rspca

Love is Blind

Dogs Pet Health Article taken from The Biscuit magazine
Did you know that many dogs in Australia are bred to meet arbitrary ‘breed standards’ in order to accentuate certain physical features, even though this can result in painful and debilitating health conditions for the animals?

This article is from The Biscuit magazine.

RSPCA’s Love is Blind national awareness campaign, launched in partnership with the Australian Veterinarian Association, is calling for a fundamental shift in the way purebred dogs are selected and bred in Australia. With further growth in awareness and the cooperation of many different groups, including everyday pet buyers, we can ensure that Pedigree breeding leads to better lives for our pets, not worse ones.

What are the breed standards?

Pedigree breed standards are strict and narrow guidelines that often favour aesthetic features over the health, welfare and functionality of dogs. Dog shows reward and encourage breeders of animals that have been bred as closely to these standards as possible, even when health and welfare has been compromised. Flat faces, wrinkled skin, short legs, large heads and bulging eyes are all features that have been bred over time to be more prominent in certain breeds. Dogs bred in this way are far more likely to struggle to breathe, walk and give birth normally and can experience chronic eye, skin and ear problems. 

Common problems in pedigree breeds:

  • Pugs, British Bulldogs and French Bulldogs are bred to have flatter faces and more prominent, bulging eyes for aesthetic purposes. As a result, they are prone to severe pain from eye ulcers and having their eyes pop out of the socket.

  • Most English Bulldogs in Australia cannot give birth naturally and must have caesarean sections with anaesthesia instead. This is because the breed standards require broad shoulders, narrow heads and a narrow pelvis. The puppies are simply too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis.

  • Dachshunds, Basset Hounds and Welsh Corgis are bred to have abnormal body proportions. Their unnaturally short legs can cause various spinal and neurological problems. The dogs can suffer from severe pain and find it very difficult to walk. Serious spinal injuries and defects commonly end in euthanasia.

These problems are completely preventable. It’s time that the health and wellbeing of our beloved pets is prioritised over unnecessary aesthetic features. While decisions regarding which dogs to breed are solely in the hands of pedigree dog breeders, this is a complex issue which will require the cooperation of all interested stakeholders to create effective change. Breeders, buyers, dog show judges, breeder associations, geneticists, scientists, vets and animal welfare groups can resolve this issue over time by working together.

I want to buy a pedigree breed – what should I do?

Potential puppy buyers should read the RSPCA’s Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide and choose not to buy puppies with exaggerated features that compromise their welfare. Buyers can read all about the health problems suffered by particular breeds online and learn about the impact on quality of life before purchasing a pet. Buyers can learn to recognise responsible breeding and how to ask the right questions to ensure they are bringing a healthy animal with the best chances of a long and happy life into their family. Supporting responsible and ethical breeders will result in a gradual change and encourage other breeders to follow. There are already many breeders in Australia choosing to breed more responsibly and prioritise health over appearance. These breeders are open and transparent about their breeding practices and often provide ongoing support for dog owners.

If you already own a breed with exaggerated features, make sure your dog is desexed so that the resulting health problems are not passed on. Ask your veterinarian about how to minimise the risk of these disorders and ensure your pet is comfortable. Early intervention can help reduce the worst consequences of common pedigree breed problems and ensure a long, healthy life for your pet.

How do we fix the breed standards?

The RSPCA believes we can improve the lives of pedigree dogs by reviewing and revising the breed standards so that animal welfare is prioritised over physical appearance. By encouraging the breeding of more normal features with less associated health problems we can also increase genetic diversity within particular breeds. The science shows that genetic diversity improves resistance to infectious and genetic diseases. Breeders have the responsibility to ensure their dogs can have the best quality of life possible. They have a strong voice to call for urgent changes to the breed standards so that exaggerated features are no longer required or valued. We should also call for changes to litter registrations so that it is mandatory for both parent dogs to have veterinary assessments and certificates before breeding. This would ensure dogs for breeding are chosen based on having the best health, functionality and wellbeing rather than just having the best physical features. After all, healthy and happy dogs are the best looking! The judging criteria for show dogs also needs to be changed immediately so that rewards are given for good health instead of conformity to the breed standards for physical appearance.

Our dogs deserve better than lives of blindness, pain, discomfort and suffering. Big changes are required but we can work together to ensure better lives for our pets.

RSPCA’s recently launched magazine The Biscuit provides insightful bite-sized stories for animal lovers, with all proceeds going towards helping animals in need. You can read more about the problems with pedigree breeding in Issue 1, available now.

Express your support for the Love is Blind campaign and get involved by visiting http://www.loveisblind.org.au/


Lucy Richardson
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