A veterinarian has offered his honest opinion on the breeds of dog he personally “wouldn’t choose to own.”
Ben Simpson-Vernon is based in Essex, England, and has been posting videos to TikTok under the handle ben.the.vet on the topic of dog breeds for several months to “try to raise awareness of inherited health issues in dogs.”
“I was simply growing frustrated seeing the same pedigree dog (and cat) breeds presenting with the same health issues time and time again in my clinic,” Simpson-Vernon told Newsweek. “I found that pet owners weren’t aware of just how common and predictable these issues are in even some of our most popular breeds.”
It’s crucial that people know what they are getting themselves into when purchasing a dog. Fail to do the necessary homework on a particular breed and the outcome could be disastrous for all involved.
In 2022, a study published by The Royal Veterinary College highlighted the litany of health risks facing pugs, known for their distinctive flat faces and bulging eyes. The study looked at the health profiles of 4,397 pugs, along with 21,835 other dogs.
They concluded that pugs had an increased risk of developing 23 different disorders. They were found to be 54 times more likely to have brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, 51 times more likely to have narrowed nostrils and 11 times more likely to have skin fold infections.
Researchers also found that around 17.4 percent of pugs surveyed as part of the study were obese, compared with 6.9 percent of other dogs. Though the breed was less likely to suffer from heart murmurs and aggression, scientists felt that the risks far outweighed the gains and prospective dog owners should be wary about taking on this kind of responsibility.
Simpson-Vernon has seen this issue firsthand. “The frequency of health issues seen in certain dog breeds, particularly brachycephalic breeds like French bulldogs and pugs, is a serious welfare problem,” he said. “There is definitely a sort of disconnect between what we as vets see as breeds that we would personally want to own, and the breeds the general public are buying. So I try to use my TikTok videos as a way to try to address this.”
In one clip, he highlighted the West Highland white terrier as one breed he would not choose to own. “Ask any vet what dog breeds are commonly affected by skin allergies and I guarantee the Westie will be near the top of their list,” he says on the video.
He also highlighted how their feet are often discolored from continuous licking and that the breed struggles with two notable health conditions that are named after them which, Simpson-Vernon notes, is “never a good sign.”
One is “Westie lung” or pulmonary fibrosis, where the lungs become scarred and lead to breathing difficulties, while “Westie jaw” refers to a condition that creates abnormal bone growth around the jaw.
Simpson-Vernon also mentioned the Neapolitan mastiff, a breed made famous for appearing in the Harry Potter movies. His main concern was the “amount of drool” generated by the breed, though he noted the amount of loose skin around the heads of canines of this kind can be “problematic.” Their eyes can be damaged and surgery is sometimes required to correct skin issues.
He then moved on to the Italian greyhound, citing the fact they are “extremely fragile” and prone to breaking or fracturing bones due to their long limbs. They also have thin skin, meaning they develop wounds very easily.
Next is the German shepherd, which Simpson-Vernon acknowledges as an “iconic” dog breed but not one without issues. He cited their temperament, noting that while he has met plenty of lovely ones, German shepherds are often “very protective” of their owners. In his experience, when in the unfamiliar surroundings of a veterinary practice, they can become “aggressive and reactive.” However, he also cited their “poor genetic health” as a key reason noting they are predisposed to several conditions including hip and elbow dysplasia.
He has also come across too many German shepherds with the paralyzing spinal condition degenerative myelopathy. He was keen to stress that some of these problems could be screened by responsible breeders.
The last of the five breeds chosen was the Bernese mountain dog, with Simpson-Vernon branding them a “heartbreak dog breed.” He explained that while they are adorable and make great family dogs, they carry a “horribly high risk of cancer.” He cited a type of cancer that, while rare in other breeds, kills one in seven Bernese Mountain Dogs. He admitted he had been “scarred” by seeing too many of them die this way.
Simpson-Vernon’s video has been watched 3.6 million times on TikTok, with viewers flocking to comment on the clip. Despite his warnings, many seemed eager to stick with the breeds mentioned in the clip.
“My Bernese mountain dog is the best decision I ever made. She’s 4 right now and very healthy,” one wrote. “I will forever be an Italian Greyhound owner. They’re precious little dogs,” a second added with a third writing: “I have Westie and my previous dog was also Westie…both perfectly healthy.”
Others, however, appeared to heed his warning. “Every Bernese mountain dog I’ve ever known has died from that cancer,” one wrote with another commenting: “Every single reason you listed is so valid and a lot of it has to do with horrible breeding practices over the years for cosmetic reasons.”
Simpsons-Vernon has been stunned by the response to the video. “I never expected the huge response but it’s great to see users engaging with these issues in the comments,” he said. My hope is that the information I share might help guide future puppy owners to make responsible decisions when choosing a breed, or at least encourage them to open discussions with their puppy’s breeder about health testing for some of their most common problems.”
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