A recent scientific study indicates that pugs face health problems so serious that they “can no longer be considered a typical dog from a health point of view.”
Research by the Royal Veterinary College has revealed that the health of pugs is now significantly different and much worse than that of other dogs.
The study compared the health of 4,308 dogs with 21,835 dogs of other breeds.
UK pugs are more likely to have one or more disorders per year than other dogs.
Brachial-headed dogs—those with a muzzle and a flattened head, such as pugs, bulldogs, and boxers—were bred to have this distinctive appearance.
In recent years, the popularity of the pug has increased, with a fivefold increase in UK breed registrations from 2005 to 2017.
In general, pugs are about 1.9 times more likely to have one or more of the reported disorders in one year compared to other breeds.
The results were no surprise to Miffany Hill, a veterinary surgeon working at the University of Cambridge.
“The problem is you have a dog with a smaller skull, but there’s nothing else in that dog that got smaller,” he says.
Experts say pugs’ body shape helps develop health problems – Image: Getty Images/BBC
It claims that “Pugs’ brains are compressed into a very small box,” and that other soft tissues are “compressed into a smaller space.”
This causes many of the problems that the breed faces, including breathing difficulties, and skin and back problems.
Brachial airway obstruction syndrome – a respiratory problem – was the most serious disorder ever recorded in pugs, with the breed about 54 times more likely to develop the condition.
With their narrow nostrils, Hill says, the Pugs “breathe as if they were using a very narrow pipette,” making things as simple as breathing a “more difficult task.”
She adds that the “common picture we have of pugs” as “smiling” dogs with their tongues hanging out, looking like they are panting, is not the “cheerful” image we might think of.
“Really, they have to breathe through their mouths, because they can’t breathe efficiently through their noses.”
Even if it looks cute, an enlarged tongue can cause problems – Image: Getty Images / BBC
Pugs are also more susceptible to skin fold infections. “They have more skin than they need for the size of their face,” Hill says, which can cause skin infections, causing pain and itching.
And the ‘catchy tail’, which people often praise, actually shows a ‘distorted vertebra’ that can lead to further herniated discs.
Research has also shown that pugs have a reduced risk of certain conditions, including aggressive heart murmurs and cuts.
But the researchers note that their findings suggest that many pugs can suffer a serious deterioration in health and well-being.
“We now know that many serious health issues are linked to the extreme body shape of bugs that many humans find cute,” said Dan O’Neill, associate professor of pet epidemiology and lead author of the research paper.
He says it’s important to “focus on the health of the dog and not on the whims of the owner when we are choosing the type of dog to own.”
“For as long as these extreme and unhealthy traits remain, we will continue to strongly recommend that potential owners not purchase muscle-headed breeds such as the Pug,” added Justin Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association.
Hill says people who buy dogs do so “in good faith” and it’s important to “not assign blame.”
But there are things current Pug owners can do, such as looking to reduce symptoms of breathing difficulties, excessive panting, or too much noise when breathing.
In the summer months, she says, Pugs are more likely to develop heat-related problems because they have fewer air passages, so they need to be placed in cooler places.
And while “barrel-shaped bodies are really nice,” weight control is important because “Pugs who are overweight are at greater risk.”
“Animals have their own thoughts and feelings. We need to make sure they live long, happy, healthy lives,” Hill adds.