November 26, 2017

Do dog owners perceive the clinical signs related to conformational inherited disorders as ‘normal’ for the breed? A potential constraint to improving canine welfare
Dogs that have brachycephalic phenotypes have a shortened muzzle and are at risk for brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). The Pug breed is at especially high risk because it’s shortened muzzle is seen as a “normal” trait for the dog by owners, even though encouraging the short nose causes “respiratory distress, exercise intolerance, upper respiratory noise and collapse” (81). This study was devised to observe owner’s perception of their brachycephalic dog’s breathing problems and whether or not the owner believed there was a problem. The study took place at the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (QMHA) and was evaluated through a survey which evaluated the owner’s perception of breathing difficulties in their dogs, quantifying it as an “owner-reported breathing (ORB) score” (81). The results displayed that over half of the owners (58%) did not think that their dog had a breathing problem. This number is concerning because it shows that many owners are ignoring or not noticing signs of respiratory problems in their dog, resulting in affected dogs remaining untreated and in a continuation of BOAS through breeding to the standard. 
Owner perception of a problem in animals is key to the animals receiving the care they need, but unfortunately many owners do not perceive a potential disease in their animal and instead consider the abnormality to be ‘normal’ for the breed. The Animal Welfare Act states that one of the five ‘needs’ of animals is the “Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease” (81). This protection often gets forgotten as dogs are continued to be bred to the often harmful standards: “Breeding may put animals bred for certain conformational traits at an increased risk of pain, suffering, injury and/or disease” (81).
Designated as the most severe disorder according to the Genetic Illness Severity Index for Dogs, BOAS is caused by brachycephalic traits that are encouraged by the UK Kennel Club’s Breed Standard. BOAS is often characterized as severe within the first 12 months of age and it continues with the dog for life. It is caused be “anatomical abnormalities often seen in brachycephalic dogs,” which causes a “cramming effect within the skull […] which partially blocks the larynx and interferes with passage of air during inspiration and expiration” (82). Brachycephalic dogs also have narrower nostrils which collapse on inhalation. Signs of BOAS are sounds such as snoring, snorting, or wheezing. 
Many owners of brachycephalic dogs are found to be more tolerant of the signs of BOAS than owners of non-brachycephalic dogs due to their perception of the disorder as ‘normal’ to the breed. Questionnaires regarding the dog’s health and lifestyle in terms of respiratory difficulty and noise were distributed to owners of dogs who were referred to the orthopedic, soft tissue surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, internal medicine, oncology, cardiology, dermatology and hydrotherapy services of QMHA. The dogs were accepted into the trail based on certain measures. All the dogs accepted were studied for stenotic nares (narrow nostrils) and skull conformation (observing the brachycephalic effects).
The results showed that more than half of the owners of BOAS-affected dogs did not believe their dog had respiratory difficulties. Often the owners would justify their response to questions of the presence of breathing problems as “No, but his is a Pug!” (90). This study uncovered a disparity in recognition of respiratory disorders in affected dogs due to these problems being perceived as ‘normal’ according to the breed standard. This idea of ‘normal’ for the breed results in the acceptance of these harmful disorders in dog breeds and the potential of upholding these disorders which could eventually result in a worsening of the disorder. Awareness needs to be raised that these disorders should not be considered normal to the breed, but detrimental to their health and vitality. Because, according to the UK Kennel Club’s campaign, ‘Fit For Function: Fit For Life,’ “Every dog… should be able to breathe freely” (91).
Packer, R.M.A., et al. “Do dog owners perceive the clinical signs related to conformational inherited disorders as ‘normal’ for the breed? A potential constraint to improving canine welfare.” Animal Welfare 21.1 (2012): 81–93. Web.
Original Article:
Reviewed by Stephanie Lushniak