Designer Pets - Pursuing Looks Over Lives

What do pugs, exotic shorthairs, French bulldogs, and munchkins have in common? These names can be easily recognized or found nearby. Chances are high that someone you know has kept one of the above. Though they are different in terms of species and breed, they all share the same problem: innate health issues. It is from selective breeding that these cats and dogs have their own identifiable looks as well as subsequent health problems.  

Designer pets have become a widespread trend. Cats and dogs with attractive, unique appearances — "teacup" poodles, stumpy-legged munchkins, grumpy-looking exotic shorthairs — virtually appear everywhere online, often becoming viral sensations. The Internet is a major factor that has contributed to their popularization. Social media, particularly platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, has spread appealing images of “adorable” pets and with their owners. Such content allows many to know the existence of designer pets, encouraging others to follow suit. As the demand increased, so did the opportunities for breeders to produce animals under poor welfare standards. This combination of popularity and reckless breeding increased risks of genetic diseases and deformities. 

Photo by Researchgate: brachycephaly causes the nose to get squashed into the face (C), causing breathing problems.

Underneath the "cute" exterior, these designer pets harbor serious physical and mental issues that are generated from faulty breeding practices. Usually iconic features such as the short limbs of Munchkins and goofy expressions of pugs hamper their everyday actions. Brachycephaly in particular is a serious and common problem. The previously mentioned pug, exotic shorthair, and French bulldog are all brachycephalic, meaning they have shortened skulls with noses that appear to be pushed in to their faces. Because of this unnatural structure, many brachycephalic animals have trouble breathing; this is especially well heard in the snuffling or grunting noise emitted by bulldogs and their kin. This goes the same for designer cats as well. In addition to breathing problems, other detrimental attributes include large protruding eyes (often seen in pugs), dental diseases and difficulty giving birth. In short, brachycephalic pets are living messes, constantly struggling to survive against its supposedly attractive features.

Another trendy and equally problematic craze is hybrids, which involves crossing different, often highly contrasting breeds. Hybrids alone have become the subject of many trends over time, garnering attention for their appearances and exotic-sounding names. Just as the name sounds, a "pomsky" is a mix between a pomeranian and a husky. Unfortunately, like other designer pets, they are at risk of multiple health problems that range from epilepsy to hip and elbow dysplasia. This does not stop them from being a well sought-after hybrid. One emblematic case is the infamous "labradoodle," a mix of a Labrador retriever and a poodle. Initially created as a service dog for a blind woman whose husband was allergic to Labrador retrievers, the labradoodle went on to become a trendy pet in Australia. What went unnoticed however, was its susceptibility to health disorders. Besides the fact that not all labradoodles are hypoallergenic (as intended in the first place), they too can face multiple issues such as eye diseases and a bleeding disorder. Being the product of two different breeds, the labradoodle is at risk of diseases that are common to both. Even the creator himself, Wally Conron, regrets creating "a Frankenstein monster" and for the ensuing designer pet trend it has supposedly unleashed. 

Photo by All Things Dogs: the "pomsky" is one of the many hybrids that has become the center of "cute" trends.

Given the vastness and continuing popularity of designer pets, there is little awareness on their dangers. Breeders still make a profit for producing faulty animals via unethical methods. But the breeders are not the sole culprits to the entire craze. Those who puchase and fan the flames of the trend are also responsible. As long as there is a demand, the problem will continue. Without awareness, people will never know of the hazards behind their pets and the industry that profits off from them. It is crucial to alert the public of the toxicity of designer pets, as well as pushing for stricter administration over breeding practices to prevent unwanted defects. 

In the end, the root of this fiasco can be whittled down to unbridled human desire. Without constraints or knowledge on breeding and its dangers, people senselessly pursued the creation of animals with little consideration for ethics. We must ask ourselves: why are we doing this? What good does this do for the animal? Are we even treating them as living beings?