Veterinary specialist urges pug and Frenchie owners to keep a close eye on their health

One of Britain’s leading vets has warned of a “significant” rise in cases of flat-faced dogs needing surgery to live a normal life.

Prof John Williams, national surgical lead at pet emergency experts Vets Now, said an increasing number of “brachycephalic” breeds are being referred for corrective treatment.

To prevent cases spiralling even further, he is calling on prospective pet owners to do their research before buying the highly fashionable pets.

If untreated, dogs with shortened muzzles can suffer agonising health problems such as eye ulcers, heatstroke and breathing difficulties.

Prof Williams said: “Over the past 10 years I’ve seen a significant rise in the number of brachycephalic dogs presenting for corrective airway surgery. It’s very concerning and it’s not right they are being bred to suffer in this way.”

Claire Murphy, of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, has seen a big improvement in the health of her pug, Pierre, since he underwent an operation at Vets Now.

As she explains in the case study below, Pierre had suffered severe breathing problems from an early age and would occasionally pass out after a fit of reverse sneezing – a common issue with flat-faced dogs caused by the palate irritating the throat.

Listen now: Dave Leicester of Vets Now discusses flat-faced dogs on BBC radio

In recent years, there has been a marked rise in the number of people buying intensively-bred brachycephalic breeds.

The increase has been partly attributed to celebrities, such as Lady Gaga and Kelly Osbourne, being photographed with the breeds.

Emergency vets at Vets Now have drawn up a comprehensive advice guide for pet owners with – or considering getting – a flat-faced dog.

Prof Williams explained: “All brachycephalic breeds have been bred to shorten the bones of the skull and elsewhere.

“This results in too much soft tissue being present in areas such as the throat and face and can lead to lifelong health problems which are detrimental to the dog’s welfare.

“One of the most common is breathing difficulties and this invariably leads to the need for corrective surgery on the nose, palate or the airway.

He added: “The most striking difference post-surgery in most of these cases is that the owners hadn’t realised how bad their pet was until the airways had been improved.

“Yes, they look cute but, left untreated, they do not lead normal lives with good exercise tolerance. They struggle to breathe when asleep and when out and about.”

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Image of French bulldog for Vets Now article on brachycephalic dog breeds
Flat-faced French bulldogs are among the most popular breeds in Britain

The flat-faced French bulldog is now one of Britain’s most popular dogs and both the British Veterinary Association and rescue charities have issued several warnings about the trend for brachycephalic breeds due to the health problems they suffer.

Vets Now is open through the night, seven-days-a-week, and day and night on bank holidays and weekends, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur.

It also has an acclaimed referral service for vets in its 24/7 pet emergency hospitals in Manchester and Glasgow.

Pet owners can find their nearest Vets Now clinic or pet emergency hospital by clicking here.

Claire Murphy with her pug Pierre

Case study - Claire's story

If like me, your pet is just another member of your family, you’ll understand that sinking feeling when they become unwell. This was a frequent occurrence for my family and me, given the consistent health issues experienced by my dog Pierre.

From an early age, Pierre started to experience breathing problems. These would range from the less serious like trouble sleeping to the very distressing – such as watching him pass out following a fit of reverse sneezing.

This was very worrying and caused me a lot of anxiety especially when leaving him for a short time. One day, Pierre became withdrawn and distressed. It became apparent this was due to his restricted airways. After rushing him to the vets, his condition deteriorated, and we feared for the worst. He was referred immediately to Vets Now for surgery.

Thankfully, Pierre was treated very quickly by the incredible Vets Now team. His surgery was a great success, and it not only changed his life but ours too.

He now sleeps better, enjoys longer walks and what’s even better is that he has not had any breathing-related incidents since his time at Vets Now. I can’t thank the team enough for saving Pierre’s life and giving him such a vastly improved quality of life.

While I can’t imagine life without Pierre, his experience made me reflect on my choice of breed. Pugs are reputed to have breathing problems. However, I wasn’t fully aware of the implications of this before adding him to our family. On reflection, I’d have researched this more thoroughly to understand the associated risks before making a decision and would encourage other people to do the same.

Pierre the pug underwent surgery to cure his breathing problems