‘Brachycephalic’, meaning a relatively broad, short skull, is now a well-known and commonly used term, potentially a bi-product of heightened awareness of this group of breeds and the ongoing and often emotive debate that surrounds them.
The Kennel Club website has a number of health pages dedicated specifically to owners and breeders of these breeds - a consequence of continually increasing customer enquiries and demand for information on all health concerns relating to the ‘brachy’ breeds.
So who are they, and what has the Kennel Club done to support them with Brachycephalic Airways Syndrome (BOAS)? Firstly, I think we have to be clear on which breeds fall in and outside of the ‘brachy group’. This is still an ongoing debate amongst many NGO, welfare sector groups and Kennel Clubs internationally. But it would be reasonable to suggest the most well-known and widely acknowledged are the Bulldog, French Bulldog, and Pug.
From 2008-2010 the Kennel Club undertook several years of consultation with breeds listed in the European Convention, which subsequently led to the ‘high profile’ breed list being formed by the Kennel Club. Three of the named breed - Bulldogs, Pugs and French Bulldogs - already acknowledged concerns with breathing problems (BOAS) and at that time had started to develop breed club health schemes and initiatives to collect information on the health of the dogs they had access to. I believe at the time of the European Convention, many breeders had concerns over the ‘banning’ of breeds. As the breed communities themselves acknowledged the problems with breathing (BOAS) and a need to make health improvements, the Kennel Club and Kennel Club Charitable Trust stepped in alongside to help.
In 2010, the Kennel Club Charitable Trust provided funding to the University of Cambridge who formed a BOAS Research Group, led by Dr. Jane Ladlow, Dr Nai-Chieh Liu and Dr. David Sargan. From 2010 – 2019, the group worked continually to find answers and solutions for breeders, and further our knowledge in this area, with the continued commitment of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust funding. The breeders for Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs were involved from the outset, and without their involvement, the research and subsequent progress made would not have been possible.
However, we do have to consider the population at the outset of this research compared to today. Registration figures for 2010 saw 2,204 French Bulldog puppies born, 4,746 Bulldogs and 5,726 Pugs. Moving forwards to 2019, when the Kennel Club/University of Cambridge launched the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme, annual registrations were 33,661 French Bulldog puppies, 9,922 Bulldogs and 6,751 Pugs (Pugs only seeing the dip in 2019 following much higher numbers of between 9000-10,000 from 2014 to 2018.) Without doubt, all three breeds have seen a significant growth in popularity since 2010, with the French Bulldog soar in popularity being the most significant in the history of Kennel Club registration.
Arguably, had we not had the huge growth in popularity of all three breeds, we may have been able to control some of the BOAS concerns with a smaller, knowledgeable group of responsible breeders, and perhaps we would see more measured progress today. However, we all face a very different challenge compared to 2010, and the Kennel Club, with the help of the breeds, has a responsibility to educate a much wider group of breeders about the importance of understanding a very complex health problem, in combination with balancing a number of other important breeding decisions. All three are specialist breeds and require dedicated breeders who are willing to prioritise health over all other considerations when breeding.
Following the launch in 2019, the Kennel Club/University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme is now available for all breeders of Pugs, Bulldogs and French Bulldogs. Regional approved assessors are based throughout the UK and the Kennel Club is working to ensure that General and Group Championship Show vets are also trained to work with societies to enable assessments to be available at shows in 2021. The assessment takes approximately 20 minutes and requires the owner to have their dog assessed pre-exercise, undergo an exercise tolerance test and then have post-exercise assessment which then provides the dog with an overall grade 0 - 3. The owner will be provided with the assessment form and information booklet, including breeding advice. Many breed clubs are also holding sessions, so it is worth interested owners contacting breed health co-ordinators for more information.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that all events and health assessments for the RFG Scheme have been cancelled or postponed at this time, but this is still a good time for breeds to think about organising sessions for 2021 and assisting the Kennel Club in increasing awareness of the scheme.
The Kennel Club/University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme is vital to providing a strong evidence base on the respiratory function of Pugs, Bulldogs and French Bulldogs. Breeders participating and ensuring every dog has an RFG Scheme assessment prior to breeding, and then every two years, is the only way we have of building confidence internationally that the breeds can live a good quality of life and not be affected by any clinical signs of BOAS. Further and more importantly, it is our only mechanism to demonstrate the breeder’s commitment to reducing BOAS throughout the population. Given all of the discussion and debate on brachycephalic breeds, and the increasing pressure from the veterinary and welfare sector, it is more important than ever that breeders really get behind this scheme.
In April, the Kennel Club hosted an online conference when it presented it’s the Kennel Club/University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme and where other overseas Kennel Club’s shared their own their work and insights in this area.
Following this the Kennel Club has been in further contact with a number of interested Kennel Club with regard to making the RFG Scheme available to them via license. The aim is to help build an international dataset for BOAS and support individual breeders to make breed health improvements worldwide.
Dr. Jane Ladlow works in partnership with the Kennel Club as the Chief Assessor for the RFG Scheme and has been involved with the scheme through concept during research phrase through to launch of the scheme in the UK in 2019.
The Kennel Club is committed to sharing its knowledge and health scheme with overseas Kennel Clubs via the license agreement as we believe an international collaborative approach will lead to a bigger improvement in BOAS affected dogs globally.