Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Frenchies that win by a nose


The dog on the left is Arnie - a former AKC show-dog. You can read more about him here.

The dog on the right is Flint, bred in the Netherlands by Hawbucks French Bulldogs - a breeder trying to establish a new, healthier template for French Bulldogs.

They are both Frenchies. Both purebred. The difference is that the dog on the left has been bred to meet the current interpretation of breed standard - and the dog on the right is the result of selection for a more moderate dog by a breeder who believes that good health is more important than fashion.

I posted the image on Twitter and my CRUFFA Facebook page a couple of days ago and it has already been shared thousands of times, with many people thinking it has been Photoshopped. It hasn't.

I am pleased that most people are deeply shocked by Arnie's profile.  In truth, most Frenchies are not quite this extreme. But he is not totally untypical either - particularly in the US where the breed standard does not have a minimum muzzle length.

Unfortunately, some people are so wedded to the type of dog seen in today's show-ring that they prefer Arnie - or are more shocked by Flint's comparatively-long muzzle. Some have even called Flint "extreme".

"[I prefer] the one on the left to me it's a French bulldog and what I see and love in a French bulldog -the one on the right I don't recognise as a French bulldog," wrote one breeder.

And then this:

"I'd definitely own the left over right! Right is a disgusting example of the breed."

 As ever, what is considered "good type" changes with fashion. This Frenchie was a Champion in 1914.


And this is a famous French Bulldog from 1925.


This dog won Best of Breed at Crufts last year.


And this dog, a slight improvement, won BOB this year.


Neither of the Crufts dogs has a muzzle length anything like the 1/5th of the total head length advocated by the French Bulldog Club of England - or indeed the one-sixth the length of the head demanded in the FCI standard. They are also extremely cobby - particularly the 2016 BOB.  The show Frenchie's back has shortened over the years too, robbing them of the tail they once had and likely contributing to another Frenchie problem - spinal issues.

Unfortunately, stenosis - pinched nostrils - is almost ubiquitous in the show version of the breed, adding to the respiratory risk.

We know from newly-published research  that there isn't an absolute correlation between any one physical feature and breathing difficulties  (there is a panoply of contributory factors that interplay, including neck/chest girth,  intra-nasal obstruction, stenosis, trachea size and obesity).

But as David Sargan from the Cambridge BOAS research team says: "I think breeding for sound open nostrils, for longer and less wide heads, for less boxy body shapes and for less skin would all improve the [extremely brachycephalic] breeds." 

The good news is that there are breeders like Hawbucks breeding for a longer-muzzled, lighter, more athletic dogs with truly open nostrils. I would urge everyone tempted by a French Bulldog to seek them out - and of course be aware that health tests are important too.

The best Frenchie breeders screen for BOAS, hemivertebrae (HV), hereditary cataracts, luxating patellas, degenerative myelopathy (DM) and skin issues/allergies. A low co-efficient of inbreeding is a plus, too - and also ask about longevity (i.e. what age dogs in the pedigree died). Despite the French Bulldog Club of England's claim  that Frenchies can live to 12-14 "on average", this is not true.  In fact, Agria insurance data in Sweden has found that they are the shortest-living of all the breeds and the Finnish KC's database documents an average age of death of just five years old. It's possible that UK dogs live a bit longer, but essentially they're all from the same stock, so it's unlikely to be much longer.

I am an avid collector of pictures of more moderate Frenchies.  Here are a few of them. The first is Flint's mum, Yara - and the last another pic of  Flint. Enjoy!












© Krijn de Haas



Friday, 28 July 2017

Shocking new study: German Shepherds die because they can no longer stand up



In March last year, the footage of the best of breed German Shepherd (above) scurrying bent-backed and stressed round the big ring at Crufts sparked an outcry way beyond the dog-world. (See the footage here).

Now, a new study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology articulates the troubling state of the breed today in finding that the two leading causes of death for the German Shepherd in the UK are musculoskeletal disorders and "inability to stand".

In fact, if you add in deaths from spinal cord disorders (which often lead to paralysis in GSDs) this new study suggests that almost half of German Shepherds (45%) die from issues that are likely linked to the stresses caused by abnormal conformation.

Says author Dan O'Neill: "These results are higher for causes of death related to osteoarthritis/inability to stand/spinal problems in GSDs compared with some other larger breeds that we have explored and therefore are a point of note."

One can only say "likely", because the study does not differentiate between Sheps with a sloped or unnaturally curved back and those with a more normal one. This is simply an overall snapshot of the breed in the UK and all the more depressing for that.  For something more specific, we will have to wait for the results of a KC-funded locomotion study at the University of Surrey which is quantifying the different GSD types.

