Q: I am thinking of getting a Pug, but read online that their short muzzles could cause health issues and shorten their lifespans. Is this true? What are some other health conditions I should be wary of? Any tips to keep my future Pug in optimal health?

A: Despite the Pug’s short muzzle, it has a similar lifespan (approximately 12 to 15 years) to other dog breeds of that size. The breed is brachycephalic, meaning that its skull, face and nose are shorter than typical for its species. The shape of a Pug’s head and face is such because the bone in the middle of the skull—the maxilla—does not grow properly, resulting in a short nose, and wide-set eyes that face forward and bulge. These features, combined with the breed’s domed head, are what make the Pug so appealing to some people—it supposedly triggers the same deep emotions associated with looking at a baby.

However, the downside of these features is that the soft tissues grow as though the maxilla is normal. Hence, the tongue and soft palate are often too long, leading to a tongue that cannot be kept in the mouth and a soft palate that causes snoring and other breathing problems. The nostrils may even be stenotic (narrow or closed). All Pugs snuffle and spray mucus when they breathe, especially when excited, but this shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless the dog appears to have difficulty breathing.

In some specimens, the eyes may bulge excessively, leading to the middle of the cornea drying out, which in turn can lead to ulceration and in extreme cases, loss of the eye. When looking for a Pug, make sure that the eyes are not bulging excessively and that the dog is able to retract his tongue into the mouth. If you look at the animal’s head from above, it will give you an idea of how far its eyes bulge outwards.

The breed’s facial wrinkles tend to accumulate dirt, food and tears, and this combo of bacteria and moisture forms a cheese-like substance with a foul odour that may even result in the wrinkles being infected with yeast or bacteria. Therefore, it’s a must to wipe out its facial creases at least once daily. Pugs tend to have a very healthy appetite and will get fat quite easily if they are given too much food. The breed requires a moderate amount of exercise (a daily walk of 15 to 20 minutes should suffice), but take care not to go overboard as it’s prone to overheating.

While there are concerns about this breed’s health and quality of life, the potential problems that may arise seem to be minor among the Pug owners I’ve met. For the most part, the Pug is an adorable, entertaining, and relatively happy dog.