Photo: BBC America


In a recent post, I shared the story of Ella, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel suffering from Syringomyelia. This extremely painful and common genetic disorder leaves a Cavalier’s skull too small for her brain.

As I wrote about Ella’s pain, I accepted that Syringomyelia is genetic with the same ease as I accept instances of hip dysplasia. With this ease of acceptance comes a question of hopelessness, “Aren’t dogs just victims to the cruelty of unpredictable biological fate?” This is not the case.

To believe that a dog’s genetic disorder is natural and unavoidable is to accept that Darwin was wrong. He wasn’t. When we open our eyes and embrace the fact that humans are undeniably responsible, only then can we change the outcome for the future of all Ellas.


We know that offspring health is significantly compromised by matings of close lineage.  In dog breeding, “natural selection” or “survival of the fittest” is hindered by human intervention. As breeding for extreme physical traits continues from small, closed gene pools, more and more dogs are sentenced to suffer from the resulting chronic pain, resperatory issues, heart defects and seizures. It’s time we stop accepting this practice in reputable breeding circles, regardless of limited pairing resources.


In the show world, “breed standard” is an oxymoron with serious implications. If a standard requires consistency, somehow we’ve lost site of that. Certain breeds have become wholly unrecognizable when ancestral bone structure is compared, sacrificing proper anatomical function in as few as 50 years. Here are some sad examples:


Old vs new bulldog skulls

Photo: Ancient vs. Present Bulldogs from the report: From Perfection to Pathetic Pathology in 100 Years by Stuart Thomson (Click to read the report.)

  • Pugs, Pekingese and English Bulldogs have been consistently bred to have compact faces. Their skulls and jaws have become completely contorted to the point of malfunction and they can no longer breathe with ease.
  • A Pug’s cute and desirable curley tail comes at the cost of a crooked spine and deformed vertebrae.
  • German Shepherds bred for show can barely walk on their hind legs while working class Shepherds with significant strength are considered anatomically incorrect an unworthy of show.
  • Bassett Hounds’ legs are now shorter than ever, leaving them ill equipped to bend without bone issues or bear the tremendous relative weight of their upper body.
  • Most pregnant English Bulldogs can no longer deliver litters without surgical assistance due to their heavier frame and lower center of gravity.

The physical state of the dogs listed above is nowhere near natural and should be far from acceptable. It’s time we observe extreme breeds for what they truly are, sentient beings trapped in a freakishly whimsical physique of celebrated, if failed, human design.


One would think Best in Show would traditionally celebrate a canine specimen exemplary of health and stature. That is simply not true. In fact, a Pekingese known by Crufts judges to have breathing issues had to be placed on an ice pack when he became the 2003 champion, and yet his many pups were heralded for their prized lineage. Health has little to no bearing on show breed requirements.

Did you know that if Rhodesian Ridgebacks inherit the trademark ridge, the dog is susceptible to Dermoid Sinus? This sinus is an opening  into the skin along the spine that is highly susceptible to painful and sometimes deadly infection. Unbelievably, the “breed standard” deems healthier, ridgeless Ridgebacks (1 born in every 20) to be the lesser valued animal. Ridgeless pups are culled (killed) or spayed and neutered, preventing their healthier traits from reentering the gene pool.

We have to ask ourselves, “Since when is dysfunction correct and who decides?”


Pedigree Dogs Exposed, a BBC documentary based on two years of careful research, was released in the US 8 months ago. It investigates the historic influence of the UK Kennel Club on breed specifications and highlights serious pedigree health concerns that many experts agree need to be urgently addressed.


As Jemima Harrison, the film’s producer, says:

The reason we made the film, is that we believe pedigree dogs are of tremendous value to society and that something needs to be done to arrest the damage caused by decades of inbreeding and selection for “beauty”. The film is a passionate call for urgent reform to save them before it is too late. To do that, there needs to be urgent reform of breeding practices and dog shows.

If you agree, demand a healthy reform of kennel club and dog show rules. Support breeders who ensure proper down-breeding and provide veterinary health screenings for each of their dogs. Many are equally appalled at extreme show standards. And never, ever buy a pedigree dog from a pet store where the stock likely comes from puppy mills notorious for overbreeding and inbreeding.


Let’s be very clear. Responsible breeders who consider health first and medically screen to that end must be commended for preserving the breeds we know and love. Many responsible breeders exist, love their dogs like children, and do their damndest to ensure the health of their litters. If you are one of these breeders, I sincerely thank you for all you do to protect the well being of (hu)man’s best friend.