The truth is that there are very few German Shepherds in the UK (or indeed elsewhere) that are anything like as sound in body as this favourite-of-mine dog from 1925, Ch Klodo vom Boxberg.



To compare, here's the dog that was named best female at last year's Sieger show in Germany.


As a result of measures introduced by the Kennel Club after the Crufts 2016 GSD scandal (including - I kid you not - adding to the breed standard the line "Must be capable of standing comfortably and calmly, freely and unsupported in any way") the UK GSD show scene is in some turmoil.

We are indeed seeing dogs with somewhat straighter backs and sturdier back ends in the UK show-ring but there remains a hard-core group of GSD breeders and judges who still want dogs like the 2016 Crufts winner. They continue to cling to the German showline dog - as evidenced by  this logo for the British Singer Show held last month.



In Germany, whose show breeders are ultimately responsible for fucking up the breed, there has been a lot of discussion and some small indicators that change might be on the way.  There will be many watching to see if there is any moderation in the dogs at this year's Sieger Show (the German showline dog's flagship event) in September.

There is also now a splinter group in Germany - the RSV2000  - which promotes a more workmanlike dog.

And just look at this dog which won Best Puppy at a show in Sweden earlier this year.

Uxås Criga
To those of us who weep when we look at the modern show German Shepherd it all offers a small glimmer of hope.

Then I go to the breeder website for the 2016 Crufts best of breed Cruaghaire Catoria - or "Tori" as she is known - and see that they are planning on breeding her (for the third time) this autumn (see here).

I am not sure who is going to win the battle of the GSDs.

Hopefully the dog.

PS: there was one other fascinating finding in this study: that female GSDs lived longer than males - 1.4 yrs longer on average in fact.  They found that they are markedly lighter, and less aggressive, too.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Bulldog revival video: irresponsible Jodie Marsh puts other dogs' lives in danger




Yesterday, UK media personality Jodie Marsh - a glamour model and bodybuilder - posted this video of herself on Facebook reviving her lifeless Bulldog, Louie. It's already been seen by millions.




Jodie revealed in the comments that this dog collapses every two months or so and each time she has brought the dog back from the dead by doing what you see above. Moreover, she tells everyone to watch because one day it may save their own dog's life.

Her fans think she's a hero.

I think she's irresponsible and a danger to dogs.

Despite this being a regular occurrence, Ms Marsh shows no sign of having availed herself of the many dog first aid courses available that show owners how to do this properly  (see bottom of page)..

How do I know this?  Because she has the most basic tenet of it wrong: you don't do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with dogs - you do mouth-to-nose.  This is partly because it is impossible to get an air-tight seal on a dog's mouth - but also because dogs don't breathe through their mouths: they breathe through their noses.



Even when they are panting, they still take in air through the nose - they just exhale through their mouths. (For more info  on how dogs breathe/cool themselves, see this excellent article from Carol Beuchat over at the Institute of Canine Biology)


Now dogs are not quite the obligate nose breathers horses are, but dogs only breathe through their mouths - and very inefficiently - if they are not able to get enough oxygen in through their noses. If you block off the nose on a normal dog, they will go into a meltdown panic.

Jodie is clearly managing to bring her dog round each time he collapses,  and she is doing the right thing in clearing the blockage from his throat, but she is putting her dog at further risk by doing the rest of it wrong. Wiggling a limp dog's body about a bit while blowing air into a dog's mouth is not CPR. The danger is that in copying what she does, rather than what they should do, a dog that would otherwise live will die.

Jodie isn't totally clear what causes the dog to collapse so often - she mentions that the dog choked on a treat this time, but  also refers to overheating and to 'tracheal collapse'. All are common-enough in Bulldogs and other brachycpehliac (flat-faced) breeds - as is keeling over from exertion or stress. However,  she says the root cause is that the dog has an elongated soft palate that blocks his airway. This, too, is very common in Bulldogs and is the reason why so many sound like a freight train.

The technical name for this sometimes-life-threatening laborious breathing is "stertor" and the sole reason Bulldogs and other brachycephalics suffer from it (and other airway compromise) is because humans think it's cute to breed a dog with no muzzle, essentially crushing all the flesh that would be appropriate for a longer muzzled dog into a much smaller space.

There is surgery to fix this that can transform these dogs' lives. But, worryingly, Jodie reveals on her Facebook page that she thinks the operation  "is a con" and claims it costs £4,000 (about four times the average real cost).  Instead she would prefer a life of respiratory compromise for her Bulldogs (some of which she admits have died at three years old).



