Westminster ‘breed standards’ mean misery for dogs and buyers

For the second year in a row, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show has been postponed from winter to summer due to the pandemic.

But in light of all the misery the breeding industry is causing dogs and the people who buy them, the show shouldn’t just be delayed — it should be canceled for good.

“Purebred” dogs are predisposed to a host of serious health and behavioral problems, including unpredictable aggression. This translates into enormous suffering, heavy vet bills, heartbreak, and sometimes even hospitalizations for dog keepers. If you’ve experienced these kinds of issues with an American Kennel Club-registered Thoroughbred, PETA wants to hear from you.

The AKC’s “breed standards” – which are used to judge pure breeds at Westminster and other dog shows – require deformed physical characteristics and traits that can only be achieved through harmful breeding practices .

For example, dachshunds, with their elongated spines, often suffer from excruciatingly painful disc disease or other debilitating back problems. Many bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese and other brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds can barely breathe — let alone walk around or chase a ball — without panting due to their abnormally shortened airways.

Cavalier King Charles spaniels are bred to have such small heads that more than 70% of them suffer from syringomyelia, a neurological disease, by age 5 because their skulls are too small for their brains. Afflicted dogs often cry out in pain, scratch raw, become progressively weaker or even become paralyzed.

In order to pass on certain traits required by the AKC, many breeders orchestrate canine incest – mating mothers with sons and fathers with daughters. This practice greatly increases the chances of passing on debilitating conditions such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cancer, allergies, heart defects, and hip dysplasia.


Labrador retrievers – the most popular breed in the United States – are prone to bone disease, hemophilia and retinal degeneration. Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Irish Greyhounds, and German Shepherds are susceptible to sudden death from heart disease. Can you imagine the horror of seeing your beloved dog suddenly drop dead on a walk or fetch game?

The cost of veterinary treatment for these health conditions can run into the thousands of dollars over a dog’s lifetime, causing financial hardship for some families. Some people face the agonizing decision to euthanize or turn over their sick Thoroughbreds to animal shelters because they cannot afford the extensive veterinary care required.

And if you’re buying a purebred dog, there’s no way of knowing if your dog will get canine rabies syndrome, another grim side effect of breeding for appearances. Springer spaniels, cocker spaniels, golden retrievers, dobermans and other dogs frequently purchased as family companions are prone to this horrible disorder, in which they become uncontrollably violent without warning or provocation and sometimes even attack people they they like.

The AKC knows that its breed standards cause terrible hardship for dogs and their caretakers, but it refuses to make even simple changes to them that might reduce those problems. For example, pugs’ predisposition to spina bifida, a birth defect linked to their curled tail, could be diminished if its standard didn’t state that “the tail is curled as tightly as possible over the hip.” And deafness would affect fewer Dalmatians if the AKC didn’t automatically disqualify dogs with tags, which are less likely to be deaf.

But clearly the AKC is not interested in protecting dogs or humans.

It is up to caring people to spurn breeding for appearances and all the agony it causes: never buy purebred dogs and watch Westminster or other dog shows.

If you already have an AKC-registered purebred dog that became ill or violent or died prematurely, let PETA know. And if you’re ready to give a dog a lifetime of love and care, please choose to adopt a unique, healthy pooch from an animal shelter.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is Senior Writer at the PETA Foundation.
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