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Dr Marcus Hayes believes brachycephalic dogs are often misunderstood and could be managed more effectively. By Frank Leggett
Dr Marcus Hayes is a firm believer in a ‘less is healthier’ ethos that challenges the way many practices are run. According to this practitioner, his clinics have achieved very good profitability with less reliance on retail marketing.
The Melbourne Bulldog Clinic (MBC), located in the suburb of Cheltenham, has been offering veterinary care and surgery since 2016. Founded by Dr Hayes as an offshoot of his Southern Animal Health practice, MBC is a growing operation with a large client base. Many of their clients travel from interstate to access their services.
“While running MBC, it soon became obvious that brachycephalic dogs are largely misunderstood and could potentially be managed better,” says Dr Hayes. “Not just by breeders but by the majority of general veterinary practitioners.”
Is breeding brachycephalic dogs for their look at a cost to their health the right thing to do? This ethical question has been kicked around for decades.
“The answer is easy,” says Dr Hayes. “It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. Having said that, the solution is not to ban the breed because that creates a black market. It’s about implementing breeding guidelines that increases the nose length and other basic minimum anatomical standards of these dogs.”
If implemented, vast improvements could be achieved in regard to reflux, exercise ability and recovery. These dogs should enjoy a quality of life similar to dogs with normal noses. Dr Hayes has proposed a breeding roadmap that sets benchmarks in three-year increments. He believes it’s possible that in nine years, the problems of the breed could be massively reduced. Unfortunately, this roadmap has found little traction among breeders or professional organisations.
“Personally, I think the AVA and the RSPCA could do a lot more to encourage quality breeding by adopting some of these guidelines,” says Dr Hayes. “They need to work with breeders, not against them.”
Working at MBC has seen their head surgeon, Dr Karin Davids, increase her expertise and methods for dealing with airway problems of brachycephalic dogs. Post-surgery, the dogs’ long-term quality of life is vastly improved. MBC now deals with many dogs that have had surgery previously but haven’t shown much improvement.
“We’ll often revise the work of a surgeon where the palate needs to be shortened much further, thinned, and laryngeal sacccules and tonsils removed,” says Dr Hayes. “Of course every surgeon is doing their best, but it has highlighted the subjectivity of the procedure.”
Invariably, there is a complication rate after airway surgery, usually from post-op swelling to the palate. This can lead to aspiration pneumonia or asphyxiation and death.
“Initially, we administered standard medications and protocols such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories,” says Dr Hayes. “We had standard post-surgery complication rates but found that with significantly modified medical and behavioural methods, complication rates plummeted. We’ve shared this information with other surgeons but they want to see a peer reviewed paper, despite the fact there’s no peer reviewed paper stating that standard medical and behavioural protocols are better. In the absence of any peer reviewed papers, we need to use common sense, logic and anecdotal evidence.”
Reflux and inflammation
Another problem with brachycephalic dogs is vomiting and dyspnea breathing concerns. It’s common among young dogs and hypoplastic trachea dogs.
“We believe all these dogs live with a degree of reflux,” says Dr Hayes. “That reflux is either silent with no vomiting or clinical. When these dogs present at vet clinics, the immediate assumption is aspiration pneumonia and they are given antibiotics and oxygen.”
When Dr Hayes followed up on these cases, he found a history was often missing. He wanted to know if the dog’s gum colour was relatively bright, if the dog was calm and happy, and if they still had a normal appetite.
“We started treating them with a modified medical regime including steroids to deal with the excessive pharyngeal inflammation,” he says. “Once again, results have been impressive. A single steroid injection sees the vast majority of these dogs much improved in six to 12 hours. This is far preferential to a two- to three-day stay in hospital on fluids, antibiotics and oxygen.”
Less is healthier
Both Southern Animal Health and the Melbourne Bulldog Clinic operate under a ‘less is healthier’ philosophy. This ethos stems from Dr Hayes’ desire to work in a practice where dogs are treated in the same way he treats his dog. It includes approaches such as:
- Practical consideration to expensive all-in-one products
- Worming one to two times yearly
- Vaccination every three years
- Flea treatment once they appear
- A sensible discussion with clients about a diet consisting of balanced table scraps and correct raw bones instead of commercial dog food
- A sensible approach to pre-anaesthetic and annual blood checks
“It’s just a commonsense approach to animal health,” says Dr Hayes. “Dogs fed raw bones rarely need dental work. Most vets generally only treat their pets for fleas when present, not routinely. Melbourne University recommends three-yearly vaccinations. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Did we become vets to be retailers of products that may not be needed or to improve animal health?’”
While a possible negative effect on profitability due to less retailing was concerning, Dr Hayes has found just the opposite to be true. He started with a one-person vet clinic in 2009 and has expanded into a two-practice, 10-vet operation with a large turnover and impressive profitability. He believes this stems from the trust gained and client word of mouth. As Dr Hayes says, “We’ve proven that you can have a very successful clinic without selling stuff to people they can neither afford nor need.”