Warning issued as demand for flat-faced puppies increases during COVID-19 pandemic

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24 June 2020
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Animal welfare organisations, vets, and breeders urge public not to buy a ‘pandemic puppy’ and warn of worsening health crisis for in-demand flat-faced breeds.

Dog health and welfare experts including vets, rescue organisations, scientists and breeders are urging the public to ‘stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog’, as online searches for ‘getting a dog’ reaches an all-time high, while the French Bulldog becomes the UK’s most popular breed.

New statistics from PDSA and released by the Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) show that Google searches for ‘buying a puppy’ increased by 175 per cent in just one month of UK lockdown compared to the average.

And according to the latest 2020 registration data released by BWG member organisation the Kennel Club, the French Bulldog – a brachycephalic or ‘flat-faced’ breed – is once again the UK’s top dog, with the highest puppy registrations of any breed during January to March 2020. Searches for French Bulldog puppies via the Kennel Club’s ‘Find a Puppy’ tool also increased by 225 per cent during April and May 2020, as people stayed home, compared to the same time last year.

Brachycephalic breeds, such as French Bulldogs, Bulldogs and Pugs – often referred to as flat-faced dogs due to their short muzzle – can suffer from a number of health problems such as breathing, eye, spine, dental and skin-fold issues. In addition, unscrupulous breeders and traders are cashing in on the high demand by farming them in huge numbers and often poor conditions - whether bred in the UK or imported from abroad. These twin problems have created one of the most pressing welfare issues for dogs right now in the UK.

The Brachycephalic Working Group includes the major stakeholders in dog welfare in the UK including the Kennel Club, PDSA, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Cambridge, the British Veterinary Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, DEFRA, and breed clubs. The BWG warns that this increased demand for flat-faced puppies fuelled by the pandemic could worsen the already serious health and welfare crisis faced by these breeds, and are asking the public to ‘stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog’.

“We are concerned that some puppy buyers might not be fully considering, or be aware of, the long-term responsibility and commitment that comes with getting a dog, especially a flat-faced dog,” commented Dan O’Neill, Chair of the Brachycephalic Working Group. “It’s vital that people stop and think. Getting a flat-faced puppy without being aware of the potential health and welfare issues they might face, especially if they are bred indiscriminately to meet demand, will have a devastating and long-lasting impact for thousands of dogs and owners in the UK.

Dr O’Neill continued: “Rather than making an impulsive decision, or choosing a dog because it seems popular, cute or fashionable, we urge anyone considering buying a flat-faced breed to do their research first. It is true that some flat-faced breeds often have lovely characters, but do you really want to contribute to a welfare crisis where thousands of puppies are bred in appalling circumstances just to satisfy the huge demand for these breeds? Our message could not be clearer: Stop and think before buying a flat-faced breed.”

The impact of sudden and large increased population sizes is such a concern for researchers that the Brachycephalic Working Group have previously published a joint statement on this risk for dogs, alongside guidance on what can be done to help, on their website: www.ukbwg.org.uk 

For anyone who wants to find out more about the right way to get a puppy, including how to do your research, there is information available at www.thepuppycontract.co.uk.

If you are committed to buying a puppy, aim to find an experienced and responsible breeder and be prepared to wait for the right dog to become available. For those looking to find out more about flat-faced breeds specifically, there is further information about the issues they can face available on the Kennel Club website.