Letter to dvm360: Take a (permanent) break from brachycephalic breed depictions

April 6, 2017

A reader asks us to stop showing these suffering souls as representatives of normal.

Click on the image to read the article featuring the AVMA's position on responsible breeding.I'm proud to see that the AVMA has followed the lead of the British Veterinary Association in issuing a statement supporting “responsible breeding” of companion animals (see “AVMA delegates unanimously approve responsible breeding policy” in the March issue of dvm360). Typical of the AVMA, the statement is couched in language calculated to be inoffensive, but we veterinarians know that the point of the statement is to condemn the deliberate breeding of animals that are so deformed that their anatomy harms their health, well-being and quality of life.

Some of us have spent decades as voices crying in the wilderness, made to feel like fringe-element fanatics (even by other veterinarians!) because we don't see brachycephalic dogs or cats as “cute” but instead as the grotesque distortions that they are-innocent lives trapped in deformed bodies, suffering from health problems for life due to human whim and vanity. Anyone deliberately breeding deformed children and calling them “cute” would be decried as a monster. The call for breed anatomy reform is long overdue.

The AVMA has asked veterinarians to join in “educating breeders, companion animal owners and the public.” In that spirit, I wish to point out to you that I count eight separate headers and ads in the latest issue of the March 2017 issue of dvm360 magazine that are accompanied by photos of brachycephalic breeds. These are your own ads for your own services and don't include additional ads by vendors, many of which also use photos of brachycephalic breeds.

I know that your layout editors choose their photos from a collection supplied by a commercial photographer and that their primary concern is with making dvm360 magazine attractive as well as informative. However, in the spirit of the AVMA's call to action, I would strongly urge your publication to keep it in mind as you choose your ads, your illustrations and your photos.

We humans are powerfully persuaded by visuals. What we see, we believe. Now that our national association has publicly acknowledged that these breeds need reformed standards and more normal anatomy, please do all you can to stop using their images in your ads and articles. Glamour photos of extreme brachycephalic breeds reinforce the delusion that their appearance is “cute” or “normal” or even “desirable.” To some of us, these images are painful and disgusting-as upsetting as if you were using photos of deformed children to sell products or services.

This is bad enough in the lay press. There is a special cognitive dissonance in opening a professional veterinary publication and reading on one page the AVMA call for breed standard reform and then seeing the rest of the pages lavishly illustrated with photos of the exact deformities we are supposed to be condemning.

Chari Wessel, DVM

San Diego, California

Editor's note: We appreciate this reader's concern and have already become more sensitive on this issue, especially in light of new data showing even more medical problems than we imagined in brachycephalic breeds. We have discussed internally that if you take this line of thinking to its extreme conclusion, we would need to avoid photos of all purebreds since they all have congenital or hereditary conditions associated with them. But, of course, we acknowledge that certain breed-related problems are more prevalent and severe in certain breeds than in others. So we are working to reduce our use of brachycephalic breed images, unless the article is related to discussion of the breed in question.