The Pug: an Example of Exaggerated Features

The Pug: an Example of Exaggerated Features

The Pug is a Brachycephalic breed – meaning short and broad skull. Pugs usually have serious breathing problems as a direct result of their exaggerated, flat face. Breathing problems commonly occur early on (in the first year) and are the direct result of breeders deliberately breeding Pugs to have an extreme head shape. This is called selective breeding and breeders do this in order to conform to the Pug ‘breed standard’.

Three main health conditions associated with Pugs:

1. Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS)

Dogs like pugs have a reduced skull length, but the amount of soft tissue in their airways is not reduced, resulting in the same amount of tissue being squeezed into a smaller bony area. This tissue obstructs airflow and causes major welfare problems.  BAOS refers to the suite of respiratory problems associated with the physical deformities characteristic of brachycephalic breeds.

Dogs with BAOS usually have small and narrow nostril openings so it’s very hard to get enough oxygen in and this is made worse by extra tissue that hangs down into their airways lower down their airway, which further obstructs normal airflow.

BAOS is common and occurs in young dogs (most pugs have signs at 1-4 years of age) and it gets worse with age, sometimes the windpipe collapses altogether. Surgical procedures are sometimes performed to try to help dogs be more comfortable and it’s very expensive (thousands of dollars). Constantly gasping for air is very distressing, frightening and uncomfortable for dogs and could be likened to having an asthma attack. Dogs with BAOS are typically unable to take even moderate amounts of exercise, have disrupted sleep and are very prone to potentially fatal heat stroke.


2. Brachycephalic Ocular Syndrome

The extreme Pug head shape means that Pugs are prone to several eye conditions that tend to lead to chronic irritation and pain. This is because the flatter the face, the shallower the eye socket and the more prominent the eye. Prominent bulging eyes are at greater risk of injury and sometimes they actually pop out of their socket. Because the eyeballs are so prominent the eyelids are often unable to completely close over the eyeball leading to dry eye and ulcers. This is because complete closure of the eyelids over the eyeballs is necessary to moisturise the eyeball. These problems are very painful and can lead to blindness.  


In some cases eyes are so badly affected they need to be surgically removed. These eye conditions do not occur in dogs with normal head shapes.


3. Hemivertebrae

Pugs commonly have deformities of the bones of the spine. These can lead to pressure on the spinal cord resulting in progressive pain and loss of back leg function.

Pugs also commonly have skin problems as a result of excessive skin folds on their face and serious trouble giving birth - they usually require a caesarean. This occurs because the abnormally large heads of the puppies cannot pass through the mother’s narrow pelvic canal.


Problems suffered by Pugs:

  • Serious breathing difficulties
  • High blood pressure
  • Fainting or collapsing due to a lack of oxygen
  • Facial skin fold infections
  • Serious eye problems
  • Excessive flatulence due to excessive gulping and swallowing of air to try to overcome their breathing difficulties
  • Difficulty walking
  • Highly disrupted sleep


Other brachycephalic breeds include: British Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pekingese, Affenpinscher, Boston terrier, among other breeds.

The RSPCA believes that responsible breeders prioritise the health, welfare and temperament of their dogs above physical appearance. The serious welfare problems suffered by brachycephalic dogs like Pugs are easily prevented - if breeders consciously avoided selecting for such extreme head shapes, the welfare problems highlighted would not exist.