Whether scrolling through Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook, you will likely pass a video of a wrinkly pug or a handsome husky. These videos may invoke happiness, humour, even jealousy over not having such a cute dog yourself.

When asked what was so cute about that pup, many may refer to the dog’s physical features. The distinguished appearances of purebreds, although cute/dashing/adorable, are ones that many breeders prey on. With these defining features in high demand, breeders seek to create a litter of dogs that act as an exaggerated version of the original in order to turn the best profit.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a few wrinkles are all fine and good, but when they start to interfere with a dog’s health and ability to function in daily activities, that is where the line must be drawn. But what should governments and lawmakers do about breeders, and what can we as consumers and dog lovers do to protect our best friends?

Not all breeders breed inhumanely and not all purebreds (dogs with ancestors from only the same breed) are from puppy mills (breeding facilities, often known for animal mistreatment). However, the puppy mill industry is notorious for these malpractices. Purebreds with strong, distinguished characteristics are often sold for higher prices, while mutts (dogs of mixed ancestry) with more ambiguous traits turn less of a profit.

Miniature dog breeds in a puppy mill (Photo by PETA).

With the quest for well-defined – and often unnecessary – traits, such as a long snout or wrinkled face, many dogs suffer from impairments to their health, lifestyle, and functioning.

Genetic problems

Often times when trying to “perfect the look” of a particular species, ones of similar phenotypic (the physical appearance of genes) characteristics are bred together to increase the likelihood of these traits being passed on.

In nature, those who share a phenotype often share the relevant genotype (genetic code) as well. This leads to many dogs in puppy mills being bred with direct relatives, due to their shared traits. Inbreeding leads to issues such as lower genetic diversity and an amplification of deleterious traits.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, a few wrinkles are all fine and good, but when they start to interfere with a dog’s health and ability to function in daily activities, that is where the line must be drawn.”

Due to the buildup and expression of harmful mutations inbred purebreds may have a lower immunity to fight infection. A 2010 study found that purebreds had a 41 per cent higher incidence of 10 different genetic disorders, including cataracts, elbow dysplasia, and mast cell tumours.

However, even a healthy family history does not keep purebreds safe. Exaggerated traits found in dogs like pugs, basset hounds and bulldogs, lead to difficulties in performing basic biological functions – inhibiting life expectancy and satisfaction.

At the heart of all the selective breeding is the English bulldog, which now only has an average lifespan of 6.25 years. This breed fosters many issues, stemming from its massive head and body. With a proportionally small pelvis in comparison, many bulldogs have complications during birth due to obstructive dystocia, resulting in need for cesarean section.

Another common issue found in most dogs that have a “squished face” (such as pugs and bulldogs) is brachycephaly (meaning one with small nasal cavities). These dogs suffer from problems such as difficulties breathing, difficulties controlling body temperature and high blood pressure. Other problems from selective breeding include dermatitis and entropion.

Unfair breeding practices

It is important to consider that the offspring of puppy mills and purebred breeders are not the only ones affected by these practices. Breeders of fighting dogs often want to foster aggressive traits and behaviours with the goal, once again to maximize profit. To accomplish this, instruments such as muzzles, girth/milk-inducing hormones and rape racks are used to breed “prime fighters.”

Not only are these devices invasive and harmful, the animal’s needs are often not met – whether that be due to unsanitary living conditions or hormone-fuelled foods. These dogs, once adopted from pet stores or puppy mills, are often unsocialized and suffer from unknown illnesses due to poor living conditions.

A puppy mill in South Jakarta. (Photo by Krotz)

Moving forward

So what do we do with this information? As consumers and dog lovers, we can make the biggest impact. A long and short-legged weiner dog may be the dog of your dreams, but a partially-mixed or healthily-bred one may be healthier and happier. By ensuring we keep this information in mind, breeders may be pressured to improve upon practices and conditions.

“Even a healthy family history does not keep purebreds safe.”

On a larger scale, more government regulations could drastically help diminish these detrimental practices. With a focus on stamina and lack of disease, rather than aesthetics, a clear set of guidelines may improve breeding practices in the industry. By demanding veterinary certificates instead of birth records, and picking your dog based on more than just breed alone,  we are one step closer to creating a more ethical future for the dog breeding industry.

So remember, adopt don’t shop.

By Sloane Kowal

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.