Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Pug

Pugs are small, charming little dogs which belong to the utility group. An exceptionally old breed of oriental origin, the Pug has long been bred as a companion and its happy, sociable and playful temperament demonstrates this. Initially prized by the aristocracy as companions, Pugs are now found around the world and make good family pets. Pugs are exceptionally good with children and other pets and enjoy having constant company. This means they can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety.

Pugs are not especially active which means they can adapt well to busy urban lifestyles. Although sufficient exercise is important to ensure they do not become overweight. The Pug requires minimal grooming and regular brushing at home is sufficient. It is a brachycephalic breed with a shortened face, which means they can be prone to overheating and having breathing difficulties. The breed also suffers from other health problems that should be tested for.

About & History

There is some uncertainty regarding the exact origin of the Pug but it is generally agreed to be of Oriental origin. The breed has been around from approximately 400 B.C and was first found in China where they were bred as highly valued companion dogs for the Chinese aristocracy. The Pug then spread further afield to different parts of Asia and was first brought to Europe by traders working for the Dutch East India Company around the 1500s where it went on to become a prized breed in the Netherlands and was the official dog of the House of Orange. The Pug was first seen in England as William III brought one with him from the Netherlands when he came to take up the throne in 1688.

The Pug gradually spread around Europe and gained popularity with the aristocracy in other countries, such as Spain and Italy, where the little charismatic dogs were treated as prized possessions. They are seen in numerous paintings and engravings from this period, although these depictions show a dog with a different physique with longer legs and noses than the Pug of today. These early ancestors of the modern Pug first seen in Europe were all fawn in colour, but later on around the late 1800s some black specimens were imported and other colours started to become common. Today the Pug continues to be popular as a show, companion and family dog which can be found around the world.


Pug Large Photo

The Pug has just four colours which are accepted for registration by the UK Kennel Club. These are:

  • Apricot
  • Black
  • Fawn
  • Silver

The Pug has a short, smooth coat which should be shiny and glossy. All colours should have black markings around the muzzle and eyes, called a mask, ears and cheeks as well as a ‘trace’ which runs down the back towards the tail and should be as dark and near to black as possible. The Pug is a small dog that should weigh between 6.3 – 8.1 kg and should be square and muscular. Being fat or overweight should not be mistaken for this.

The Pug should have a strong neck, which is broad and mildly arched, giving it the appearance of a crest, but it should be sufficiently long to carry the head high. The body should be short and stout with a broad chest and flat topline. Front and back legs should both be strong and straight and held well underneath the body. Nails should be black in colour. The tail should be set high and curled tightly according to the breed standard.

The Pug has a largish head, which is round with a fairly short, square muzzle, but should not have an upwards pointing nose and there should be no signs of breathing difficulties. The nose should be black and nostrils should be wide enough to allow normal breathing. The Pug usually has a jaw that is just marginally undershot, but the teeth and/or tongue should not be visible when the mouth is closed. Skin should be slightly wrinkled on the forehead but not excessively and any over-nose wrinkle should not interfere with the eyes or the nose. Eyes are large, dark and round and very expressive. They should not be so large that they stick out or show white when looking ahead. There should not be evidence of any obvious eye problems. Both ‘button’ and ‘rose’ ears are accepted and the ears should be thin and soft, covered with black hair.

Character & Temperament

The Pug has a very good temperament and is generally a happy, playful and outgoing. They are charming and intelligent and extremely sociable and affectionate. They can be determined and single-minded but their even-temper and sociable nature means they are fantastic with children and enjoy playing with them.

However, this and their and dependence on their owners can mean that they are prone to suffering from separation anxiety and often do not like being left alone. Correct training and acclimatisation from a young age is therefore important to try and avoid this becoming a problem. Their usually friendly nature means that Pugs do not typically make good guard dogs.


Photo of Pug puppy

Pugs are intelligent little dogs that have lots of personality, which combined with their somewhat determined and sometimes stubborn nature, means they can be quite difficult to train. The importance of starting obedience training young is therefore especially critical and needs a persistent and determined approach.

Although they may not always be the most obedient, Pugs like to stay by their owner’s side so recall is not as much of a problem as it might be if they had a more independent nature. They are friendly little dogs and usually get on well with other dogs and pets. As with most dogs, if they are given adequate access to an outside space, and have an established routine, house training should not be a problem.


The Pug can suffer from several health problems. