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Dr Jane Ladlow Addresses The Past, Present And Future Of BOAS

1 year ago

25th April, 2023 10h20

Improve International

Crufts is the world’s greatest dog show and every year it displays an impressive number of dogs who strut their stuff in the show ring or dodge, duck, and dive through agility obstacles. The number of brachycephalic breeds appearing on the show has been a subject of analysis. Appearing on Channel 4 this year to raise awareness on Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) was Dr Jane Ladlow, an Improve Veterinary Education speaker and top researcher at Cambridge University. 

We spoke to Dr Jane Ladlow after the show to find out more.

How long have you been researching BOAS as a condition?

“It was around 2003 where, as a new Diplomate, I started to look at how we could measure respiratory function. In 2005, I started working with The Kennel Club to make a chamber where we could measure this and in 2010, I began working together with Dr Nai-Chieh Liu to collect genetic data.

“Now, we have a Respiratory Function Grading (RFG) scheme which grades how affected dogs are by BOAS. It is used on French bulldogs, bulldogs and pugs but we are currently looking at other different brachycephalic breeds.”

Has the number of brachycephalic dogs with BOAS showing at Crufts increased over time?

“No, it has actually been much better over the last few shows. Ten years ago, it used to be common to hear lots of dogs breathing very heavily but not now. There has definitely been a decrease in the number of dogs with BOAS being shown.”

Some animal welfare charities have petitioned to ban the showing of brachycephalic breeds at Crufts. How effective is this method?

“By banning, you target the Kennel Club good breeders, but the problem still exists with the hobby breeders and imported puppies. I think showing brachycephalic dogs that are breathing silently and also look healthy in other aspects sends a strong message to the public that dogs with audible breathing are not acceptable. Better solutions such as reviewing breeding standards, changing judging expectations and educating the public is far more effective.”

You mentioned at Crufts that BOAS may be resolved in the next five to ten years, but has there been an increase in breathing operations, head and neck surgeries and caesareans for these dogs?

“We may be seeing fewer BOAS dogs in the show ring, but there is still a huge number of household pets which suffer from this condition. As a result, vets are still performing a great number of BOAS surgeries because there is still a need to educate owners in fixing this issue. Nationwide pet insurance said in its recent research report that dogs with more severe airway issues also had more frequent back problems, so although brachycephalic syndrome can affect various areas of the body, it may be that if you improve in one area, you can move on to improve the next – it's a ripple effect.”

Which methods have proven to be the most successful in reducing the number of BOAS conditions?

“Educating owners is very powerful. If people know what questions to ask, what to look for and how to care for these dogs, we will see happier and healthier pets.

“Social media can do great work in showcasing positive cases of what a good breed commonly effected by BOAS can look and behave like. It is a good tool for educating owners, too. At Cambridge University, we created a short video called Breed Better, Breathe Better which explains the clear symptoms of BOAS.”

Finally, what key points from your talk at Crufts can veterinary professionals take away?

"When you’re presented with a suspected case of BOAS, use the RFG Scheme to check and listen first to the heart, lungs and nostrils before and after a three minute exercise trot, and repeat the auscultation. The RFG Scheme allows you to make an informed decision on whether to diet or increase exercise before the need for surgery. It also allows you to give owners an idea on how successful surgery is likely to be. By testing before, you can also prioritise more important cases and plan your surgeries accordingly, and also make sure to audit your cases. 

“If vets also want to know more about the RFG scheme, they can get in touch with The Kennel Club and receive one day of training to be on the registered list of testers.”

If you are interested in this veterinary field, you can learn more from Dr Jane Ladlow, Dr Nai-Chieh Liu and Dr Laura Owen in the Improve Veterinary Education Academy Series BOAS semester. Run fully online in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, spend just one month learning about pathophysiology, diagnosis, treatments and ethical dilemmas. 

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