Many pedigree dogs are far too heavily inbred, leading to high levels of inherited conditions that cause the dogs to suffer. Furthermore, some dog breeds are deliberately bred to have an appearance that is predictably linked to discomfort, pain and ill health.
Objective facts support this bleak truth about the poor health of pedigree dogs: it costs over 25% more to get them insured, because the pet insurance companies realize that they are far more likely to fall ill.
This link between pedigree dogs and poor health is finally being recognized as a serious animal welfare issue that deserves decisive action by governments. Last week, in a historic court ruling in Norway, the breeding of English Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels was officially banned on health grounds.
The highly anticipated court case had been taken by the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals against the Norwegian Kennel Club, the Norwegian Cavalier Club, the Norwegian Bulldog Club and six breeders of English Bulldog and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
The SPCA’s claim, which was unanimously supported by the court, was that there were no healthy examples of English Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in the country, and therefore there were no dogs that could ethically be used for breeding healthy dogs under the country’s Animal Welfare Act.
An appeal has been turned down, meaning that from now on, it’s against the law to breed these dogs in Norway.
The ruling is likely to have global repercussions. Many countries, including Ireland, have very similar animal welfare legislation to Norway. Just as this legislation is used to prevent the suffering of living animals who are being maltreated, it’s logical that it should be used to prevent the suffering of animals that have not yet been born.
In dog breeds that have a very high incidence of inherited disease (such as the breeds in this case), there is a strong argument, now supported by the court in Norway, that the creation of new life by breeding puppies that are predictably going to suffer, should not be allowed.
Vets and animal welfare groups have been criticalizing the most extreme aspects of pedigree dog breeding for many years.
A landmark BBC documentary in 2008, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, was the first prominent public exposure of the issues, leading to widespread criticism of the Crufts dog show in the UK, with BBC ceasing coverage of the event, and many prominent sponsors pulling out .
Since then, some efforts have been made to reform dog breeding, with a variety of different health schemes and pre-breeding testing and planning, all aiming to produce healthier pups.
Despite these measures, the fact remains that many dog breeds are bred with a primary focus on the physical appearance of the dog, even when this is demonstrably linked to poor health and suffering.
Those supporting the Norway ruling say that Kennel Clubs around the world have been given plenty of time to institute effective change. A caring society should not allow pups to be born with a predictable destiny of serious suffering.
So-called brachycephalic dog breeds are the best example. These dogs, including Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs, are bred to have muzzles and airways that are so flattened and narrowed that many of them have difficulty breathing comfortably.
It’s considered “normal” for them to make snuffling, snorting and grunting noises when they breathe. The technical name for this is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), and the worst examples need to have corrective surgery to allow them to breathe normally.
He had to have a permanent tracheostomy, so that he breathed through a hole directly into his windpipe, bypassing his muzzle, nose and mouth completely.
He was able to live a comfortable life once this had been done, but his owner had the task of keeping the tracheostomy opening maintained, with regular cleaning and checks by the vet.
And Peanut had to live a restricted life: he would have drowned at once if he had jumped into a river or lake to have a swim.
The paradox is that these breeds are more popular than ever: they are seen as adorable pups that strongly appeal to many people who are looking for a small creature to care for.
For many years, vets like myself have been talking about the health problems that they suffer from, yet people continue to pay thousands of euro to buy them.
It’s only when the health issues become apparent, months or years later, that owners realize the full impact of the downside of their “cute” appearance. This is why the State needs to step in to control the situation.
Once it becomes illegal to buy puppies with the most extreme distortions of anatomy and poorest health, people will be forced to choose puppies with more moderate features and better health.
These pups will be equally “cute”, and they’ll have the huge advantage that they will not predictably go on to suffer from ill health that requires expensive and complex veterinary intervention.
The banning of these two breeds may just be the start. What about dogs that suffer early death from hereditary cancer? What about breeds that suffer from high levels of elbow and hip arthritis? There’s a long list of issues attached to pedigree breeds.
The simple answer is that breeders should start to pay full attention to the lifelong health of the pups that they produce. When breeders produce puppies that enjoy full, natural healthy lives, nobody wants to take action to stop them from breeding.