French Bulldogs, pugs and other flat-faced dogs have shot to become the UK’s most popular dogs in recent years. However, those cute faces come at a startling cost as years of selective breeding means these dogs are now at high risk of serious breathing problems.

New statistics released in January show that in 2018, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home performed an operation – known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) surgery – more than ever before in their 159-year history.

In 2015, Battersea performed just seven BOAS surgeries. Three years later, in 2018, the world-famous shelter had to operate a staggering 62 times.

The home took in 40 French Bulldogs last year compared to just eight five years ago. The number of Pugs taken in is also increasing year-on-year, reflecting both these dogs’ rising popularity as well as their risk of being abandoned due to ill health.

Restricted breathing means French Bulldogs and Pugs can struggle to run and play, making them less appealing pets and often prone to obesity. Even after the BOAS procedure many of these dogs will only be able to have limited exercise.

“While breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs are undoubtedly cute, they’re also a classic example of irresponsible, selective breeding,’ said Battersea’s Head Vet, Shaun Opperman. ‘Over the years, breeders have chosen the flattest-faced dogs in the litter to breed, and this has created traits that are dangerous and damaging to the dog’s health.”

“Many French Bulldogs and Pugs now have airways that are so narrow, it would be the equivalent of us breathing through a drinking straw. The corrective surgery massively improves their quality of life, but it’s a risky, invasive operation and recovery can be very complicated.”

“The dogs Battersea takes in  really holds a mirror up to society and reflects what breeds are the most popular in that moment. Sadly, that mirror also shows the ugly side of dog ownership, and- for these dogs- looks literally can kill. The rising number of Brachycephalic dogs is one of the biggest welfare issues that Battersea is facing right now, which is heart-breaking to see.”

Brachycephalic breeds that may be at risk include French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus and Boxers.