We love our dogs.

Unfortunately, some breeds need more than unconditional love.

Many breeds of dog have exaggerated physical features, which means they can’t breathe, walk or give birth normally. Many have chronic and painful ear, skin and eye problems. These problems prevent many dogs from having a normal and comfortable life.

This results from breeding to pedigree ‘breed standards’ that focus on appearance rather than selecting traits that are best for the dogs’ health and well-being.

That’s a real concern for owners. No one wants to be blind to the suffering of their much-loved pets.

These dogs don’t need to suffer, and you can help.

RSPCA Australia and the Australian Veterinary Association are calling for a fundamental shift in the way purebred dogs are selected and bred in Australia.

Please express your support and help us create a healthier future for these much-loved dogs.

Things to look for this summer

Diego's story

The sad story of Diego is unfortunately not a rare one, with many dogs suffering as a result of their exaggerated features. Even milder summer temperatures can pose a threat to the lives and welfare of short-muzzled (brachycephalic) dogs such as pugs, French bulldogs and British bulldogs. It’s important to get to know the signs and welfare issues many of these dogs face.

What is brachycephalic?

You may have heard the term ‘flat-faced’ and ‘squishy-faced’ used to describe dog breeds such as pugs, French bulldogs and British bulldogs. However, brachycephalic is another term used, especially by vets – but what exactly does it mean and why does having a flat face cause welfare and health issues for many of these dogs? The RSPCA and AVA explain why.

Danger signs to look for

If you have a squishy-faced or flat-faced dog you need to know the signs if their life is in danger. These breeds have higher welfare issues and risks, especially with their ability to breathe, even in milder temperatures. Learn the signs of what to look for when your pet’s health is in trouble.

Provide for a healthy pet

Brachycephalic breeds of dog, sometimes known as ‘flat-faced’ and ‘squishy-faced’ dogs, have welfare and health issues specific to their breed due to the exaggerated flatness of their facial features. Get to know how to help your dog be the healthiest it can be.

Paula Parker was AVA President at the time of filming.

Love is suffocating

Pedigree dogs with very short muzzles (brachycephalic breeds) such as Pugs, British bulldogs and French bulldogs generally have serious difficulty breathing as the length of their muzzle has been progressively shortened through selective breeding. However, the soft tissue inside is not reduced, blocking their airways.

Their nostrils and windpipes may also be constricted, making it even more difficult to breathe. These dogs endure the constant and excruciating sensation of being suffocated.

Some dogs will faint or collapse due to a lack of oxygen, especially when exercising or excited. Others may overheat, sometimes fatally. Many have chronic sleep deprivation. They may be forced to sleep sitting or standing up, because of their breathing problems.

These dogs often need major surgery to try to improve their quality of life. They have a formally recognised medical condition called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).

French Bulldog

breeds at risk:

Short muzzle breeds such as Pugs, British bulldogs, French bulldogs, Boston terrier and Pekingese among others.


Love Hurts

Some dog breeds have major difficulty giving birth. British bulldogs, French bulldogs and Pugs are deliberately selected for a large head, broad shoulders and narrow pelvis, which means the pup's head and shoulders are too large to fit through their mother’s pelvic canal causing major birthing problems.

Generally, they can’t give birth normally and require veterinary assistance and a caesarean section.

Over 80 per cent of bulldog litters have to be delivered this way.

breeds at risk

British bulldogs, French bulldogs, Pugs, Boston terriers & Scottish terriers among others.

Love is Pain

Some breeds such as the Dachshund have been selectively bred to have abnormal body proportions such as disproportionately short legs (known as chondrodystrophic breeds). Abnormal cartilage causes their stunted growth and short stature.

This means that they frequently suffer from serious spinal and neurological problems causing severe pain and difficulty walking. These spinal problems often lead to paralysis, which usually means major surgery or can lead to euthanasia.

Longer backs combined with shorter legs further increases the risk of spinal injury.

breeds at risk

Dachshund, Basset hound and Welsh corgi among others.

Screw tail photo

breeds at risk:

British bulldog, French bulldog, Pug and Boston terrier.

