Selection for brachycephalic (short/flat muzzle length) in dogs is a major risk factor for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). Clinical signs of BOAS include respiratory distress, exercise intolerance, upper respiratory noise and collapse. Recognition of the clinical signs of disease by companion animal owners is an important initial step in the process of perceiving a ‘problem’, and deciding to seek veterinary attention.
BOAS affected dogs are reported to be in chronic respiratory distress, thermal and physical discomfort, and experience behavioural restriction due to their impaired physical capabilities. Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease potentially conflicts with practices employed in the breeding of companion animals, whereby selection for extreme morphological characteristics to conform to breed standards has led to a variety of associated disorders. The aim of this study was to quantify owner recognition of clinical signs of BOAS, and to investigate whether the owners of dogs exhibiting these signs perceive them as a ‘problem’. A questionnaire-based study was carried out on the owners of dogs referred to an animal hospital. Owners reported the frequency of respiratory difficulty and characteristics of respiratory noise in their dogs in four contexts (at rest, gently walking, activity/exercising and sleeping), summarised as an ‘owner-reported breathing’ (ORB) score. Owners then reported whether their dog currently has or has had a history of ‘breathing problems’. The study involved dogs from 68 breeds including Pugs, French bulldogs and Bulldogs.
There was a disparity in recognition and perception, with well over half (58%) of affected dog owners reporting a high frequency and severity of clinical signs in their dogs, without perceiving them as a problem.
Without appreciation of the welfare implications of BOAS, affected undiagnosed dogs may be negatively affected for the rest of their lives through lack of treatment and affected dogs may continue to be selected in breeding programmes, perpetuating this serious disorder. Raising awareness of the potential problems associated with such breeds and conformations may play an important role to ensure informed decisions are made when selecting puppies; encouraging selection to be based upon health and not solely on aesthetics. Breeders of brachycephalic dogs intended for the show ring are motivated to select animals to maintain breed standards; however, some standards are inherently putting dogs at risk of BOAS.