05/04/2016 3:23 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Pedigree Pup Breeds Are Getting Smaller, Cuter But It's Hurting Dogs

Four dogs in ascending order. Smallest dog looking at camera
Gandee Vasan via Getty Images
Four dogs in ascending order. Smallest dog looking at camera

Our pursuit for the cutest, littlest dog is seeing demand increase for puppies plagued by physiological problems like breathing conditions and skin issues.

A University of Sydney analysis looked at official purebred data from the Australian National Kennel Council between 1986 to 2013 and found a move away from big, working dog breeds to favour smaller dogs with big, baby-like heads such as French bulldogs, boxers and pugs.

As the study said: "Australians increasingly favour dogs with shorter and wider heads for whose welfare veterinarians often express concern".


Pugs are susceptible to a range of breathing conditions.

The concern boils down to the fact that many small dogs with wide heads, called brachycephalic breeds, also have a predisposition for serious respiratory problems, skin and eye conditions and digestive disorders.

These problems contribute to a life expectancy four years lower than non-brachycephalic breeds.

The 20 Most Popular Dog Breeds According To The Australian National Kennel Council

  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Border Collie
  • Boxer
  • British Bulldog
  • Bull Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Dane
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Poodle (Toy)
  • Pug
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Rottweiler
  • Schnauzer (Miniature)
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The study, published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, suggested the move to smaller dogs came down to unit style living.

Co-author Paul McGreevy said working dogs were also less common.

“Changes in the types of dwellings Australians are buying may indicate the space available for dogs has shrunk," McGreevy said.

"Moreover, the purpose of dog ownership has continued to shift from the early days of domestication, away from duties such as hunting and guarding properties, for which dogs are more likely to be larger, to pure companionship, which can be fulfilled by a dog of any size.”

The study also described the “baby schema” phenomenon, where humans gravitated towards people and animals with babyish features like a large head, round face, chubby cheeks, high and protruding forehead, big eyes, small nose and mouth.

"The head of brachycephalic dogs is characterised by a round and short face, open orbitae, a small and short nose, which accord with the baby schema features," the study said.

McGreevy said these cute little dogs often wheezed, but that was an indication of Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome and that a UK study showed the majority of owners did not realise it was a potentially life-threatening problem.

“This implies owners did not make a fully informed decision when purchasing their brachycephalic dog, and that they may be unaware of treatment options when BAOS emerges, and that affected dogs may breed and pass the predisposition to Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome onto future generations,” McGreevy said.

Australian Veterinary Association board member Julia Crawford told ABC News vets were already experiencing an increase in the number of dogs needing treatment for these problems.

"We're seeing a lot of dogs with very, very tiny nostrils, they have a very long soft palate and they often have laryngeal problems ... and that means that they have consistent upper airway obstruction," Crawford told the ABC.

"They also get really bad skin folds quite often as their faces get squished up more and more and this leads to chronic skin infections around the skin and their eyes."