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A Face that can Kill – When Breeds Need More than Unconditional Love

On the 25th February, an eight-year old Australian Bulldog named Jaxon was surrendered to RSPCA ACT. Like so many other dogs of his breed, he came to us with significant health issues related to his exaggerated features.

In order for him to live a healthy and longer life, our vet team would have to perform significant surgery just to help him breath.  In Jaxon’s case, his teeth are overcrowded and the soft palate was too loose and floppy to allow for adequate air flow resulting in a daily struggle, much like a person with chronic asthma. 

Jaxon’s story is not unusual unfortunately. Turn on any television station and you’ll see smaller dogs with large heads and shortened muzzles dominating advertisements. These dogs are classified under the ‘Brachycephalic’ title. It includes any breed with exaggerated features such as bulldogs, Shih Tzu’s, Pekingese, pugs and countless others.

While people often joke about the snoring and snorting or strange sleeping positions of dogs like Jaxon, the sad fact behind the “funny” videos you might see on YouTube is that these behaviours are often due to the dog’s inability to breathe correctly.

As a Brachycephalic breed, Jaxon’s shortened muzzle could cause severe breathing problems, chronic sleep deprivation, heat stress and heat stroke. Unfortunately, stories of people’s dogs dying unexpectedly during hot weather are too common. Due to their exaggerated features, their ability to pant and their efficiency in being able to cool themselves down is significantly decreased. Death and heat related medical conditions can happen quickly, and something even a five-minute walk can be too much in certain conditions.

For Jaxon, without medical intervention he could not live the life of a ‘normal’ dog. With this in mind, our Vets went ahead with the operation to widen his nostrils and trim the soft palate at the back of his throat to allow him to finally, be able to breath with ease.  This operation is pricey and not without complications including possible death.

Fortunately Jaxon’s surgery was a success! Handsome, affectionate and loving, he can now enjoy a good snooze followed by a short stroll. However, despite the success of his operation, he will still need to be an indoor dog during summer and have reduced physical activity.

We completely understand why people choose breeds like the Australian bulldog with their gorgeous personalities.  Just know if you decide to get such a pet, it’s their looks that can actually be their medical downfall, and you may need to invest considerably in vet bills to help your ‘Brachycephalic’ dog live pain free and to have a longer life.

While our preference is that these types of dogs are not bred with these exaggerated features at all, if you do decide to get such a pet, do your research and understand the kind of commitment you are making. For no responsible owner wants to see their pet suffer.

For more information visit the ‘Love Is Blind’ website  - a joint initiative between RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association.

Tammy Ven Dange is the CEO of RSPCA ACT.  Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @tvendange.