Cute…but Sick Animals: The Dangers of the Barbaric Practice of Hypertyping


What if animal lovers had ended up becoming the worst enemies of animals? Formulated in this way, the question seems provocative. Yet more and more dog and cat buyers are unknowingly encouraging animal suffering. Their quest for the “always more beautiful” pushes unscrupulous breeders into dangerous eugenics.

In question, a practice with a barbaric name: “hypertype”, which consists, during reproduction, in accentuating, via carefully chosen crosses, certain physical traits to make the animals “more beautiful” in the eyes of future buyers. Particularly affected are French bulldogs, English bulldogs or pugs whose faces have been gradually shortened to make them cuter, but also certain breeds of rabbits or cats, such as the imposing Maine Coon or Scottish Fold, with ears folded forward.

Seemingly harmless, these genetic mutations, sometimes obtained at the cost of strong inbreeding, have significant consequences on the health of these animals: they suffer from respiratory and cardiac pathologies, dermatological problems or otitis. And their life expectancy is singularly shortened: less than four and a half years for a French bulldog against more than eleven for a Labrador, according to the Royal Veterinary College. They have to be operated on to allow them to breathe better, carry out almost systematic caesarean sections in bulldog females because their pelvis is too narrow to give birth naturally.

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Desired because seen in pubs or the arms of stars

Humans have been mutating animals for centuries to better meet their needs (hunting, livestock monitoring, etc.), but we have now shifted into another era, made up of fads, networks unlimited social and consumption. In forty years, the number of dogs sold in France has multiplied by 100, there are 7.5 million on the territory for 15 million cats. And the selection criteria have changed. From now on, we want this or that race because we saw it in a film. We prefer miniature dogs that can be held in the arms or with (very) long legs. We want to imitate Brad Pitt or Florence Foresti, so cool when they pose with their bulldog.

“It’s true that the general public likes the most, the most, typed to the maximum”, confirms Hélène Denis, president of the English bulldog club and retired breeder, who remembers having seen a celebrity refuse standard animals on the grounds that ‘they looked sad and preferred another breeder’s outsized dogs. “The progressive modeling of domestic animals is not new, confirms Christophe Blanchard, sociologist and teacher-researcher at Sorbonne Paris Nord. What is spectacular is the visibility of certain hypertrophied traits and the standardization of fashion. Such or such a trait will be overvalued by society.” While at the beginning of the 1980s, less than 200 French bulldogs were registered in the book of origins which lists pedigree dogs, there are now 6000.

Strangely, the subject hardly mobilizes. Animal protection associations, always quick to rebel against bullfights, animal experimentation, abandonment or hunting with hounds, remain silent. Governments have other priorities. In 2018, there was indeed an opinion from the Veterinary Academy issuing recommendations to limit the phenomena of hypertypes and a poster campaign from the Association of Pet Veterinarians – “Suffering to please, no thanks !” – detailing, supporting images, all possible pathologies.

There have also been directives issued by the canine societies for the judges of competitions to prevent them from rewarding “fair animals”. But these alerts did not reach the general public. According to a 2018 British Veterinary Association survey, three-quarters of owners of brachycephalic (short-faced) dogs were unaware of their possible health issues at the time of purchase. And many continue to think that the bulldog’s snoring is inherent to its breed when it is linked to a respiratory problem.

A very big economic stake

Several factors combine to keep silence on this issue. The economic issue, first. Pets are first and foremost a demand-driven business. “There is resistance in the community because these animals remain the most sought after, the most appreciated. There is still a revolution in mentalities to be made, beyond declarations”, notes Jean-François Courreau, professor emeritus at the Veterinary school of Maisons-Alfort. Furthermore, only 30% of dogs have pedigrees and are registered in the stud book, which leaves a large proportion of animals born and sold out of the loop and out of control. Even if the majority of breeders strive to produce animals in the standards, others play with the limits. The temptation is all the greater as they find themselves in competition with wild farms or sellers established abroad, who import their animals into France after having sold them via social networks or word of mouth.

In 2018, the Association of Companion Animal Veterinarians launched a prevention campaign.  No effect on the general public.

In 2018, the Association of Companion Animal Veterinarians launched a prevention campaign. No effect on the general public.

AFVAC

As for animal protection associations, they have long favored other fights, such as the fight against abandonment or the management of shelters. They don’t always know how to take the subject. To regulate these practices, we should trust the most serious breeders to better denounce the others. A position that goes against their principled opposition to breeding. They are all the more willingly silent as they have no desire to offend the owners convinced of treating their beloved animals well. “It is much easier to talk about bullfighting, which concerns nine French departments, than about a subject which affects many people and constitutes an important market for breeders or a source of donations or legacies for associations”, sums up Loïc Dombreval, veterinarian and former LREM deputy, rapporteur for the law against animal abuse.

The subject is sensitive. “Going to tell someone that he chooses such a breed because the animal looks like a baby and that it is a compensation for the absence of a child, it’s complicated, notes Muriel Arnal, president of One Voice. Behind all this, there is sometimes an emotional lack and the loneliness of some people. A form of narcissism too, having the most beautiful animal in the neighborhood, incompatible with the idea of ​​suffering. Françoise Lemoine, a veterinarian in Nantes, almost got hit last year by an owner because she refused to mate two animals she considered incompatible, with health risks for their offspring.

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In Belgium, under the impetus of the regional councils for animal welfare, the legislation is changing, with breeds which, tomorrow, will be prohibited not only for reproduction, advertising, but also for importation. or detention. “These projects are adopted unanimously. The main breeders’ organization follows us, and it is a simpler theme for us than foie gras, for example, which has a significant economic weight”, specifies Sébastien de Jonge, President of the Walloon Union for Animal Protection. In France, breeders do not want too rigid legislation which risks, according to them, leading to the extinction of breeds and the development of parallel circuits. Especially since an article of law, largely misunderstood and little applied, already prohibits hypertypes compromising health and well-being. They plead for a better awareness of the general public. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation, tired of having to devote more and more of its veterinary assistants to congenital anomalies, is considering speaking out on this subject in the coming months. Enough to change minds and make it clear that a pretty doggie is not necessarily the most fulfilled? Not sure as the taboo is entrenched and fashion phenomena difficult to curb.


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