‘I treat dying British Bulldogs that can’t breathe – you can stop their suffering’

It’s hard not to find British Bulldogs and King Charles Cavalier Spaniels cute – and that’s actually down to biology.

Humans naturally gravitate towards animals that look like our babies, with round heads, big eyes and flat faces.

But our growing desire for dog breeds with these characteristics is causing them immense suffering, with their genetically pre-disposed health issues requiring a lifetime of expensive and stressful surgeries and medication.

Last week, Norway announced the selective breeding of British Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels has been banned in a landmark ruling against the ‘cruel’ process.

Oslo District Court ruled that reproducing the two breeds breaches the Animal Welfare Act in Norway.

The court ruled that the practice leads to man-made health issues for the animals after lawyers argued it was no longer possible to maintain the health of the breeds.

British Bulldogs have been banned in Norway



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The new ruling added that breeders who work towards closing the door on the animals’ health problems can continue, bringing some hope for lovers of the two breeds in Norway.

British Bulldogs and ‘Cavvies’ have a brachycephalic face, meaning their skull is compressed and flat – and so are the structures inside it.

This means they not only have a lot of folds around their faces which causes skin issues, but major breathing problems.

Flat-faced dogs have rocketed in popularity in recent years with a 2,747 per cent increase in ownership in the UK of French Bulldogs alone since 2004, according to figures from the Kennel Club.

But 58 per cent of short-nosed dog owners could not recognize signs that their pet was having breathing difficulties, according to a study by the Royal Veterinary College in 2021.

The health issues are deeply unpleasant for the dog and for the owners, who witness the suffering and must fork out for treatment – and it’s tough for the vets who operate on the suffering puppies, day in day out.

Vet Tavishi Pandya is desperate for a change in the law when it comes to selective breeding


Tavishi Pandya)

Vets must operate on dogs who are suffering due to their breed every day, and it takes its toll (dog pictured is healthy)


Tavishi Pandya)

I spoke to Tavishi Pandya, a 27-year-old vet who graduated in 2019 and works in Waltham Forest.

She thinks Norway’s ban is a “step forward” – but warned it could encourage back-door breeders to continue underground, making the situation even worse.

“The way we have bred these dogs is forcing them to live a life where they are under unnecessary stress,” says Tav.

“On hot days, you use your whole nose to cool the air down, but Bulldogs can’t do that, so they suffer a lot with heatstroke.

“The dogs end up suffering from BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome), where their soft palette goes over their upper glottis, and causes the loud snorting breaths we associate with flat-faced dogs.”

Tav points out that while we might think these noises are adorable and that they indicate the dog is happy, what it really means is they are struggling for breath.

“Imagine if you had to breathe with a plastic bag over your head all the time,” she says.

Tav wishes there was better understanding of the health issues that come with certain breeds


Tavishi Pandya)

Some owners have no idea their dog is struggling to breathe and needs major surgery (dog pictured is healthy)


Tavishi Pandya)

“There is always an element of respiratory distress because they have to fight a lot harder to maintain their oxygen levels.

“So if they are put under stress, we see a lot of collapses, they can’t run around like normal dogs can and they get out of breath.”

Tav explains that over time, the snorting sound the pups make begins to affect the structures in their throats and makes them swell up.

“I’ve seen many cases where their throats are so swollen the dogs are at risk of collapse and death,” she says.

“All of these things are a completely man-made problem.”

Meanwhile, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can also suffer with Brachycephalic airway disease, though not to the same extent.

They are more susceptible to heart defects, eye disease, joint problems and chronic headaches or syringomyelia – a neurological condition caused by their brains being too big to fit in their skull.

“This is painful and distressing for owners,” says Tav. “Their brains are essentially being squished.”

Dogs with brachycephalic faces struggle to breathe and suffer from skin issues


UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

She explained the dogs will often struggle with their balance and with neck pain.

‘Cavvies’ are also genetically disposed to heart conditions which means they are much more prone to congestive heart failure, something Tav sees every day.

“You’re breeding a dog and you know for a fact there’s a high risk that later on in life it will have to be on medication just so it can breathe, and its lifespan is much reduced,” she says.

“It’s stressful for owners, the dogs, and it’s expensive to fix.”

Tav says it’s heartbreaking to have to put a young dog to sleep because of the issues that come from selective breeding, and to have to tell owners that their new puppy is going to be unwell for most of its life.

“We are selfish, we are breeding them like this just because we like the way they look,” she adds.

Vets are forced to recommend pups don’t have too much fun so they don’t get short of breath


Getty Images/iStockphoto)

British Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs have similar issues, says Tav.

“They have major skin issues – they are so uncomfortable. Imagine being itchy your entire life, and getting infections so often you need antibiotics every month or every other month,” she says.

“We don’t want animals on medication all the time, that’s not our goal. But we’re fighting with genetics, so it’s out of our control.

“Why breed them this way?”

Tav believes there is a lack of education about the issues that come with certain dog breeds, and owners are often shocked to learn their new addition to the family will need major surgery once it’s fully grown just so it can breathe slightly better.

“I’ve come across many owners who have been hit with these vet bills and health concerns, and they tell me, ‘If I had known this before, I would never have bought the breed,'” she says.

The breeding of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels has also been banned in Norway


Getty Images/Eye Em)

“So if you’re thinking about getting a puppy – get a healthy breed. We aren’t saying there’s a breed with absolutely no health conditions guaranteed, but why pick a breed where the risk factors are so much higher?

“It makes our job ten times harder, and owners often don’t understand until the situation is very, very bad.”

Sometimes owners even accuse Tav and her colleagues, who don’t work on commission, of money-grabbing and suggesting unnecessary treatment.

“That can definitely take a toll on you, having to go over these things with owners who are just ill-informed and unaware,” she added.

“A happy checkup has to be taken to quite a serious place where I have to warn the owner to keep an eye on their dog’s breathing all the time, and if it’s making noises when it’s running around having fun, you need to stop the fun – I don’t want to have to advise that.

“It’s upsetting to know what these dogs are going to have to go through in life, they will suffer.”

Asked whether she thinks the Norway ban should be brought to the UK, Tav warns an absolute ban opens the door to underground breeders selling the dogs, which would make the situation even worse.

Instead, she thinks breeders should work to eradicate these common health issues, with certification and a protocol that ensures only healthy dogs are bred from.

Tav suggested a breeding license that gives a certificate of health to the Bulldogs and the Cavvies, similar to the recently-passed Lucy’s Law, which made it illegal for third party dealers, such as pet shops and online traders, to sell puppies.

Tav is quick to point out she and her colleagues love the dogs themselves, and she doesn’t believe the breeds should be totally banned – but the health issues must be bred out of them.

“We aren’t saying get rid of the breed, we are just saying please breed them in a way that they don’t have all these issues – breed them with longer noses,” she adds.

“When they are very badly bred, they can collapse and die at any point.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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