The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Problems With Pugs, Bulldogs and French Bulldogs

DEAR READERS: Dog breeds with pushed-in faces -- a deformity called brachycephaly, affecting pugs, bulldogs, Pekingese, boxers, Boston terriers and more -- suffer from many related health problems. This was confirmed in a study published in PLOS One entitled “Great expectations, inconvenient truths, and the paradoxes of the dog-owner relationship for owners of brachycephalic dogs.”

Disturbingly, the study finds that breeders and owners are generally in denial about the harmful consequences of deliberately breeding and purchasing such animals, or do not appreciate the seriousness of their breed’s conformational problems and necessary surgeries.

The most common diagnoses that respondents shared from veterinarians were allergies (27% of dogs), corneal ulcers (15%), skin-fold infections (15%) and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS, 12%). In addition, 20% of dog owners reported that their dogs had undergone one or more conformation-related surgeries. The most frequently reported surgeries were nostril widening (8%) and eyelid surgery (8%). One-third of all pregnant dogs required medical or surgical intervention to give birth.

Even so, 71% said their dog was in “very good health” or “the best health possible,” and just 7% said their dog was less healthy than average for its breed. Nearly 40% of the dogs could be experiencing airway obstruction problems, but only 18% of owners thought their dog had a breathing issue.

“These contrasting and paradoxical results support the influence here of the ‘normalization’ phenomenon,” explain the researchers, “whereby owners of brachycephalic dogs may be consciously aware that the dog is struggling to breathe but not consciously accept that this is a specific problem, instead considering it a ‘normal,’ and therefore somehow acceptable, feature of the breed.”

Researchers added that it is “likely that many owners do not recognize sleep problems as a welfare issue, and may instead interpret signs of sleep-related airway impairment as benign ‘normal’ phenomena. For example, sleeping with a toy in their mouth or in a sitting position (strategies to avoid upper airway obstruction) may be considered as just cute quirks of their dog rather than indicators of true pathology.”

Another survey of health issues in bulldogs in the U.K. found that this breed was especially prone to ear, skin, eye and respiratory infections, as well as obesity and gastrointestinal problems. (“Disorders of Bulldogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013,” PLOS One, 2019)

DEAR DR. FOX: I appreciate all your reasoning and advocacy on behalf of animals and the environment, but in my opinion, (the problem) all boils down to capitalism. It is part of our culture, if not our DNA, to make a profit out of anything we can, any which way. How do we change that? -- P.S., Vancouver, British Columbia

DEAR P.S.: I appreciate your response, and agree with you that capitalism -- the accumulation of material wealth -- when unbridled, as it is today, has caused more harm than good to people, animals and the environment. Animals are more than mere commodities, and nature more than a “resource” for our exclusive exploitation and plunder.

I offer a new term for this psychosocial pathology evident in our culture, along with a lack of conscience and empathy: namely, “pecunitarianism.”

According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, the word “pecuniary” first appeared in English in the early 16th century and comes from the Latin word “pecunia,” which means “money.” Both this root and the Latin “peculium,” or “private property,” are related to the Latin noun for cattle, “pecus.” In early times, cattle were viewed as a trading commodity (as they still are, in some parts of the world), and property was often valued in terms of cattle. It is no coincidence that cattle, like chattel, are linked etymologically to capitalism.

I would describe pecunitarianism as the modus operandi of those who follow the path of Mammon with addictive zeal, making a profit regardless of the hidden costs -- what economists call the “externalities” -- be they social, environmental, moral or ethical.

This psychosocial pathology has helped bring on the climate and extinction crises, compounded by human over-population and conspicuous consumption. Christianity and other monotheistic traditions have been corrupted by anthropocentrism, and their gods are andromorphic: in the image of men.

All religions, at their core, embrace the Golden Rule of treating others as we would have them treat us, which must be extended to all sentient beings. But now, with the moral inversion of our times, it is the Rule of Gold that is our society’s foundation!


The Bureau of Diplomatic Security recently stopped sending bomb-sniffing dogs to Jordan and Egypt. The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General recommended suspending the program until the two countries implement plans to ensure the health and well-being of working dogs from the U.S.

The OIG found evidence of negligence and improper care that led to the deaths of several counterterrorism dogs. (Associated Press, Dec. 20)

Thanks to the efforts of a network of animal welfare and rights advocates, this action has been taken by our government, which is evidence of the continuing need to have third-party civilian monitors of military-related activities and their hidden costs and consequences at home and abroad.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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