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What’s all the fuss about flat-faced dog breeds?

From English Bulldogs, Pugs, Cavaliers, Shih Tzus and Boxers, to the nation’s favourite French Bulldogs, flat-faced dog breeds have never been more on trend. They’re cute, affectionate and everyone loves them, so why is it that the nation’s largest animal welfare organisations are speaking out against the breeding of these types of dogs, and even in some cases trying to ban them? Here’s why.
brachycephalic puppy

At the moment our kennels are full of brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, with even more on our waiting list to come in. Many of these dogs were bought during lockdown and have separation anxiety – others, like Bella the French Bulldog, have medical problems as a result of their breed.
Brachycephalic dogs are selectively bred for their shortened head, big eyes and flat faces, and while this look appeals to many people and has caused these breeds to become fashionable, their physical abnormality can cause them many health issues, of which owners are sometimes unaware.

Difficulty breathing

Snorting, grunting and wheezing are not normal sounds – they are signs that a flat-faced dog is struggling to breathe or that breathing is obstructed. In flat-faced breeds the length of the muzzle is much shorter than nature intended, but often there is still the same amount of soft tissue contained in the airways as there would be in a dog with a natural shaped longer snout. The soft tissue is bunched up inside the airways and nose, which doesn’t allow enough room for air – this means the dog struggles to get enough air into their lungs and has to really strain to breathe.

The constant straining can make the problem worse as the soft tissue can become hyperplastic (effectively growing even bigger) under the strain and causing complete collapse of the airways.


The difficulty many brachycephalic dogs have breathing can prevent them from falling asleep, often causing chronic lack of sleep. If they choose to sleep with a toy in their mouth, they are not being cute – they are desperately trying to make themselves comfortable.

Heart problems

The constant straining to breathe can also cause the dog to develop pulmonary oedema, hypertension and right-sided heart failure.

Inability to regulate body temperature

Brachycephalic breeds often struggle with overheating as they cannot pant sufficiently to cool their bodies down.

Problems eating

Dogs with BOAS also often find it hard to eat and can regurgitate or vomit their food after eating.

Inability to give birth naturally

Many brachycephalic dog breeds have extreme difficulty giving birth naturally, as they are deliberately bred to have large heads, wide shoulders and narrow, compact hips. The pups’ large heads and shoulders are too wide to pass through the birth canal and a natural birth could endanger the lives of both the mother and pups – so they are normally born by C-section.

brachycephalic vs normal dog

A normal vs. a brachycephalic dog, showing extent of shortened head

Many of the same issues discussed here can also affect flat-faced breeds of other species, such as Persian and British Shorthair cats and Netherland Dwarf, Lionhead and lop-eared rabbit breeds.

The RSPCA are collecting information from owners about their brachycephalic pets’ health issues. This information will determine how they tackle this serious welfare issue in the future. To share your experience click here.