IF it’s starting to feel like every second dog in your neighbourhood is a pug or french bulldog, you’re not totally off the mark. New research reveals there are more of the squish-faced canines waddling into Australian homes than ever before.
Analysis by the University of Sydney finds that over the last three decades Aussies are increasingly ditching the classic labrador and going barking mad for smaller pedigree pooches with shorter and wider heads, a la pug — but experts fear there is a lack of understanding of the health issues that afflict such breeds.
The study, published today in journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, explored the 180 purebreds covered by the Australian National Kennel Council’s data to investigate changes in dog-owning trends between 1986 and 2013.
Each breed was assigned to one of four size groups: small breeds (less than 10kg), medium (10-25kg), large (25-40kg) and giant (40kg and over).
Findings show man’s best friend is shrinking, as demand for smaller dogs has risen every year since 1986.
Over the studied time period, registration of small and medium purebreds increased by 4.2 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively relative to large purebreds, and by 11 per cent and 12.1 per cent compared to giant purebreds.
As well as a shrinking body size, our enthusiasm for canines with short, wide faces has boomed while dogs with narrower snouts are less popular.
Professor Paul McGreevy, who co-authored the study with PhD candidate Kendy Teng, said the new preference for smaller dogs correlated with a trend towards more high density living as well as a falling need for working dogs.
“Changes in the types of dwellings Australians are buying may indicate the space available for dogs has shrunk,” Prof McGreevy said.
“Moreover, the purpose of dog ownership has continued to shift from the early days of domestication, away from duties such as hunting and guarding properties, for which dogs are more likely to be larger, to pure companionship, which can be fulfilled by a dog of any size.”
As for our growing fondness for short, wide faces — described scientifically as ‘brachycephalic’ — Prof McGreevy puts this down to fashion. He also notes they have a unique cute factor humans find hard to resist.
“Studies also indicate the infantile facial features commonly seen in brachycephalic dogs with their round faces, chubby cheeks, big eyes and small nose and mouth, stimulate feelings of affection in humans,” he said.
It is hoped that the research will help Australian vets prepare for a jump in cases of dogs with breathing difficulties, skin and eye conditions as well as digestive disorders, all of which unfortunately afflict four-legged friends with flatter faces like pugs and bulldogs.
Prof McGreevy said life expectancy among these popular breeds was an estimated four years lower than non-brachycephalic breeds.
Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS) is particularly prevalent and can cause life-threatening respiratory problems. He urged potential dog-lovers to consider such issues before taking home a pug-like pooch.
“A study in the UK shows half of owners of breeds susceptible to these health issues seem unaware of BAOS in their dogs,” Prof McGreevy said.
“This implies owners did not make a fully informed decision when purchasing their brachycephalic dog and that they may be unaware of treatment options.”
The increasing popularity in Australia of such breeds is in line with results from the UK and the USA.