The popularity of many flat-faced dog breeds such as French bulldogs has risen dramatically in recent years despite regular assertions that they are prone to many health issues including breathing problems and sore eyes.


However, there has been limited reliable evidence on the wider general health of flat-faced, or brachycephalic, dogs compared to other dogs.

Now, a study led by the Royal Veterinary College’s VetCompass programme, examining the overall health of a random sample of 4,169 flat-faced dogs compared to 18,079 others attending veterinary practices in the UK has confirmed that brachycephalic dogs are more likely to suffer from a range of health disorders.

The team found different levels of risk for 10 out of the 30 common disorders found across both groups, with flat-faced dogs having a higher risk of eight of them. Flat-faced dogs were more than eight times more likely to suffer from the painful eye disease Corneal ulceration, three and a half times more likely to suffer from heart murmurs, and three times more likely to suffer from umbilical hernias.

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“The message here is that it is perfectly natural to love the character and look of these breeds, but we need to think carefully about the lives that these dogs live,” said Dr Dan O’Neill, senior lecturer at the RVC and lead author of the study. “I appeal to anyone thinking of buying a flat-faced puppy to listen to the message from The Brachycephalic Working Group which represents major UK breed clubs, charities, veterinary bodies and universities: ‘Stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog.’”

The findings support the general agreement by leading academics, UK breed clubs, veterinary organisations and welfare bodies that urgent intervention is needed to breed dogs with less extreme body shapes, the researchers say.

“We’ve put into place a number of crucial measures to monitor and improve brachycephalic health, and to provide the many responsible breeders with the tools they need to do the same, but this paper highlights there is still much work to be done,” said Bill Lambert, Head of Health and Welfare at the Kennel Club.


“Collaborating with the RVC and supporting this research through the Kennel Club Charitable Trust provides an evidence-base which enables ongoing identification of breed health-related priorities, and development of effective treatments for breed-specific health conditions, as well as breeding resources to produce healthier puppies in the future,” Lambert added.

Reader Q&A: Why does my dog go round in circles before she poos?

Asked by: Chris McMullon, Barnham, West Sussex

A 2015 study in the Czech Republic and Germany reported that dogs tend to poo along the north-south axis of the Earth’s magnetic field. This presents the intriguing possibility that the circling behaviour is their way of gauging the orientation of the magnetic field before they get down to business. But this research is controversial, and other researchers have been unable to reproduce the findings. It’s more likely that dogs are acting out an ancestral behaviour to flatten the grass and drive away insects before they squat.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.