A small, slightly angry, descriptive rant about why breeding pugs to preserve their "characteristic" traits is animal cruelty.
What’s going on here? How is it that an animal that goes against everything evolution works for exists everywhere and nobody thinks anything is wrong?! Yes, they are amazing, loyal, emotional, lovely dogs- but let me take the liberty to have one (controversial but personal) standpoint: THEY. ARE. NOT. CUTE.
This is not meant as an offence to individuals' pets, but as a comment on the privilege of human beings that get to decide what is cute or not, even if it goes against the welfare of the animal. We have created an animal that CANNOT BREATHE PROPERLY for its whole life because we think having almost no nasal passage is “cute”. We’ve created an animal who's EYES REGULARLY POP OUT OF ITS SKULL because we think the bulgy eyes are cute. Ask your local vet if there are any medical problems associated with pugs and listen to the long list they exhale.
Sounds exaggerated? Let's look at this scientifically. A shorter or flatter skull is known as brachycephaly. Pugs, Boston terriers, French Bulldogs, and various other similar looking breeds show a brachycephalic skull.
This is the skull of a non-brachycephalic dog:
Photo Attribution: Dog skull 05. Displayed at Museum of Veterinary Anatomy FMVZ USP/Photographed by Wagner Souza e Silva
Note the elongated snout and properly formed eye sockets. A regular dog head.
This is the skull of a brachycephalic dog:
Photo Attribution: PUG SKULL AT THE Osteology Museum of Oklahoma
Note the eye sockets and complete lack of snout that are classic to extreme brachycephaly.
Now, brachycephaly is a bone-specific syndrome, where only the skull-size is changed or reduced. The tongue, the muscles, the soft tissue, and everything else important that make a head are still there in relatively unchanged proportions. Comparing these two, Dog Skull 05 shows a skull that allows all the facial matter to rest comfortably in the face to allow normal functioning. In comparison, the pug skull shows a structure that has to accommodate all the same amount of facial matter in a much smaller, restricted environment.
Thus, brachy-dogs have the same amount of facial tissue and muscles that another dog of similar size has, except the bone apparatus to hold it is so severely disfigured that all their organs are permanently squished and pressed into every orifice. This is why their eyes pop out. This is why they cannot breathe. This is how they are born. Every single one of them is born like this because that's how we “created” them to be, while we were busy playing God. They live like this for their entire lives. As shocking as it may sound, a dog needs a nose to live comfortably.
Imagine purposely manipulating genetics and creating a disfigured human child, so it lives its entire life functioning at 30% capacity, just because the “look” is in. Just existing in the way they do is animal abuse. Why, you ask? Their existence is, and always has been controlled by us, that’s why. We could outbreed them, we could maintain their original traits before they were forcefully inbred into malformation, but we don’t. Why, you ask again? The answer is, we are obsessed with ‘pure-breeds’ and ‘pedigree’. A pug, as it is today, inbred and disfigured from what it originally was, is a pure-breed. We’re obsessed with the notion that purebred dogs are healthy, “pure” and somehow the correct option while choosing a dog. So let’s break this down.
What is a “pure-breed”? Historically, classification of dogs, namely working dogs, always existed- herding dogs, hunting dogs and more. But they were never genetically controlled by us to a great extent. However, around the 19th century, people began to have more specific needs from dogs- they wanted them to be smaller, quieter, prettier, “unusual-looking”, and to fit their daily societal needs. Breeding to preserve certain genetic mutations began. People began experimenting and trying to create the most “outrageous” or “unusual” looking dog, naming it as a breed created by them, and labelling it a pure-breed. How did they preserve these genetic mutations? A likely scenario - if a female dog gave birth to two puppies with genetic defects, the two siblings were mated with each other to preserve those defects. Other individuals with similar mutations were mated with each other. Continuous inbreeding resulted in further changes in the animal’s appearance until it was then classified as an official ‘breed’. The pedigree kingdom is built by us using forced incest. The rise of dog shows during the time furthered the need to maintain these breeds for their classic looks. Breeds even became married to social class and status, wherein only certain classes of people were allowed to own certain breeds of a dog. Pugs were associated with a status as well. Here is what a pug looked like in 1802.
PAinting Attribution: “A Favourite Pug” - Painted in 1802 by Henry Bernard Chalon
In recent years, breeding clubs in Germany have been outbreeding pugs and calling them ‘retromops’. ‘Retro’ because their goal is to give them the longer snouts of earlier pug breeds, like in the painting above. This is to ensure a healthier dog that can breathe properly and has longer, sturdier legs and body. Purebred pugs often suffer from spinal disorders, extreme obesity, and cannot exercise properly due to their proportions and short legs. Retromops have longer legs, a sturdier body and eyes that fit into their skull firmly, without the risk of popping out. This is what a retromop or pug-mix looks like-
Image: Outbred pug with a longer snout and firmly fixed eyes
In comparison, here is a purebred pug-
IMAGE: Purebred pug, showing its lack of snout and bulging eyes
If it’s not possible to completely reduce the demand for breeding let’s hope to at least turn breeding to a less cruel direction. Want a pug or another small squishy face dog? Ask for one that looks similar but can actually breathe. Ask for a mix. Support outbreeding.
The only reason unethical and cruel preservation of these life-incapacitating traits exists on purpose is because the demand for them is so high. I’m not saying pugs are horrible and that there is something wrong with your pug. I’m simply stating that it may be a thought in the right direction if we helped the breed gain back the stability that we took from it, so that future generations do not have such a compromised life.