Cute designer pets such as flat-faced pugs and bulldogs are speeding up the race towards extreme unhealthy features, animal experts have warned.
Viral videos including bubble-eyed pugs, miniature horses and English Lop rabbits chasing their own enormous ears continue to flood the internet.
Now vets are concerned pet owners are unaware of the distressing problems such hybrid animals face.
Complications include dogs that are unable to breathe normally, rabbits unable to eat, cats with severe arthritis and fish that cannot see or swim properly.
Now the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging animal lovers to pick health over looks and not be lured into choosing such pets by social media.
This is because many designer pets often develop serious health and welfare issues when they are bred for their adorable looks.
Simon Doherty, president of the BVA, said: ‘We know that flat-faced dogs have exploded in popularity in the UK in recent years, fuelled by their being a must-have for many celebrities and on social media.
‘While the UK population of some pets with extreme features is small at present, we are worried that the internet popularity of breeds like miniature horses, the English Lop rabbit, the very flat-faced Persian cats, or ornamental fish bred for bubble eyes or shortened bodies may prompt increased demand among consumers who are unaware of the potential serious health and welfare issues associated with such breeding.
‘These hereditary problems are distressing for the animals and can be costly for the owners to treat.
‘If you’re looking for a pet, our advice is to pick health over looks and choose a healthier breed instead.’
The BVA encouraged animal lovers to ask their local vet for advice on the health and welfare problems associated with certain breed types before choosing a pet.
In a recent survey, the national body found breeding and hereditary defects were listed as vets’ top animal health and welfare concern, with more than double the amount of vets mentioning it as a pressing issue over the past two years.
Almost half of those surveyed said conformational deformities and pedigree breeding, of flat-faced breeds in particular, concerned them most.
The BVA launched the #BreedtoBreathe campaign earlier this year to raise awareness about the issues associated with extreme breeding in brachycephalic, or flat-faced, dogs whose shortened skull shape leads to trouble breathing normally, overheating, eye disease and inability to mate or give birth naturally.
Results showed only ten per cent of flat-faced dog owners could recognise their pet’s breed-related health issues, while three quarters of them were unaware these potential problems even existed before deciding on the breed.
Almost half of vets believe their clients who choose flat-faced dogs are swayed by social media or their celebrity idols.
As part of its newly-adopted policy position on extreme conformations, BVA is urging animal lovers, breeders, breed clubs, academics, vets and vet nurses to continue to work collaboratively to tackle the health and welfare impact of extreme breeding across all species.
Further guidelines from the BVA, issued to help inform prospective and current pet owners when choosing a pet, include avoiding breeding from animals with known confirmation-related health problems.
The body also promoted the Puppy Contract for those buying a young dog to ensure they get a happy, healthy pooch from a responsible breeder.
Those who already own a pet with extreme features are advised to take it to their local vet for regular health checks.