Bulldog Louie is a 13-yr-old rescue and anaesthesia has risks for Bulldogs and older dogs, so one can  understand why Ms Marsh has not opted for surgery for this particular dog, although it would have been less of a risk two years ago when she first got him. What a kindness it would have been for this dog who has to be watched like a hawk every time he eats or when out for a walk in anything other than cool weather.

It is true that the surgery is not always 100% successful - but in the majority of cases it offers at least some respite (and often a great deal of relief) to these dogs. It is, at best, irresponsible to put others off what can be life-saving surgery. At worst, it could lead directly to another dog's death.

Jodie claims it's a con because the soft palate grows back - in fact not true. Scarring from the op can go on to cause problems later on, but modern techniques minimise this.

“This is a very distressing video that demonstrates just how serious BOAS (brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome) is as a condition for those dogs living with it," says Gudrun Ravetz, President of the British Veterinary Association. Gudrun praises Jodie for highlighting the dangers of walking flat-faced dogs in hot weather and the choking hazards that eating can present for dogs with an abnormal soft palate, but adds:

“No dog should have to endure the distress of regularly collapsing, though sadly this is a reality for many flat-faced dogs. We would strongly advise anyone with a pet suffering these symptoms to talk to their vet urgently to agree the best way to ensure the health and welfare of their pet. This may include opting for surgery and will definitely include taking special measures in hot weather.

“BVA has been highlighting the significant health problems suffered by flat-faced dogs, such as bulldogs, and asking potential owners to choose healthier breeds or crossbreeds.”

Ms Ravetz also commented on the use of CPR on dogs.

“In emergencies an owner can give CPR until veterinary care is available. This mouth-to-nose resuscitation should only be used if the dog has stopped breathing and has no pulse. You can use your fingers to feel for a pulse at the top of the inside back leg. We would advise owners to take veterinary advice, or attend a veterinary-led course, to learn how to deliver CPR in the safest way.”


The BVA recommends owners to be cognisant with the first aid advice offered by veterinary charity PDSA, which recommends the ABC resuscitation method for dogs until you receive veterinary assistance:

Airway:
  • Pull the tongue forward.
  • Check there is nothing in the throat.

Breathing
  • Look and listen.
  • If the dog is not breathing, extend the dog's neck, close the mouth and blow down the dog's nose, using your hand as a 'funnel' so that you do not directly contact your dog's nose.

Circulation
  • Apply regular, intermittent gentle pressure to the chest if you are sure there is no heartbeat.
  • Check the heartbeat/pulse.

Jodie clearly loves her dogs - and has two perfectly sensible Rottweillers.  It always astonishes me that people who are obsessed with their own looks and take so much trouble to keep fit are drawn to Bulldogs.  Whatever the reason, she needs to think carefully about continuing to inflict air hunger on dogs she loves when a veterinary surgeon's knife can relieve the suffering.

Better still, she should stop supporting the breeding of Bulldogs in their current, compromised form.  Yep, even rescuing them plays a role in perpetuating their existence, especially if you're a celebrity.

For more info on  Bulldog breathing issues, check out the Cambridge BOAS Group's website here.

If you would like to learn how to save your dog's life in similar circumstances, please check out the excellent courses from Dog First Aid UK.

11/7/17 update:

Looks like Jodie has accepted an offer to do a proper first aid course... Great news.


12/7/17 update:

Very sadly, Louie was found dead in Jodie's garden today. RIP Louie... May you be re-incarnated as a dog with a muzzle.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

CRUFTS 2017: Boxer noses

© CRUFFA

In January, I wrote to  the UK Boxer Breed Council Health Committee enclosing some pictures of Boxers taken at UK shows in the past couple of years. I pointed out that I felt that stenotic nostrils (nares) in the breed was a growing problem and that I hoped it could be nipped in the bud.

As some will know, I am currently on a bit of a mission re Pug, Frenchie and Bulldog noses via the CRUFFA Facebook page. Pinched nostrils are a huge problem in these breeds, particularly in Frenchies (a blog to come on that). 

We produced some nice stickers to help get the message across - and I even offered to let the French Bulldog club have the artwork without CRUFFA's name on it. Sadly, I wasn't taken up on the offer (we're the enemy...) and I was forbidden from distributing the stickers at Crufts. As it happens, just mentioning on CRUFFA that I wanted to, created a big and rather silly fuss in the dog press, so we managed to get the message across that way.



Anyway, I was delighted to get this reply from the Boxer Breed Council Health Committee.

