Newswise — Brachycephalic dogs, like French and English Bulldogs, enjoy great popularity despite enduring profound inherent ailments. Hungarian scientists endeavored to expose the rationale behind this contradiction. Ultimately, they deduced that despite being cognizant of the health concerns and making efforts to ensure optimal care for their canines, aficionados of brachycephalic dogs tend to normalize the presence of health issues.

French and English Bulldogs rank highly in popularity across the United States and Europe, along with Pugs and Boston Terriers, which also boast substantial followings. It is astonishing, however, considering the numerous inherent health challenges these breeds confront. A significant proportion, at least half, encounter respiratory struggles, while eye problems persistently afflict them. Additionally, over eighty percent of these breeds necessitate C-sections for birthing. The health concerns faced by flat-faced dogs typically result in a life expectancy three to four years shorter than expected based on their body size. For instance, French Bulldogs have a mere life expectancy of approximately four and a half years.

Zsófia Bognár, a PhD student from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and the study's primary author published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, mentioned that in their previous research, they observed a greater tendency among flat-faced breeds to establish eye contact with humans. They speculated that this characteristic might be appealing to owners. They also considered the possibility that these dog enthusiasts might not be fully aware of the inherent health issues associated with such breeds.

In the conducted online survey, the researchers presented 25 pairs of dog photos, including images of dogs looking directly into the camera and dogs looking away. Alongside this, they evaluated the participants' personality traits, their affinity towards flat-faced dogs, and their awareness of the health problems associated with these breeds. A notable number of 1156 individuals partook in the survey. Surprisingly, certain outcomes contradicted the initial expectations of the researchers. It was revealed that individuals who held a positive attitude towards flat-faced breeds displayed random preferences when selecting among the provided images. This suggests that the inclination of these dogs to establish eye contact may not be a significant factor contributing to their popularity. Conversely, those who favored the photos featuring dogs making direct eye contact were found to possess sociable personalities, easily establishing friendships, and demonstrating empathy by considering the perspectives and experiences of others.

Remarkably, the survey revealed that respondents who expressed a fondness for flat-faced dogs displayed the highest level of awareness regarding the health problems associated with these breeds. An overwhelming 99 percent of the participants associated flat-faced breeds with breathing difficulties, while 90 percent recognized the issue of dystocia (difficulties during childbirth). Moreover, a notable 61 percent were aware of the risks of corneal ulceration in these breeds. Only a small minority of respondents associated flat-faced dogs with fewer than four health problems. These findings indicate that the health issues related to flat-faced breeds are widely known and recognized among the general public.

Furthermore, the study uncovered distinct characteristics of individuals who were enthusiasts of flat-faced dogs compared to those who were neutral or had a dislike towards these breeds. Enthusiasts of flat-faced dogs tended to be younger, had lower levels of education, and generally lacked professional experience with dogs. Additionally, the enthusiasts were more likely to be women and have children, distinguishing them from the neutral group. Furthermore, compared to individuals who had a dislike towards flat-faced breeds, the enthusiasts exhibited higher levels of emotional empathy. This indicates that they were more inclined to empathize with and understand the suffering of other living beings. These findings shed light on the demographic and psychological characteristics of individuals who are drawn to flat-faced dog breeds.

Eniko Kubinyi, the head of the MTA-ELTE "Momentum" Companion Animal Research Group at ELTE, shared their expectations and insights regarding the attractiveness of flat-faced dogs. According to Kubinyi, they initially anticipated that one of the main appeals of these dogs would lie in their large eyes, and that owners would derive delight when the dogs made eye contact with them. However, this assumption did not hold true, at least based on the photographs examined in the study. Kubinyi also emphasized that enthusiasts of flat-faced breeds are not oblivious to the health problems associated with these dogs nor are they insensitive to their emotions. On the contrary, the findings revealed that these enthusiasts tend to have less experience as dog owners. Consequently, it is likely that they may be unaware of the dogs' communication signals, potentially overlooking signs of pain, and considering health issues as typical breed characteristics.

Based on the findings, despite being fully aware of the inherent health issues associated with flat-faced dog breeds, enthusiasts persist in their affection for these canines without any discouragement.

"In numerous nations, awareness initiatives concerning the health problems associated with flat-faced breeds are present. Nevertheless, the surging popularity of flat-faced dogs implies that these initiatives lack efficacy. Evidently, merely enumerating the health issues fails to dissuade individuals from acquiring these canines. Instead, the focus should lie in emphasizing that health problems must not be deemed as ordinary or tolerable traits, as they frequently inflict pain and distress upon the dogs. It is imperative to raise awareness among dog owners that their choices exert substantial influence on the health of dog breeds," remarked Zsófia Bognár.

Journal Link: Applied Animal Behaviour Science