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Cruel or kind? Owners of flat-faced dogs with health problems would still recommend breed

6 min read
1 Oct 2020
flat-faced dogs. Baby pug litter

They’re cute, cuddly and some of the most Instagramable dogs around, but researchers from the UK are concerned about owners of pugs, French bulldogs and other flat-faced dogs wanting to purchase the breed again – despite the dogs facing a slew of serious health issues.

A new study conducted by researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) et al found that a whopping 93% of 2,168 brachycephalic (short-nosed and flat-faced) dog owners would choose the same breed in the future despite health problems. Furthermore, 66% would recommend pugs, French bulldogs and English bulldogs to others.1

While authors of this study acknowledge that flat-faced dogs are typically sweet and have loving personalities, they fear people are accepting and normalising what they describe as ‘shocking’ health issues. These breeds are also extremely popular in Australia, with Google Trends data showing that bulldogs were the most searched dog breed on the search engine for Australians in 2019.4

The most popular breeds searched on Google by Aussies in 2019
1.       Bulldog
2.       Staffy
3.       Labrador
4.       Collie
5.       German shepherd

Source: Google Trends Data Australia

What health issues do pugs, French bulldogs and other flat-faced dogs face?

According to the study, which was originally published in the PLOS One Journal in August 2020, flat-faced dog breeds are predisposed to various health issues and disorders, including:

  • dystocia (i.e. difficulty when giving birth)
  • heatstroke
  • eye disease
  • spinal problems
  • pneumonia
  • respiratory disease.2

French bulldog with health problems at the vet

What’s more is that these dogs typically live around 4.1 years less than breeds with longer snouts and their health issues can severely impact their quality of life. Owners surveyed as part of the study also pointed out the most common health issues their flat-faced dogs experienced, including:

  • overheating;
  • allergy and skin problems;
  • eye issues; and
  • breathing issues.

According to the RSPCA, one of the respiratory diseases most flat-faced dogs face is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, which can make everyday tasks such as eating, playing, exercising and sleeping difficult.3

This is a medical condition affecting short-nosed dogs and cats, which can make it harder for the animal to breathe and increase snoring and vomiting.

More information for caring for your pet

We recently detailed the pros and cons of sharing your bed with your pet, as well as the human foods that could kill your pets.

If pugs and other flat-faced dogs have health issues, why do people want them?

The popularity of flat-faced dogs has grown immensely over the past 10 years and shows no signs of slowing down. Owners surveyed as part of the RVC study also seem to be attracted to these breeds’ personalities.2 These owners said they’d recommend flat-faced breeds to others because they believed that these dogs were:

  • great companions;
  • playful and comical;
  • easy to train;
  • low-maintenance and require little physical activity;
  • suit smaller living spaces; and
  • great to have around children.

Flat-faced pug with happy child

Is it expensive to care for a flat-faced dog?

Owning any breed of dog can be expensive, but the RSPCA warns that flat-faced dogs typically require specialised vet care and extra maintenance in addition to the standard care dogs need.5 It can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000 to care for a dog in the first year.6 This doesn’t include the thousands it could cost for flat-faced dogs to undergo corrective airway surgery, which they usually require in the first 12 months.3 Of course, exact prices vary between vets and individual animals.

While general dog care usually sets owners back around $1,600 every year after,6 this doesn’t factor in other operations such as eye surgery, heatstroke treatments and hip treatments that your pug or Frenchie may require. As such, it’s a good idea to ask yourself the following before deciding on any breed of dog:

Am I aware of all potential health issues the dog could face? A puppy may look cute in the window or on social media, but are you fully aware of all the potential health issues and what you’ll need to do if they occur?

Can I afford it? We’ve already established that it costs a lot to care for a dog, but will you have enough to cover any extra or unexpected costs that may arise? Remember that dogs live for many years and you’ll need to foot the bill if they fall ill, require surgery or need to visit the vet.

Am I prepared to care for a high-risk breed? As cute as flat-faced breeds are, are you prepared to see them through multiple surgeries and go the extra mile to make their lives as comfortable as possible? Will you have the capacity to give your pet the care that it needs?

bulldog parent with puppy

Can pet insurance help if my pug or French bulldog has health issues?

Pet insurance is designed to help you pay for some veterinary bills, but it’s important to know that it has limits. It’s also vital to know that not all policies will cover your dog’s health issues.

For example, an accident-only policy may be available to all breeds and dogs of every age, but will only cover accidents. This means if your pup needs surgery for a breathing issue, this level of cover will not help cover those costs.

An accident and illness policy may offer cover if your pet falls ill – providing it’s not related to a pre-existing condition. You’d need to take out this cover before your pet shows any signs or symptoms related to a pre-existing condition. Also, check the policy’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) as you may need to take out cover before your dog reaches a certain age and hold it continuously for your pet to be covered.

flat-faced English bulldog puppies playing

A comprehensive policy can offer cover for accidents, illness, preventative care and some veterinary services such as vaccination. But again, pre-existing conditions are often excluded and this cover needs to be taken out before a certain age (nine for many providers) and held continuously. It’s usually best to insure your pet as young as possible. In most cases, a pet can be insured from the age of eight weeks.

Your policy may also be subject to limits on the amount you can claim per illness and exclusions. The amount you pay may also vary based on your dog’s breed, it’s age, health and if you’ve made claims in the past. It’s always best to compare your options and carefully read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to know what exactly your furry friend is and isn’t covered for.


1. Scimex (27 Aug 2020) – ‘Media release: Pugs and bulldogs might be bought for their looks – but owners get hooked on their personalities’ – Accessed 16/09/2020
2. PLOS One Journal (Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the University of Edinburgh and Nottingham Trent University) – ‘Open access: Come for the looks, stay for the personality? A mixed methods investigation of reacquisition and owner recommendation of Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs’ – Accessed 16/09/2020
3. RSPCA – ‘What is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)?’ – Accessed 16/09/2020
4. Google Trends – ‘Top dog breeds searched in Australia in 2019’ – Accessed 16/09/2020
5. RSPCA – ‘What do I need to know before I get a new pet?’ – Accessed 16/09/2020
6. Moneysmart – ‘Getting a pet – how much it costs to own a dog or cat’ – Accessed 16/09/2020

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avatar of author: Phillip Portman

Written by Phillip Portman

When he’s not busy writing, Phillip can usually be found at the movies, riding rollercoasters at theme parks, hanging out with his cockatiel Tiki, or talking about everything pop culture. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Journalism and has previously written about health, entertainment, and lifestyle for various publications. Phillip loves to help others and hopes that people learn something new from his articles.

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