The Kennel Club breed standard for the brachycephalic, flat-faced, fashionable French bulldog and pug (as two examples) are clear on what is required in respect of their eyes. Take the pug. The breed standard states: “Dark, relatively large, round in shape, soft and solicitous in expression, very lustrous, and when excited, full of fire. Never protruding, exaggerated or showing white when looking straight ahead. Free from obvious eye problems.”
Note “never protruding, exaggerated or showing white…” This is important because all over the news this morning is the result of a medico-scientific study by vets from the universities of Lisbon and Leipzig who examined 93 dogs from some flat-faced dog breeds.
Almost 50 percent of the dogs had a condition called macroblepharon. It causes reduced eye protection because the eyelids leave an abnormally wide opening. Affected dogs are prone to corneal ulcers. Forty-one of the dogs hade them and five had them in both eyes. The problem is apparently caused by the dog’s inability to blink because the eyeball is too pronounced. It appears that these dogs are in breach of the breed standard as the eyes are protruding and exaggerated. This is the fault of the ill-disciplined breeders.
The showing of white is a reference to the abnormal width of the eyelids which shows more of the eyeball.
The vets are saying that some dogs go blind because of extreme breeding of these fancy dogs. In addition to macroblepharon, pugs, Pekingese, shih-tzus and bulldogs are predisposed to entropion (20 dogs), distichiasis (15 dogs), corneal pigmentation (33 dogs), corneal fibrosis or scarring (23 dogs).
Entropion occurs when the eyelid turns inward and rubs against the cornea. Distichiasis describes extra eyelashes rubbing the eyeball. Pugs are particularly affected. Pugs are most affected by corneal pigmentation while corneal scarring is worse in French bulldogs and shih-tzus.
All these eye conditions are due to extreme breeding and extreme breeding is due to trying to make the breeds more popular. It is a trade-off between commercial success and health disaster. The latter sometimes wins.
Importantly, corneal ulcers can me painful and they cause vision problems. Perhaps many of these popular dogs are in constant pain or discomfort at best. Not a great thought from a thoughtless owner who was unaware of these serious health issues before they purchased at an inflated price thanks to the pandemic distorting the market. What would they think if their dog was in constant discomfort? Their dog might need surgery. Have they budgeted for it?
It’s worse. There are other health problems in these extreme bred flat-face, round-headed dog breeds: breathing problems (which are expressly rejected by the Kennel Club). This is caused by the abnormality of their facial anatomy: narrow nostrils, nasal passages and windpipe and an overlong soft palate that sits further back than normal and covers the windpipe, according PDSA.
There needs to be regulation of breeding if this continues. Clearly the breeders cannot be left to their own devices. As an aside, some cat breeds have similar problems for the same reasons. I am referring to the Persian family: the long-haired punch-face Persian and the shorthaired version, the Exotic Shorthair. These also have an extensive predisposition to PKD – polycystic kidney disease (35%).