Tackling health and welfare issues in brachycephalic dogs

Puppy laying down

Improving the health of brachycephalic dog breeds, and any other breed with health concerns, is The Kennel Club’s top priority. We are a not-for-profit organisation and have invested around £4 million in the last decade into research that will help to improve dog health.

Brachycephalic dogs, or flat-faced dogs, are popular worldwide, but despite their popularity, many of them are affected by health issues that are linked to the shape of their head, such as breathing difficulties or problems with their eyes, skin or teeth.

Resolving these health issues is not simple or straightforward. Find out what we're doing to tackle these complex issues.

Developing health schemes

In February 2019, we launched The Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading scheme to evaluate Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs for a breathing problem known as BOAS (brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome). BOAS is a life-limiting and progressive disorder that can impair a dog's ability to breathe, sleep, eat, play and exercise.

Results from this health scheme can be used by breeders to carefully select their healthiest breeding dogs to reduce the likelihood of their puppies from being affected by BOAS. This health scheme is now a mandatory requirement for all Kennel Club Assured Breeders of Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs.

Bulldog, French Bulldog and Pug owners are also encouraged to use this scheme to see if their dog(s) is affected by the condition before BOAS surgery is considered.

Further research is being carried out to see if this health scheme can be expanded to include other breeds.

To book an RFG scheme assessment, you are required to contact your local regional approved assessor directly. You can find a list of assessors on our Respiratory Function Grading scheme page. Alternatively, you can find a list of upcoming health clinics on our find a health testing clinic page.

Reviewing breed standards

The breed standards, which describe a breed’s ideal characteristics, temperament and physical features, were all collectively reviewed in 2009, with the input of veterinarians, to make it absolutely clear that physical exaggerations that are in any way to the detriment of health are not acceptable.

Recent changes to breed standards

The changes brought in during these recent reviews of the breed standards further underlined the importance of avoiding extreme features that can lead to health problems. Our Dog Health Group's Breed Standards and Conformation sub-group, which consists of vets, breed experts and scientists, worked with the breed clubs and partner members of the Brachycephalic Working Group, to use recent scientific evidence, such as the findings from the University of Cambridge research, to guide these changes.

Raising awareness of brachycephalic health issues

  • Our brachycephalic hub is a central source of information on anything to do with brachycephalic health and welfare issues, from how to buy a flat-faced dog responsibly to resources to help breeders breed responsibly
  • Our brachycephalic health zone provides information to owners, breeders and puppy buyers on the health issues that may affect some brachycephalic dogs. Issues covered include:
  • We include information on the specific health issues faced by each brachycephalic breed in our Breeds A to Z which acts as a source of important breed information
  • Our free and easily accessible film focusing on Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs examines the signs of brachycephalic breathing problems, factors that can make the condition worse, as well as the latest research in this field

Funding research

A full list of VetCompass research can be found on the Royal Veterinary College's website.

Turning research into action

Our breed health and conservation plans (BHCPs) is an ongoing project that identifies the health issues for each breed and uses these finding to create an action plan on how to improve health.

The more extreme brachycephalic breeds were some of the first to participate in this project and all of them now have a completed BHCP report, which includes an ongoing action plan agreed by breed club representatives, to ensure that breeders are supported in tackling health problems and achieving positive health goals. 

We're currently in the process of adding the breed priorities and action plans to the website. You can view the current information in the health sections in the links below.

Advising puppy buyers

We provide information and guidance to puppy buyers who are thinking of buying a flat-faced dog on the issues faced by some of these dogs.

Informing breeders

Our free online health resources, such as Health Test Results Finder and our inbreeding calculator, allow breeders to select dogs that will produce the healthiest puppies possible and have the best impact on the long-term genetic diversity and health of the breed. Our team of scientists continually analyse pedigree and health data to produce new resources and information that will help breeders to breed the healthiest puppies possible.

In our step-by-step guide for first-time breeders, we stress the importance of health screening and give guidance on avoiding breeding from dogs with extreme exaggerations.

Supporting dog show judges

  • We raise awareness of brachycephalic health to dog show judges through training days and our online resource, Breed Watch. Breed Watch helps judges award healthy dogs by alerting them to, and monitoring, features that may suggest, or lead to, health concerns. We also have vet checks at championship dog shows for all breeds identified as having health problems related to exaggerated features.
  • Our Breed Watch Illustrated Guide is a booklet designed to help dog show judges. it highlights and explains how exaggerated physical features (such as excessive wrinkles or narrow nostrils) can affect a dog and lead to welfare concerns.

Collaborating with others - the Brachycephalic Working Group

The Kennel Club lead a brachycephalic breeds working group made up of representatives from breed clubs, academic bodies, veterinary associations and animal welfare organisations. The group recently outlined an approach on how to improve brachycephalic dog health and also issued an open letter urging UK companies to stop using brachycephalic dog breeds in advertising and marketing campaigns.

Want to know more about brachycephalic health and what's being done?

