Dr Krista McLennan

BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD, MRSB, SFHEA, PGCTHLE; Deputy Head of Department for Biological Sciences and Senior lecturer in Animal Behaviour

Facial expression of BOAS-affected dogs

Brachycephalic dog breeds such as the pug, French bulldog and bulldog can suffer from a condition commonly referred to as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway syndrome (BOAS). BOAS is often considered ‘normal’ and as such, is not identified or assessed as requiring veterinary treatment or management (Ladlow et al., 2018). Up to 70% of BOAS-affected dog owners do not recognize that their dogs have difficulty breathing and are at risk of serious and potentially life threatening conditions (Liu et al., 2015; Packer et al., 2012; Packer et al., 2019). Facial expression is considered to be an honest signal of affective state (Poole and Craig, 1992; Porter et al., 2012), and humans are naturally drawn towards the face when asked to assess pain in animals (Leach et al., 2011). Facial expression has the ability to address the lack of recognition of potential pain and distress in BOAS-affected dogs, both in clinical practice and by the general public. 
Our preliminary study on French bulldogs has demonstrated it is possible to identify specific facial action units, and that they differ between BOAS-affected and non-affected dogs. The data supports the hypothesis that as grading score increases, facial expression score, as an indicator of distress, also increases.  

With colleagues from Cambridge and Hamiltons Vets, we are continuing our work in this area and looking at the different breeds as well as the effect of the exercise tolerance test on facial expression.