Pure dog breeds are getting smaller, study finds

“Cute but not necessarily functional.”That adorable snuffling sound your cute little dog makes could be a sign of future respiratory problems, yet Australians are increasingly buying smaller dogs, according to a new University of Sydney study.
Nanjing Night Net

Researcher Paul McGreevy from the university’s faculty of veterinary science found that lovers of pure dog breeds are choosing pugs and poodles over Labradors and German shepherds.

This, he said, will likely lead to an increase in health problems for our four-legged friends.

The preference for smaller dogs correlates with a trend towards higher density living, Professor McGreevy said.

Australians are forgoing the large suburban dog and are now favouring small “brachycephalic” breeds: dogs with shorter and wider heads.

“Forty years ago you could see lots of Afghan hounds, Irish setters and old English sheepdogs in Australian suburbs. They’ve been replaced with shorter, smaller dogs.”

Professor McGreevy said these breeds are more susceptible to respiratory problems, skin and eye conditions, and digestive disorders.

Why are people choosing dogs with short, wide faces, such as the pug?

“Studies indicate that infantile facial features commonly seen in brachycephalic dogs – round faces, chubby cheeks, big eyes and small nose and mouth – stimulate feelings of affection in humans,” Professor McGreevy said.

“Cute, but not necessarily functional,” is how he describes some of these breeds. He points out that some pugs and similar brachycephalic dogs can struggle to sleep lying down and will try to sleep while sitting up.

He points out that these dogs cost more to insure and there is a reason.

While these breeds have shorter skulls, Professor McGreevy said, they also have the same tissues that a longer shaped skull would have.

“The teeth and soft tissues are crammed into a smaller space. So we see dental crowding. This can make the dogs more reluctant to chew, which can predispose them to dental problems. We see a soft palate flapping in the airway that gives them the characteristic respiratory noise. We also see excess folding of tissues on the outside of the dog’s head, around the nose and the eyes.

“These skin folds can be problematic with eczema and sometimes rolls of skin can sit on the cornea, causing ophthalmic problems.”

He said there is troubling evidence these breeds of dogs have life spans that are up to 30 per cent shorter.

The research is based on data kept by the Australian National Kennel Council. It found that from 1986 to 2013 registration of medium and small breeds increased by 5.3 per cent and 4.2 per cent respectively, relative to large breeds. Against giant breeds (Great Danes, rottweilers), registration of small dogs increased 11 per cent.

“The demand for all pedigree dogs is declining, but the decline in shorter dogs, lighter dogs, is occurring at a significantly less rapid rate,” Professor McGreevy said.

The data from the ANKC covers registered pure breed dogs. These accounted for 16.5 per cent of newborn puppies in 2014. So while this does not cover all dogs born in Australia recently, Dr McGreevy said “we can only speculate that these are reflective of the more general demand and they mirror trends that have been reported overseas”.

The findings were published this week in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

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