By Dr. Becker
Researchers are beginning to uncover the realities of a tragic situation that many veterinarians, reputable breeders, and dog owners have been aware of for some time. Jennifer Viegas, writing for Discovery News, gets right to the point with this statement:
"Selective breeding to produce doll-like dogs has resulted in horrific brain problems that researchers are only now just beginning to fully understand."
Every dog guardian and animal lover who reads that sentence should be deeply disturbed that certain "breed standards" have come to this. Is a particular "look" so coveted that some are willing to flout the laws of nature and destroy a dog's health, comfort, and quality of life to achieve it?
Study Concludes the Brains of Some Selectively Bred Toy Dogs Are Too Large for Their Skulls
In a new study conducted at the University of Surrey and published in February in the journal PLoS ONE,1 a team of researchers from the UK, Canada and the U.S. found that the brains of some toy dogs are simply too large for their skulls. The resulting condition, called Chiari malformation, is known to cause terrible headaches, problems walking, and sometimes paralysis. It also leads to obstruction of the cerebrospinal fluid channels, causing the painful spinal cord disease syringomyelia.
According to lead author Clare Rusbridge of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey in the U.K.:
"Chiari malformation can be described as trying to fit a big foot into a small shoe. It can be very painful, causing headaches and pressure on the brain and can result in fluid filled cavities in the spinal cord."
Chiari malformation is seen in certain toy dog breeds today, including the Brussels Griffon, the Affenpinscher, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the Chihuahua, and related mixed breeds.
'Breeding dogs in a certain way to influence how they look might not be in the animal's best interest.'
For the study, the researchers took brain, skull and vertebrae measurements of 155 Brussels Griffons with Chiari malformation and compared them with the same measurements in healthy Griffons. They discovered the dogs with the condition had taller foreheads. They also learned that the disease actually changed the shape of the dogs' brains. In Griffons with very severe malformations, the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that sits at the back of the skull, was forced underneath the main part of the brain.
Chiari malformation occurs in 1 in 1,280 humans, and is the result of certain skull bones fusing too early, causing areas of the brain to push through an opening at the base of the skull. It's conceivable the condition also occurs spontaneously in dogs now and again, but it's clear breeders significantly increase the risk when they breed to attain a certain physical look, giving little thought to the implications for the health of the dogs.
"We want to engage breeders and give them practical advice about the condition, but it is also important that the public recognizes that breeding dogs in a certain way to influence how they look might not be in the animal's best interest," said lead author Rusbridge.
Other Dogs Are Also Suffering from Perverse Breeding Practices
Other breeds whose health has been destroyed by selective breeding for looks only include German Shepherd Dogs with grotesquely sloped backs and lower necks that cripple their mobility, and Pugs with noses so short they can barely breathe. They no longer have noses, in fact, just nostrils. These poor dogs often travel with ice cushions to keep them cool because they can't pull enough air into their "pushed back" noses to regulate their body temperature.
Wayne Cavanaugh, president of the United Kennel Club (UKC), believes these breeding habits are the result of our "world of exaggeration." The more exaggerated something is, the better, according to today's thinking.
That's why it's so important to select the breeder of your pet very carefully. "There are responsible breeders out there, who have invested in screening and who are breeding for health as well as producing attractive puppies, and it is vital that people only look to buy from them," says lead study author Rusbridge.
And I always encourage prospective pet parents to check local breed rescue organizations and animal shelters first, since often you can find your favorite breed or breed mix in an abandoned or relinquished dog who is looking for a new home.