Pugs are fashionable

The title of this post seems a bit harsh, but there is a serious problem with selective breeding and “fashionable” crazes for particular breeds of dogs. At the minute, the pug seems to be in the spotlight of the media, being endorsed by celebrities such as Zoe Sugg, Gerard Butler, Paris Hilton, and even George Clooney.

What is selective breeding?

Pedigree breed standards focus on the physical appearance traits of a dog rather than the health and well being traits. Because of this, many pedigree breeds have over exaggerated features which mean the animal isn’t able to walk properly or even breath properly.

What kind of health issues do pugs face?

Pugs (along with British and French bulldogs, Boston terriers, and Pekingese) have an extremely short muzzle. Although the length is drastically shorter than what is was, the inside tissue has remained the same, meaning these dogs have blocked airways. Because of there squashed noses, their nostrils and windpipes are restricted meaning that some pugs have a constant sensation of suffocation.

Furthermore, some pugs are not able to get the exercise they need because they can overheat and even faint due to a lack of oxygen, both cases can be fatal. They may also have to sleep sitting or standing so that they are able to breath.

Read more about this here.

The problem with pugs

From a vets perspective?

I recently read a very sad post on Facebook from Bilton Veterinary Centre in the West Midlands:

“Last week, I managed to reduce a lovely family to floods of tears. They had brought their new dog in to come and see me. There was a young lady, her husband and their two children of about 8 or 9 years old and they were all already absolutely besotted with their new pet – their first dog, and they had been planning it for several years.

The dog was a 5-month-old French Bulldog that they had picked up from a breeder about 4 weeks previously. They were concerned that their new dog may have “a chill” as the dog had sore runny eyes, difficulty in eating and kept making a choking sound. They had also noticed the dog had a “funny smell” about him.

As I examined the dog it became quickly apparent what was occurring and my heart sank. This dog was yet another increasingly popular “short-nosed” breed that was suffering horribly from a myriad of problems – all related to its poor breeding and its unfortunate anatomy.

A pug in 1880

After the examination, I found that this dog had:

– Eyeballs too big for its eye sockets. So much so, that when he blinked, the eyelids didn’t fully cover the eyeballs. (Imagine going out on a windy day and not being able to blink!) This had resulted in deep painful ulcers forming on both eyes that in the short term would require intensive treatment and could feasibly result in the rupture of one or both eyeballs.

– The bones forming the front of his face (the maxilla) were so squashed by virtue of this style of this breed (called the brachycephalics), that the soft-tissue structures of the throat are compressed and forced backwards – obstructing his larynx. Amongst other things, his soft palate was so elongated (relative to his skull) that it kept getting trapped over his wind-pipe.

-His nostrils were completely occluded, so absolutely no airflow was possible through his nose. All of his breathing had to take place through his open mouth. This meant that whilst he was eating/sleeping he was going through bouts of asphyxiation and so would have to spit the food out or wake up and open his mouth – purely so he would be able to breathe. This explained the “choking” sound that there were hearing all the time. He could just manage to breathe with his mouth open, but this then exacerbated the problems with his soft palate.

– The skin fold over the top of the nose (caused by the squashed face involuting the skin) had caused a crevice of around 2-3 cms deep, where the skin was rubbing against its self. In this area, the skin was ulcerated and was full of liquid pus. It was this that the owners were smelling. This was incredibly painful for the animal and he cried every time I tried to clean it.

-The skin around his feet, ears, armpits and groin was red raw and inflamed. He clearly was very itchy and had been licking at these areas repeatedly – which had, in turn, made them more sore and painful. This is very typical of a condition called “atopy” which is very common in many breeds, particularly the Bulldogs (French and English).

So at this point, the shocked owners asked what needed to be done to sort him out. So I had to explain that he would need:

– Bilateral eyelid shortening surgery that would allow the dog to blink properly and prevent further ulcers from forming. As well as long-term medication to improve the quality of his tears.
– Complex soft tissue surgery of the back of the throat to, (amongst other things) shorten his soft palate to facilitate his breathing.
– He would need both of his nostrils opening up so as to allow adequate air flow to be possible to allow him to breathe/exercise/eat/sleep properly.
-He would need a “face-lift” to remove a large amount of excess skin on the front of his face, to try and open up the fold that was causing so much infection and pain.
-He may need allergy testing, food trials, anti-inflammatories etc to try and manage the atopic skin disease that he has.

