Vets are warning dog lovers to think twice before buying pugs , bulldogs, French bulldogs and shih-tzus because of concerns over the welfare of so-called flat-faced breeds.
The British Veterinary Association said the surge in popularity of these dogs had “increased animal suffering”.
Health problems associated with these breeds include severe lifelong breathing difficulties, corneal ulcers, skin disease, a screw-shaped tail which is linked to painful spine abnormalities, and the inability to give birth naturally.
Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said flat-faced or brachycephalic dogs should not be seen as cute but rather predisposed to poor health.
He said: “Prospective owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer from a range of health problems, from eye ulcers to severe breathing difficulties.
But perhaps because of ownership of these dogs by high profile celebrities, such as Madonna with her French Bulldog Olga, their popularity shows no sign of waning.
According to the Royal Veterinary College’s VetCompass initiative the Shih Tzu is the third most popular breed in the UK with 363,560 dogs, the Pug is eighth with 179,699, the French Bulldog 15th with 116,636 and the British Bulldog 20th with 87,509 dogs.
The RSPCA has called for a review of the breed standards, which are decided by the Kennel Club, and specify how every type of dog should look.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Richards said: “Many dogs have been bred to emphasise certain physical features, some of which have become so extreme that they can cause pain and suffering, make dogs prone to particular disorders, or even prevent them from behaving normally and from enjoying the activities we know dogs love.
“For example, dogs who have been bred to have short, flat faces often have narrow nostrils and abnormally-developed windpipes. They can suffer severe breathing problems and many have difficulty enjoying a walk or playing.”
Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club secretary, said the problems with brachycephalic dogs were being perpetuated by disreputable puppy farms.
She said: “Breeds such as the French Bulldog and Pug have seen a sudden increase in popularity in recent years, leading to a huge demand for them.
“This has provided a ready market for unscrupulous breeders to effectively churn out puppies for profit, outside of any regulation or umbrella of influence, with no regard for their health and welfare.
“Responsible breeders will breed with sound conformation and health as the priority, and the Kennel Club breed standards make it clear that exaggerations in any breed should be avoided.”
“These are breeds which aren’t hugely suited to pet homes. If you want a pet that will run around and chase a ball and so on, don’t go out and buy any short-faced breed based on what celebrities are walking around with under their arm.”