The Kennel Club has hosted a unique webcast to discuss brachycephalic health and what can be done collaboratively to ensure a healthier future for dogs. Chaired by The Kennel Club Chairman, Tony Allcock OBE, the webcast panel comprised Dr Jane Ladlow, European and Royal College Specialist in Small Animal Surgery and leading BOAS researcher; Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeder Services Executive at the Kennel Club; and Charlotte McNamara, Head of Health and Welfare at the Kennel Club.

The panel discussed brachycephalic health, approaches across Europe, the need for a collaborative, evidence-based approach, including how the Respiratory Function Grading scheme can help protect and improve the health of brachycephalic dogs now and in the future, and the importance of data collection and ongoing research into BOAS.

How can you help?

Find out how you can donate to The Kennel Club Charitable Trust and help us further research into brachycephalic health issues
If you would like to raise awareness of this issue of help us campaign about this issue then you can always write to your local MP.
Our guide to letter writting
Writing to your Member of Parliament at Westminster (MP), Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP), Welsh Assembly Member (AM), or Northern Ireland Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) will inform individual politicians about important campaigns and therefore enable pressing issues to be taken up in parliament much more effectively.

While we know that it is much easier simply to copy a letter and send it off, your parliamentary representative is far more likely to take notice if you write your own letter. Use the guideline below to draft your own letter:






Paragraph 1: Why you are writing
The first paragraph of your letter should always introduce your concerns to your parliamentary representative. For example:
‘I am writing to you regarding the issue of [INSERT TOPIC], to ask that you support The Kennel Club’s campaign to...’
(This information can be found on the relevant campaign page of our website.)

Paragraph 2: What you want to change
Each of the campaign’s pages on The Kennel Club’s website outlines the organisation’s official position and what is being done to try and push for change. This information can act as a guideline for telling your parliamentary representative how existing legislation needs to be amended.

If you are writing to request that your parliamentary representative support The Kennel Club on a specific issue, you may wish to use something along the lines of the following wording as an introduction to the paragraph:

‘The Kennel Club acts as a voice for thousands of dog owners across the United Kingdom. Supported by its vast expertise and experience on dog-related matters, The Kennel Club is proposing the following…’

…then write a bullet-point list into your letter.

Paragraph 3: Why these changes are necessary
Providing politicians with evidence will demonstrate that your concerns are valid. Use facts and figures to support your argument, and describe any personal experiences that you may have had to make your case even more powerful.

Paragraph 4: Action points
Tell your parliamentary representative the line of action that you wish them to take on this matter. This could be taking the matter up with their party, raising the issue in parliament, signing an EDM or supporting a specific Bill. If you are unsure what to write in this paragraph, contact The Kennel Club's public affairs team for advice.

Paragraph 5: Signing off
Request a reply. You may also wish to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue further. Then all that is left to do is sign off:

‘I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,

Once you have received a reply
To help keep us up-to-date on which politicians are aware/supportive of our campaigns, please photocopy or summarise the response you receive and send it to us by email or by post to: The Kennel Club Public Affairs, 1-5 Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London, W1J 8AB.

If your parliamentary representative has agreed to meet with you, read our guide to a successful meeting with parliamentary representatives below.
Our guide to a successful meeting with parliamentary representatives
Attending the surgery of your Member of Parliament at Westminster (MP), Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP), Welsh Assembly Member (AM), or Northern Ireland Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) will be the most powerful way of making them aware of pressing canine issues, enabling them to be taken up in parliament much more efficiently.

Most parliamentary representatives hold surgeries where constituents can meet them face to face. Sometimes notices of surgeries appear in local newspapers, but if not you can contact your MP, MSP, AM or MLA’s office directly to book your appointment in advance.

Five steps to success

  1. Preparation is key. Make a list of questions/topic areas that you want to discuss with your parliamentary representative. Go armed with facts and figures to support your argument. You should also take a notepad and pen to write down any important points for reference
  2. Be direct. Introduce yourself and what you are there to discuss. State your concerns clearly, countering any opposing points that they may make. Do not become emotional – you will make a stronger argument by being calm and reasonable throughout
  3. Listen and respond constructively. Once you have made your position, allow your MP/MSP/AM/MLA to present you with his/hers. Listen carefully for areas of agreement and disagreement, always be positive and try to ask questions that will probe their personal viewpoint rather than that of their party
  4. Be aware of time. Stick to the issue and try not to get sidetracked into general debate - you will have a limited amount of time with him/her and it is important to make sure you get across all the points you wish to make
  5. At the end of the meeting and beyond… Thank them for the meeting, summarise your discussion and outline the steps you can take going forward. Let them know that they can contact you in the future to discuss the issue further.
Follow up the meeting by writing a thank you letter, summarising your visit and any actions that your MP/MSP/AM/MLA has offered to take. You could also contact them again after a month to see what progress has been made. This will also help to keep the issue fresh in their mind.

For further information or advice, please contact The Kennel Club public affairs department on 020 7518 1020 or by email.
Contact your parliamentary representative