*He needs all of this fairly urgently.
*He can’t have all of this done at once and so will require several anaesthetics and complex procedures to be done over a period of time.
*He is only 5 months old.
*He needs all of this doing – just so that he can live a vaguely normal life.

Also – he is not insured. It transpired that the new owners looked into insurance but the premium was so high for this breed, that they felt they couldn’t afford it. To move forward, he would have to go to a specialist veterinary unit (sadly recently set up to deal with the increasing number of very poorly brachycephalic dogs with extreme conformational issues) and this treatment could cost upwards of £8,000 to correct.

Once I had discussed all this with the owners – they were understandably distraught. They had hoped for a “cute” and “cuddly” family pet that they had seen examples of spread throughout popular media. They had no idea that these problems even existed. Instead, they now have a much-loved dog that is miserable, has a long journey ahead of it and one that they cannot afford to have fixed.

The family left the room in floods of tears, armed with medication that would temporarily alleviate some of the symptoms and try to make the poor little dog more comfortable. From what I have later found out, this dog has gone to a rescue centre to be rehomed. It may have moved away, but its problems most certainly will not have done.

Pugs, Frenchies, English Bulldogs and Shar-Peis are amongst the breeds which are increasingly being abandoned in vast numbers as people cannot cope with their ongoing problems, illnesses and costs. It upsets us all hugely when we see how many of the problems frequently associated with these breeds are now classed as “normal”. I will commonly hear “Oh it is normal for this breed to struggle with A, B or C”. NO IT ISN’T NORMAL!

These trendy flat-faced breeds are some of the most expensive puppies to currently buy. There is serious money for people who sell a litter of these puppies and so the incentive to breed is VERY high. It must be said that there are responsible breeders who are trying to “back-breed” these types of dogs to have longer noses, smaller eyes, more open nostrils etc and try to reduce the incidence of these conditions, and these people should be applauded. However, puppy farms and irresponsible owners are rife, and these “breeders” don’t seem to care a jot about the long-term prognosis and what the future holds for “their” breed.

It is also worth noting that many of these breeds are unable to give birth naturally now too (due to the shape of the puppy’s skulls) and so the mothers often go through multiple caesareans…

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE STOP AND THINK before you buy. Come and talk to US about the breeds that you are interested in – and we shall give you the whole picture.

I am completely exhausted and totally demoralised seeing these type of problems on a daily basis. There are enough horrible illnesses, diseases and potential accidents out there without being destined to be unwell before you are even born.

Whilst people are still buying poor examples of these dogs, people will still breed them and the problem will never go away.”

The problem with pugs

What can we do to help these animals?

Unfortunately, it seems that many people do not know the consequences or the extent of selective breeding. It is cruel and unacceptable, and no animal should have to live in such overwhelming discomfort.

We can help by NOT supporting corrupt puppy farms that are only interested in the money and profits of creating “fashionable” dogs. We can support our local shelters, adopting dogs in need of a home. Many pugs are beyond the point of being able to live comfortably, even after surgery. Please have a read of the sources below to find out further information and more on how you can help.

More resources:


  1. This is a great post. I get so sad when I see little flat faced dogs. Dogs are not accessories!
    We have recently rescued a long haired chihuahua. My sister took her from a gypsy camp in Worcester where the man was getting runts from litters and breeding them to get them smaller and smaller (small dogs are so popular). Not only was he breeding sickly dogs but he was also drowning the remainder puppies, only wanting the runts.
    Despite being reported to the police, being a gypsy he simply moves on.

    If you MUST buy a dog, insist on seeing the puppies parents. If the breeder says no or makes you feel at all uncomfortable, leave and report them to the local council and police. Do not feel guilt-tripped into buying the puppy to “rescue” it, as you’ll simply be feeding the trade. Leave and report!

    For every 1 dog brought from a breeder, at least 5 healthy dogs will be put down in a rescue center. Please visit your local shelter before you consider going to a breeder.

    • That is an awful, awful thing to hear. There is money to be had in “trendy” breeds and these breeders will seem to do anything to get their hands on some. I hope the chihuahua is doing well now – great advice, thank you for sharing.

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