According to a new study, pugs should no longer be considered a “typical dog” due to the amount and severity of their health issues.
Researchers selected from nearly a million clinical records from VetCompass in 2016 to evaluate pugs’ predisposition for 40 common conditions compared to non-pug dog breeds using a cross-sample of 4,308 Pugs and 21,835 non-pugs.
Overall, pugs were at an increased risk for 23 of the conditions, but were at a reduced risk for 7 disorders compared to all other breeds of dogs. Disorders posing the “highest relative risk” for pugs were brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), narrowed nostrils, ulceration of the eyes and skin fold infections; those posing the lowest relative risk included heart murmurs, fatty lumps, aggression and wounds.
BOAS is a disorder common in pugs, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and other short-faced dogs, which – due to their stunted upper respiratory areas – can struggle to breath during exercise and collapse. Dogs with BOAS may suffer severe panting in an effort to cool themselves off, which can lead to other breathing issues.
There has long been growing consensus among the animal rights and care communities that pugs were at higher risk for specific conditions associated with their shortened snout, but the recent study conducted by The Royal Veterinary College was among the first studies to compare a wide range of disorders in pugs compared to a wide array of other breeds of dogs.
“Disease predispositions were more common than disease protections, confirming the hypothesis that there are many critical health related welfare challenges to overcome for Pugs,” researchers wrote in part. “The widely differing health profiles between Pugs and other dogs in the UK suggest that the Pug has now diverged to such an extent from mainstream dog breeds that it can no longer be considered as a typical dog from a health perspective.”
The pug is an old breed of dog that dates back to around 400 B.C.E, according to the American Kennel Club, and has long been known both for its distinctive squished nose and bulging eyes as well as its amiable personality. But experts say selective breeding for those physical traits likely led to the modern pug and its bevy of health issues.
Momentum to ban breeding of short-nosed dogs has picked up speed in recent years, particularly in countries across Europe. In January, Norway banned breeding of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and English bulldogs, and some officials have warned pugs and French bulldogs could be next.
"Although hugely popular as pets, we now know that several severe health issues are linked to the extreme body shape of pugs that many humans find so cute," Dr. Dan O'Neill, lead author of the Royal Veterinary College study, wrote in a statement. "It is time now that we focus on the health of the dog rather than the whims of the owner when we are choosing what type of dog to own."
According to the U.K. Kennel Club, the popularity of pugs has risen in the past several decades, up to 6033 registrations in 2020 from 2116 registrations in 2005. Pugs aren’t quite as popular in the United States as in the United Kingdom, coming in at 33rd on the American Kennel Club’s 2021 ranking of most popular dog breeds.