Over the past 12 months, I have been lucky to be involved in the 'Love is Blind' campaign. It is a joint initiative of the Australian Veterinary Association and the RSPCA that aims to raise public awareness of the animal welfare problems caused by exaggerated physical features in certain dog breeds, with a particular focus on brachycephalics. The initiative targets existing owners of affected breeds, encouraging them to speak to their veterinarian about interventions that can improve their pet’s quality of life. It also speaks to potential owners and breeders, to encourage breed standards that are functional and select away from exaggerated features.
Our partnership with the RSPCA has been fundamental to the success of this initiative. By working with our industry colleagues on an area where we share a common goal, we have been able to amplify the message, make efficient use of resources and have had a greater impact than either of us working alone. To drive real and meaningful change, we can’t do it alone. Leadership in animal health and welfare for the AVA and our profession does not occur in a vacuum; it is the sum of efforts repeated day-in and day-out by all.
In my ‘regular’ vet life, I see these dogs at the point of crisis. This time of year, it is not uncommon to have an ICU full of brachycephalics and several benches lined up with dogs that need to be intubated because of airway obstruction, ventilated because of inability to cope after aspiration or that are circling in multi-organ failure after overheating, often (seemingly paradoxically) after a day at the beach. The whirring of the ventilator, the gurgle of the suction and the beeping of alarms fill my dreams.
Yet, it is still easy to be complacent and dismiss the snoring, stertor, and stridor when presented for other reasons, as being ‘normal’ for the breed – and miss the opportunity to save the animal from irreversible pathology. Having the conversation as soon as possible, and planning surgical interventions while the dog is a juvenile, is key. The younger we can treat them, the fewer secondary changes will develop and fewer complications associated with surgery. The courage to have the conversation at this time can save many of them from years of compromised welfare and, hopefully, unnecessary trips to the ICU. Owners and breeders alike love these dog breeds, but we need to ensure that good health and a good quality of life are prioritised above physical appearance.
Having the conversation isn’t always easy. I encourage you to go to www.vetvoice.com.au/campaigns/love-is-blind/ and make use of the resources that have been developed for you to guide conversations with owners, breeders and prospective owners. This site also has information on the latest treatments and recommendations.
This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal