Variety is the Spice of Life

Crazes are amazing. They seem to come from nowhere, everyone follows them and then just as quickly disappear...

Who still has their Pokémon cards; did anyone work out how to use a Tamagotchi; and why-oh-why are skinny jeans still so popular?

The same is true for our pets as well. Yes, they are made to wear hideous clothes and nail varnish, but I’m writing about the fashion for certain breeds and types. In the 80’and 90’s companies started to use animals more to advertise their products and we had an explosion of yellow Labradors following Andrex adverts and of course who can forget the Dulux dog, the Old English Sheepdog.

Nowadays, the popular breeds are brachycephalic dogs. These are dogs that have been bred to have flatter faces and wider set eyes and the most commonly kept are Pugs, French Bulldogs. The exaggerated shape of their faces is reminiscent of babies (Disney uses this device as well) and are therefore considered “cute”. Society ladies promoted these breeds: these breeds were a fashion item, unable to work, and therefore a luxury. However, the extreme changes in features and body shape come at a price. We are very aware of the detriments to health of these breeds, many having to go through major surgery just to be able to breathe properly and the many need a caesarean when whelping.

The Kennel Club is funding research into the assessment of health problems of these breeds and in 2009 changed the breed standards to make it “clear that physical exaggerations which in any way detrimental to health are not acceptable.” However, about 70% of dogs in the UK are not registered with the Kennel Club and are outside it’s sphere of influence, so as responsible pet owners it behoves us to check the quality of the breeders we buy these dogs from.

Some KC registered breeds have suffered because of the popularity of the brachycephalic dogs. We used to see a wide variety of dog breeds coming through the surgery, now some are a surprise and delight because they are becoming much more unusual.

The Vulnerable British and Irish Breeds show took part again at Crufts this year and hopefully will open owners’ eyes to the variety that is out there. The beautiful setters such as English and Gordon are on the list as are terriers such as the Norwich and Skye which has been recently added. Just having a few of these dogs of each breed narrows the gene pool for selection and that can increase the likelihood of genetic and conformational problems. Have a look at the KC website for the huge number of dog breeds out there.

So, if you are looking for a new dog this year, consider one of the rarer breeds because, as they say, variety is the spice of life.