Toy Dog Breeding Causing Horrific Brain Problems

Our quest for cute dogs has resulted in an unimaginably painful condition that changes how the brains of tiny dogs grow. Continue reading →

Selective breeding to produce doll-like dogs has resulted in horrific brain problems that researchers are only now just beginning to fully understand.

A new study, published in the latest PLOS One, finds that the brains of some of these dogs have parts that are pushing up against themselves and the dogs' skulls. The affliction, known as Chiari malformation, could cause the dogs to experience excruciating headaches, problems with walking, and/or paralysis.

"Chiari malformation can be described as trying to fit a big foot into a small shoe," lead author Clare Rusbridge, from the new School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey, was quoted as saying in a press release. "It can be very painful, causing headaches and pressure on the brain and can result in fluid filled cavities in the spinal cord."

Photos: The Earliest Dogs

The disease affects many toy dog breeds, such as Griffon Bruxellois (also known as the Brussels Griffon), Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas and their crosses.

For the study, Rusbridge and her team took brain, skull and vertebrae measurements of 155 Griffon Bruxellois dogs affected by the condition, and compared the data with measurements taken of normal Griffons.

The researchers discovered that Griffons with the disease had taller foreheads. The condition had also caused the shape of the brain to change, with severely affected animals having their cerebellum (the part of the brain at the back of the skull) pushed underneath the main part of the brain.

Photos: Ugliest Dog Contenders

A dog with the condition might look cute and doll-like on the exterior but, on the inside, its brain could display this terrible malformation.

The problem may happen all on its own, without breeder involvement. The condition can affect humans, for example, but only when certain skull bones fuse too early, causing parts of the brain to push through an opening in the base of the skull. The disease currently affects 1 in 1,280 humans.

In dogs, some breeders can make the disease more prevalent in their quest to churn out attractive canines with little regard to their long-term health prospects.

Photos: Dogs in Combat

"We want to engage breeders and give them practical advice about the condition, but it is also important that the public recognizes that breeding dogs in a certain way to influence how they look might not be in the animal's best interest," Rusbridge said.

She continued, "There are responsible breeders out there, who have invested in screening and who are breeding for health as well as producing attractive puppies, and it is vital that people only look to buy from them."

Or, adopt from a shelter or other such organization. Many people surrender toy dogs because they cannot properly care for them.

In the future, the researchers hope to develop more sophisticated ways of screening for the disease, so that risk for it can be detected more easily at an earlier age and with a single MRI scan.

(Image: Chihuahua; Wikimedia Commons)

The World's Ugliest Dog Contest celebrates its 25th anniversary today at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, Calif. Twenty-five plus "beauty challenged dogs are foregoing their usual beauty regimens in preparation," according to producer Vicki DeArmon.

"They are so ugly they are cute," DeArmon told Discovery News.

This year's contenders include pedigree and mutt mixes of Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, Boxer, Terrier, Pug, Poodle and Peruvian.

Chupee and other competitors are vying for a $1500 cash prize, a trophy "and an instant launch into worldwide acclaim," DeArmon said.

"The dogs are judged on their initial horror effect on the audience," shared DeArmon, who is the author of the recently published "World's Ugliest Dogs: The Official World's Ugliest Dog Contest Book."

"They are also judged on their personality, such as how the dog struts across the stage or how its tail wags during the competition."

Human breeding efforts have, in many cases, resulted in some of the "ugly" breed characteristics and health problems of certain dogs. Many of the competing dogs, however, were adopted from shelters.

At least one former World's Ugliest Dog has an actor's guild card and has starred in horror movies, DeArmon shared. "Media interest in this contest has been phenomenal," she said. "Dogs become famous overnight."

All dogs must enter a prequalifying round to ensure that "they are truly ugly before they take the stage." DeArmon said that sometimes she and others cannot even tell if candidates in the "mutt" category are really dogs or not, so that's yet another matter that must be confirmed in advance.

Owners must provide veterinarian documentation that their dogs are healthy when registering. The fair additionally conducts on-site vet checks on the day of the contest.

Rascal is "ugly dog royalty," according to DeArmon. Both his mother and grandmother formerly held the World's Ugliest Dog title.

More than 50 percent of the contestants have never competed before. In past contests, the winner is usually a wild card from the new entries. Last year, a dog from the U.K. -- bedecked in a Union Jack -- won over the audience.

"The contest keeps getting bigger and better every year," said DeArmon. "The dogs seem to be getting uglier too."