Buying a flat-faced puppy

Regardless of what a dog looks like, they should be able to lead a happy and healthy life and be able to breathe, walk, hear and see freely without discomfort.

What is a brachycephalic dog?

Dogs with a flat, wide shaped head, are said to be brachycephalic (brachy, meaning short and cephalic, meaning head). This particular skull shape will often give these dogs a characteristic flattened face and a short muzzle. Muzzle length may vary, even amongst a particular breed, with some dogs having shorter muzzles than others.

Which breeds are brachycephalic?

Popular brachycephalic breeds include, amongst others:

  • French Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Bulldogs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Pekingese

Head shape and dog health

Although the shape of these dogs’ heads can make them look very cute, dogs with a very flat face and short muzzle have a higher risk of developing certain health issues associated with their features, such as:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Eye problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Teeth problems

Research before you buy

  • Always find out about any special requirements your chosen breed may have. For example, some brachycephalic breeds may require extra care and attention, such as keeping any facial wrinkles clean and dry to prevent skin problems.
  • Contact your local breed club or look at the Kennel Club’s Breed Information Centre for more information about the health of the breed you’re considering. 
  • Make sure you ask the breeder about the health of the parents and ask to see any certificates for any health screening tests that the parents may have had.

Always see mum

Seeing mum (and dad if possible) is always an important part of buying any puppy, but especially so for brachycephalic dogs, as it may tell you something about the future health of your puppy. If you would not be happy to take home either of the puppy’s parents, then it may not be advisable to choose a puppy from the litter.  The mother and father will pass various characteristics on to their puppies and the characteristics that you may not like may also appear in the puppies when they are a little older. 

Assess the parents

Not all brachycephalic dogs will have the health issues listed below, but it is important that when seeing the mother (and father, where possible) you should check for the following signs of illness.

Breathing difficulties

The soft tissue in the nose and throat of some brachycephalic dogs may be excessive for their airways, making it difficult for them to breathe normally. Some dogs may also have narrow nostrils making it even more difficult to breathe.

What to listen and look out for:

  • If you are buying a French Bulldog, Pug or Bulldog, make sure the puppies parents have been screened for breathing problems. Responsible breeders of these breeds should have used the Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme on both the sire and dam before they were mated.
  • For other breeds, avoid buying puppies from parents that show signs of loud breathing, snoring noises (while awake), snorting or wheezing.
  • Some dogs may only develop these effects after exercise, feeding, drinking or during exciting/stressful events, so it may be difficult to assess if a dog suffers from breathing difficulties.
  • Ensure that the parents’ nostrils are open, resembling a kidney shape, and not tightly closed, as this can restrict their breathing further.
  • Always ask the owner if the mother or father have previously had any breathing difficulties or been treated for breathing problems.

Find out more about brachycephalic breathing problems:

Skin problems

Some brachycephalic dogs may have an excess of skin, which creates folds, especially around the front of the face. These folds can make a warm, moist environment which is perfect for bacteria and yeast to grow, possibly leading to infection and severe itching.

What to look out for:

  • Red, itchy or smelly skin inside the wrinkles.
  • Ask the breeder if any of the parents have had skin problems and what is required to treat/prevent them.

Find out more about brachycephalic skin problems:

Teeth problems

Dogs with a shortened skull will often have a shortened jaw, but the number and size of teeth will stay the same. This can mean that the teeth become overcrowded and can cause dental and gum problems.

What to ask about: 

  • We wouldn’t recommend you try and look in a dog’s mouth, especially one that you have only just met, but instead ask the breeder if the mother and father have suffered from any dental issues, such as overcrowding of teeth

Eye conditions

Some brachycephalic dogs may have particularly shallow eye sockets, causing their eyes to become more prominent and at a higher risk of trauma, ulcers and increasing the chance of them becoming dry and painful (due to not being able to blink properly).

What to look out for: 

  • Sore, red or cloudy eyes with tear stain on the hair below the eyes.
  • Sometimes affected dogs may blink a lot.

Find out more about brachycephalic eye problems:

Find a responsible breeder

Ask friends, family, breed clubs, training clubs or your local vets to see if they have any recommendations for responsible breeders.  A breeder with a reputation for taking care of their dogs is a great place to start.

The Kennel Club strongly advises puppy buyers to go to responsible breeders, such as members of the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme, which is the only established scheme in the UK that contains breeders assessed to UKAS standards, in order to protect the welfare of puppies and breeding bitches.  Assured Breeders formally agree to follow good practice when breeding their dogs which includes making the health of their puppies a priority. They will have been inspected by a Kennel Club Assessor to make sure that they’re upholding the scheme standards. 

If you are buying a French Bulldog, Pug or Bulldog, make sure that the parents have been screened for breathing problems before they were mated with the Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme.

Avoid buying from a puppy farmer

Puppy farmers are likely to take advantage of the high demand for these very popular breeds. Puppies born on puppy farms often require expensive long term veterinary treatment or die at a young age due to health problems.  Many puppies are severely traumatised by the experience and may have behavioural problems for life.

Tips for avoiding puppy farmers

  • Do not buy from a breeder who does not show you the puppy interacting with its mother.
  • Do not buy from anyone other than the breeder.
  • Do not collect the puppy from anywhere else other than the breeder’s house or premises.
  • Do not buy from anyone who says that they can get you any colour, breed or sex you want – they are probably a puppy farmer.
  • Do not buy from a breeder who does not ask you questions about whether your lifestyle and home are suitable for their puppy. A good breeder will want to ensure their puppy is going to a good home.
  • Do not buy from a puppy farmer to ‘rescue’ the dog – you’ll just be funding more irresponsible breeding. If you suspect somebody is a puppy farmer report them to the RSPCA, the police, or your local authority.

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