"While the Boxer Breed Council’s Health Committee does not believe that pinched nostrils are a significant issue in Boxers we will take the opportunity of reminding Breed Clubs that open nostrils in the broad, black nose required by the Breed Standard are desirable. We will be doing this by circulating your original email together with this response."

I wrote back and thanked them.

Unfortunately, though, stenotic nares are now a major problem in this breed, as the picture above and those below show - all taken at Crufts last Sunday. 

© CRUFFA

It is astonishing that I even have to say it, but clearly I do:

While the show-ring continues to obsess about minor cosmetic points, completely ignoring basic necessities for life, it deserves all the crap it gets from campaigners like me. 

© CRUFFA

Dogs are obligate nose breathers. They exhale hot air through their mouths when panting, but all the air they draw into their lungs is through their nose, so a fully functioning nose is important.

© CRUFFA

Dogs don't sweat like we do, so their nose and airways are critical - and particularly in an active breed like the Boxer that suffers from heart problems. (NB we know that heart problems can be a consequence of the continual fight for air in the extreme brachycephalics).

As Professor Gerhard Oechtering wrote in the Guardian a few years ago:

"...the noses of wolves and dogs are not just for smell; they are an indispensable tool to control body temperature. Dogs are not able to sweat like humans or horses. They need the large mucosal surface of the nasal turbinate and a specific gland producing "water" in hot weather or when internal heat is produced after physical exercise. Vaporising this water on the large intranasal turbinate surface is the cooling principle; the tongue plays only a minor role in canine thermoregulation. This is the reason why dogs are obligatory nose breathers. No nose – no thermoregulation – no health – no animal welfare."

© CRUFFA

Meanwhile, the KC's Breed Watch has absolutely nothing listed as a health concern for the Boxer. 

© CRUFFA

Perhaps now the KC will add stenotic nares?  And while they're at it, the ectropion, too.

© CRUFFA

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Please don't breed if they cannot breathe

Fighting for air their whole lives

© Ralph Rückert

Take a good look into this French Bulldog's eyes. He has just woken up from an anaesthetic and the endotracheal that supported his breathing during the procedure is still in place. Dogs always fight it because it makes them gag. But not this dog - and many other brachycephalics.  The ET tube has opened his airways, enabling him to breathe properly - possibly for the first time in his life.

His story was posted on Facebook last week by a German vet,  Ralph Rückert.



I was so moved that I asked Dr Rückert if we could translate it and post it here.

Here's what he wrote:

It might sound implausible, but the French Bulldog in the photo just woke up from anaesthesia. The eyes focus on me and see me. Seconds later we removed the pulse oximeter from the tongue, and the dog rolled itself upright. 
Every (every!) other dog will immediately try to dislodge the endotracheal tube at this moment, which is why we usually take it out much sooner. But with Frenchies (and other flat nosed dogs) we leave the tube in position as long as possible, dreading respiratory collapse during the home stretch of their anaesthesia. 
This frequently leads to the moment - a moment that regularly sends cold chills down my spine - when you realise that these dogs, while fully conscious, are enjoying the ability to breathe without effort (through a tube) for the first time in their life. I know that I am anthropomorphising unashamedly but nonetheless: when you pull the tube eventually, the wheezing starts up again and you see - I swear to high heaven - a glaze of resignation and disappointment fall over their eyes that were previously bright with fascination. 
This is a moment where the lifelong - and too often ignored – suffering of many brachycephalic dogs becomes crystal clear to see. Sadly it is a moment only vets witness. The first time I noticed this phenomenon, I was inclined to dismiss it as my own sentimental fabrication. But as time passed, I heard stories of the same curious and touching moment from several colleagues with a lot of experience with flat nosed breeds. You absolutely have to ask yourself honestly what it means when a dog prefers the discomfort of an endotracheal tube to its natural airway.

Meanwhile, the Kennel Club has just revealed that the French Bulldog is now the third most popular breed in the UK with over 21,000 registered in 2016; up from just 526 ten years ago.

In fact, one in six Kennel Club registered dogs today is an extreme brachycephalic - either a Frenchie, Bulldog or Pug - up from one in 50 ten years ago. Thousands more are being bred outside of the Kennel Club, feeding the obscene demand for flat-faced "cute". 

It is, frankly, the biggest explosion in suffering the purebred dog world has seen in modern times. 




Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thanks a (five) million!


The PDE blog has this week just tipped over five million views.

