms are not the same as in these dogs. Molly H. Sumridge, a lecturer in anthrozoology at Carroll College, told Salon that people with brachycephaly don’t usually have the extreme symptoms that are purposely bred with many dogs. “In humans, this is corrected in infants by using a skull-reforming helmet,” Sumridge told Salon.
“Many brachycephalic dogs have stenotic nostrils due to malformations of the skull and muzzle [a condition caused by malformed nasal cartilage that strains the larynx], protruding eyes and deep nasal folds, “said Marjan van Hagen, professor of animal behavior at Utrecht University, via email to Salon. This means that many of the animals are constantly suffering from shortness of breath, which” has had a major impact on their daily lives since gasping for air with every breath. “They can also have painful eye conditions due to their misshapen eye sockets; Pugs, for example, are particularly prone to eye prophylaxis, a condition where their eyes pop out of their skulls.
That’s not all. The list of diseases associated with brachycephaly is long and “keeps growing” as we study it, says Van Hagen. Van Hagen can testify to dogs with abnormalities in their inner ear structures and tear ducts, which have buildups of cerebrospinal fluid in the spinal cord and skull that are too small for a dog’s cerebellum (which helps control muscle activity). Even the jaws, which make English bulldogs appear wild and silly at the same time, are often a source of pain indeed: Brachycephalic dogs can have their teeth compressed because there isn’t enough room in their jaws, which leads to inflammation.
There’s also a good reason why bulldogs like Uga, the University of Georgia’s famous mascot, need constant air conditioning if they’re in the sun for too long.
“Their brachycephaly also contributes to the fact that they cannot thermoregulate as well and can easily overheat, which in turn means that they are restricted in their activities and conditions,” explains Feuerbacher. She also mentioned that it is common for English and French Bulldog puppies to be given birth by caesarean sections, which affects the mother’s welfare.
Smaller brachycephalic dogs are also prone to a condition known as drooping tongue syndrome. When their tongues are too big, they are missing teeth, or they have an abnormal jawbone, the flaccid pink muscle organ constantly protrudes or hangs from their mouth. While this may seem cute, it can be very uncomfortable for the dogs. If you can’t pull your tongue into your mouth enough to keep it moist, it can dry out, crack, blister, and become infected. Imagine the feeling of having uncomfortable chapped lips but on your tongue.
The language barrier between the dogs
Smashed-faced dogs may also have difficulty talking to their canine companions.
“Brachycephalic deformities can also affect a dog’s ability to communicate effectively with other dogs using facial body language,” Sumridge told Salon. In other words, because their facial structure appears stranger to other dogs, they are inhibited in their ability to communicate.
If it is so difficult for many of these dogs to survive, “speak” and in some cases even reproduce, how do they even exist? Surprisingly, they’ve been around for a while – albeit in a healthier form.
“The origins of brachycephalic dogs depend on what trait you want to measure,” explained Sumridge. Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Pekingese, for example, are very old, but the extreme nature of their flat faces today is younger.
“The breeding of flatter faces seems to have increased over the past 50-100 years mainly to emphasize the ‘baby face’ that many owners love and are attracted to,” Sumridge told Salon.
Modern dog breeds were created in the 19th century when the concept of “purebreds” became fashionable among Victorian Europeans. As with so many things, this phenomenon can be linked to racism, particularly the eugenics movements which believed that knowledge of genetics could be manipulated to create “perfect” specimens in the human and animal world.
Even if purebred brachycephalic dogs didn’t have this awkward history, there would still be significant ethical concerns about continuing to breed them.
“Veterinarians around the world argue that there is widespread evidence of a link between extreme brachycephalic phenotypes and chronic diseases that affect dog welfare,” said van Hagen. “The selection of dogs with ever shorter and wider skulls has reached physiological limits. Therefore, continuing to breed them in this way with this knowledge can be viewed as unethical.”
Feuerbacher noted that not only brachycephalic breeds have innate health problems. A number of purebred dogs have health problems due to inbreeding, such as German Shepherds, who are bred with increasingly sloping backs and therefore develop back, hip and leg problems.
“I think we have a responsibility to our animals to breed them as healthily as possible, instead of just giving in to our desire for a certain aesthetic,” wrote Feuerbacher. “We can certainly choose based on different aesthetics, but hopefully if we keep animal welfare in mind when making these choices, we will find a balance and not select for extreme traits that can negatively affect the animal.”
Experts agree that the solution is to prevent overbreeding. It is possible that dogs could continue to come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes and still lead healthy lives. Experts agree that the key is genetic diversity in their lineage. Inbreeding, as the name suggests, is bad.