Vets’ moral conflict over flat-faced dogs revealed

Vets’ moral conflict over flat-faced dogs revealed

The RVC has called for a more robust and unified approach to educating the public about bracycephalic breeds, after publishing research which found that general practitioners are suffering moral conflict over the issue.

For the study, the RVC interviewed 13 small animal general practitioners, exploring their experience of providing pre-purchase consultations for brachycephalic dogs.

The study revealed a number of barriers to delivering effective pre-purchase consultations and advice about these breeds.

They included limited time and resources, competition for appointment availability, a perception that vets are only there to fix things, public distrust of veterinary surgeons (often over money), fear of damaging vet-client relationships, and the conflicting influence of breeders and the Kennel Club on clients.

Many veterinary surgeons that took part in the research felt that they had little or no power to overcome these barriers which are highly intractable at an individual veterinarian level.

A resulting moral conflict in veterinary surgeons between their perceived ethical and moral responsibilities to animal welfare versus the needs and wants of their clients and businesses was expressed by many vets in the study, and was felt to compromise their professional integrity and autonomy.

The study set out a series of recommendations:

  • Stronger veterinary leadership, including from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, BVA and the veterinary corporates, to build profession-wide solutions that overcome the barriers identified.
  • Establish a joint, coherent and public-facing consensus from these organisations on the profession’s perceived acceptability of breeding and/or acquiring brachycephalic dogs to avoid reliance on individual opinions and actions.
  • Greater pressure on other stakeholders perpetuating the brachycephalic crisis to drive societal change away from acquiring dogs with extreme conformations.
  • Practical resourcing and technological solutions to facilitate ore-purchase consultations more readily, including veterinary nurse-led, online consultations.

Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC and lead author of the study, said: “This is the first time that the impact of brachycephaly on the practising veterinary surgeon has been explored.

“Our concerning results highlight the importance of recognising that the brachycephalic crisis is not only negatively impacting animals, but it is affecting human wellbeing too.

“Our study highlights the conflict that vets are experiencing – bound both by their duty of care to their brachycephalic patients, but also to animal welfare at a population level.

“Trying to balance both of these responsibilities in the current working environment is proving very challenging for some, leading to moral distress.

“It is, therefore, essential that we protect the mental wellbeing of vets on this issue as well as from an animal welfare perspective.

“As the brachycephalic crisis continues to prevail, the support of leading veterinary organisations is vital in providing a united voice regarding the known harms of brachycephaly and support in facilitating PPCs to ensure vets are protected, and potential owners are fully informed when it comes to acquiring decisions.”