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The problem with pugs

By Katarina Weessies

Section: Opinions

March 24, 2017

Most people who know me well know that I love dogs. It is one of my dreams to raise my own dog. While I would prefer to adopt a dog from a shelter, this is pretty much impossible for me since I am allergic to most dog breeds. This means that I will probably have to buy a hypoallergenic dog from a breeder.

The reputation of dog breeders is varied. Many people hate breeders, thinking that they deter people from adopting dogs in need. Some people think that most breeders treat their dogs inhumanely. As someone who needs a hypoallergenic dog, I will probably rely on finding a trustworthy, caring breeders in order to get a dog. Most hypoallergenic dogs are purebred, which can cause its own slew of problems. Many purebred dogs are basically inbred, which means that they are genetically prone to certain health issues. This can be difficult, or sometimes even inhumane, for the dog, and seeking healthcare for these issues is expensive for the owner.

One of the most popular dog breeds is the pug. Pugs are also one of the most immediately recognizable breeds. They are known for their small size, distinctively smushed faces and odd, snorting noises. But something that many people don’t know is that their short, smushy faces and snorting noises are indicative of a huge health problem known as brachycephaly.

All pugs have brachycephaly, meaning that their respiratory systems are malformed in a way that causes them to have trouble breathing. The enlarged soft palate and collapsed nostrils that brachycephalic dogs have can make it incredibly arduous for them to breathe. Pugs, and other dogs with brachycephaly, cannot exercise as much as other dog breeds. They struggle to breathe through their noses, are prone to snoring and sleep apnea, overheat easily, and can faint. These issues can be life-altering, and for older dogs, are often life threatening.

Brachycephaly can also be difficult for the owners of dogs, both emotionally and financially. Irresponsible breeders might not warn clients about the dangers automatically incurred by pugs due to the shape of their face. This means that when their dog starts to struggle with the symptoms of brachycephaly, owners might not notice until it’s too late. Many brachycephalic dogs, as they age, need surgery to enlarge their nostrils or shorten their soft palate. For younger dogs, these surgeries are incredibly beneficial, but for elderly dogs, the prognosis for these breathing issues, even with surgery, is not good.

Pugs are not the only dog breed with intentionally bred brachycephaly. Shih Tzus, bulldogs, boxers, and Boston terriers are also brachycephalic. Purebred versions of all of these breeds are very popular, and therefore dog breeders have an incentive to breed brachycephalic dogs. The reality is that our culture considers the symptoms of brachycephaly cute. The smushy faces and snorts of pugs are frequent subjects of cute videos on the Internet. People find the snores endearing. However, I think that our society needs to consider whether or not creating these cute but unhealthy dogs is ethical.

We need to ask ourselves, as a society, whether it is okay to make dogs suffer in order to make them cute. This question is not exclusive to dogs with brachycephaly. Many other purebred dogs face comparable health issues. Golden retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia and early onset arthritis. Huge dogs like Great Danes are prone to heart failure, and live much shorter lives than smaller dogs.

While dogs like pugs and boxers have a bubbly, energetic demeanor, it is clear that the symptoms of brachycephaly cause them to suffer. There have been many solutions proposed to try to prevent dogs being bred with these health issues. One of the solutions is to ban breeders from intentionally breeding brachycephalic dogs. However, this is not a reasonable solution: As long as there is high public demand for brachycephalic dogs, breeders will continue to sell them. Banning these dogs will merely push irresponsible breeders into the shadows, which would be far more dangerous for the dogs.

Breeders themselves are enacting a much more viable solution. They are creating new types of dogs that share some features with brachycephalic dogs like pugs and boxers but with longer snouts. A new trend in the world of dog owners and breeders is a type of pug that does not have brachycephaly. It is too early to know if these dogs will become popular in the mainstream, as they do not have the characteristic short faces of traditional pugs, but I am hopeful that people will realize that if they want to purchase a pug rather than adopt, it is morally necessary that they create demand for a pug that can breathe. Similarly, dog owners of all breeds need to think about how their preferences for a dog’s breed or appearance might hurt the dog. Animals like dogs are sentient beings that shouldn’t be made to suffer for no reason. An owner’s perception of “cuteness” is not a good enough reason.

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