Love is Hard

Some brachycephalic breeds have a shortened and kinked tail, called a “screw tail”, which is a result of deformities in the bones of the tail. Dogs with screw tails have a high likelihood of having other deformities in bones along the length of their spine. These deformities are likely to lead to spinal problems including compression of the spinal cord, formation of cysts within the spine and diseases of the discs between the spinal bones. Affected dogs may become paralysed in their back legs and can also develop faecal and urinary incontinence.

Screw tail radiograph image

On the left is a normal radiograph from a dog with no vertebral body abnormalities. On the right is an abnormal radiograph from a brachycephalic dog with vertebral body abnormalities. Both these radiographs are DV or dorsoventral radiographs, which show an image looking from the top of the dog downwards. The red oval highlights the abnormal area of the spine which contrasts with the normal spine in the same area, which is highlighted in the green oval in the normal radiograph.

Love changes everything

The way many breeds such as the British bulldog and Pug look today is not how they always looked. Over time they have been bred to have increasingly exaggerated features, which are really deformities, causing suffering and a poor quality of life.

These exaggerated features have been created because of deliberate selective breeding for a particular physical type or trait in order to conform to a pedigree breed standard. A breed standard is a set of strict guidelines describing the way a particular breed must look, and they are used as the judging criteria in dog shows.

The breed standards prioritise appearance above the long-term health and welfare of the dogs and may require dogs to have extreme physical traits such as a very flat face or very wrinkly skin.

Painting by Thomas Gainsborough 1780

Love is blind

Two common eye problems suffered by pedigree dogs are eye trauma and ulceration, and entropion (an abnormality where the eyelids fold inwards and scratch the eyeball). These problems occur because of selective breeding for extreme facial features such as a very flat face, very wrinkly facial skin and very large bulging eyes, in order to conform to the breed standard.

Bulging eyes

Eye trauma and ulceration is often suffered by dogs with very short muzzles such as Pugs, British bulldogs and French bulldogs. The flatter the face, the shallower the eye socket and the more prominent the eye. Prominent, bulging eyes are at greater risk of injury and sometimes they actually pop out of their socket, causing severe pain.

Because their eyes are abnormally large and protruding, their eyelids cannot close properly over their eyeballs. This dries their eyes and often leads to eye ulcers. This results in pain and potential blindness. Sometimes the affected eye needs to be surgically removed. These breeds have a formally recognised medical condition called Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome.

Entropion is an abnormality where the eyelids fold inwards and scratch the surface of the eye, causing pain and ulcers.

This occurs often in dogs selected for wrinkled features or excessive skin folds around the eyes such as the Shar Pei, British bulldog and Pug. Shar Pei pups often require an ‘eyelift’ surgery to try to prevent damage to their eyes. This surgery may need to be repeated as the dog ages.

Courtesy of Dr. Susan Jacobi

Love will Find a Way

Love will find a way.

Because we all love our dogs, owners, breeders and veterinarians can work together to address these problems.
They are preventable.

for breeders

If you’re a breeder or member of a breed association, you can call for urgent changes to the breed standards, so that exaggerated features are no longer required or considered desirable, and health and welfare are more important.

As a breeder you can actively prevent these problems by ensuring you do not select for exaggerated physical features. You can do this by choosing parents with a more normal and moderate appearance.

Kennel councils and judges can actively promote changes by rewarding for health as a priority in the dog show ring.

More info for breeders AVA policy

looking for a puppy?

If you’re a potential puppy buyer you can help by reading the RSPCA Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide and choosing not to buy puppies with exaggerated features that compromise their welfare.

Ask to see the parents of the puppies, to get an idea of their appearance and whether their offspring might be prone to health problems associated with extreme looks.

You can ask the breeder directly whether they breed away from physical exaggerations to prevent health problems.

More info on puppies

dog owners

If you already own one of these breeds, speak to your veterinarian about ways to help your much-loved pet live a more comfortable life, and avoid some of the worst consequences of these disorders.

And make sure your dog is desexed, so it doesn’t pass on health problems to the next generation.

More info for dog owners More info for vets
Please express your support

Thank you for supporting our Love is Blind campaign, and helping us work towards a healthier and happier future for purebred dogs with exaggerated features.

To the Australian National Kennel Council;

As a deeply concerned animal lover, I call on the Australian National Kennel Council to acknowledge the suffering of pedigree dogs with exaggerated features. I ask that you commit to working with breeders, vets and animal welfare groups to prioritise good health and welfare above physical appearance in these breeds.