I started it in November 2010 with the following message:

I should have got this blog up and running when Pedigree Dogs Exposed was first broadcast in August 2008. Guess I hoped there wouldn't be a need... And anyway, I fully expected to have moved on to pastures new by now...  
It is now more than two years since PDE. I could never have guessed that the film's subject would have turned into such an ongoing passion. But passion it is, along with running Black Retriever X Rescue and living with my own dogs - trying not to count but there appears to be at least seven of 'em at the moment, plus two fosters. 
Inherited disorders and welfare issues related to conformation affect millions of dogs all over the world and much of the problem is due to an antiquated breeding paradigm promoted by a kennel club system founded in England and exported to more than 100 countries. The price is paid by the dogs who suffer unnecessarily and by their owners seduced by a certain look unaware of the welfare cost that often comes with it.
Almost six years and 600 posts on, the blog is more popular than ever - with well over a million hits this year already (due in no small part to the fuss over the German Shepherd at Crufts this year. The post showing the footage that the KC had edited out of the Channel 4 broadcast is now the most popular post of all time, including garnering 250,000 page views in a single day. (Links to all the most popular posts are in the sidebar on the right).


The blog is still most popular in the UK, followed by the US, Canada, Germany and Finland.


As I hope most people realise, the blog is a labour of love. I am not paid to write it and continue to refuse any offers to "monetise" it. 

I write it because I hope and believe it is effective in drawing attention to specific issues and in galvanising those who are in a position to effect change.

Thanks to PDE (the films and this blog) there is a great deal more awareness of the problems and a large community of researchers, welfare bodies and vets focusing on them - absolutely key to drive through reforms.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that acknowledges that inbreeding is an issue and has given breeders tools to tackle it - something that was unthinkable before Pedigree Dogs Exposed when first-degree relative matings were considered acceptable and there was zero awareness that breeding profligately from one top-winning sire might be a bad thing to do.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that is much more aware of phenotypic excess and has taken steps to address them (and quite big steps recently in respect of the German Shepherd).

But we still don't have a Kennel Club that acts without outside pressure. Oh how I long for the day when the KC issues a release saying it is taking action on a particular breed because an internal review has revealed a specific problem. I know there are people at the Kennel Club who would like to be more proactive, but sadly they are often thwarted by those at the top, where the batten-down-the-hatches mode prevails.  

I had a good laugh this morning at a BBC report highlighting vets' concerns about flat-faced (brachycephalic breeds).  It contained this gem:

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said: "Prospective owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer from a range of health problems, from eye ulcers to severe breathing difficulties." 
"We strongly encourage people to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead." 
The BVA’s warning has been backed by the PDSA, Royal Veterinary College, RSPCA and the Kennel Club.

Almost blogged it with the title: "KC urges puppy buyers to avoid Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs; choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead".

Of course it's just bad wording by the journalist who doesn't realise that the Kennel Club would never tell people to avoid a breed - or buy a crossbreed - on health grounds.

I hope the KC will find it too embarrassing to demand a change.

In fact, the BBC piece does go on to include this frustratingly-predictable (and somewhat garbled) deflection from Caroline Kisko:

Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club secretary, said: "The breed standards were set many years ago. If you look back through history there are some dire things that went on, and undoubtedly we would accept all responsibility for that." 
"But I would say that in the here-and-now, after all of the changes to the standards that were made in 2009, we would expect dogs to be far healthier if they are winning prizes at dogs shows."

Mrs Kisko said the problems with brachycephalic dogs were being perpetuated in the main by disreputable puppy farms. 
She said: "If we continue to allow dogs to be brought in from central and eastern Europe where there is no concern for how these dogs are bred, it is inevitable that pet owners will end up with dogs they can't deal with." 
"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."
And this is why I continue to give up time I don't really have to write the PDE blog. General journalists simply don't have the time or the interest to dig beyond the deflection and easy reassurances uttered by the Kennel Club.

• It is, of course, in the show-ring that you will find the very flattest of faces. In fact, show dogs' faces are flatter now than they ever have been as a direct result of show-ring selection and the pursuit of prize-winning rosettes.  It is important to not be in any doubt about that.



• The KC continues to resist the introduction of minimum muzzle lengths into their standards.

• The standards still include demands that are counter to good health.

And then there's the small matter that all the recent surveys looking in detail at the health cost of having a flat face have been of of KC-registered dogs.  These studies agree that at least half of all Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs struggle to breathe (and some have put it a great deal higher than that). Remember, too, that this is looking at just one consequence of being brachycephalic. There are many others, including eye, oral, dental, mating and whelping issues.

Bottom line... Kennel Club-registered dogs are still being bred and shown under the auspices of the Kennel Club in a way that perpetuates suffering for many breeds - and which, unless things change, will lead to their extinction.

At the end of the day, that's what this blog is about.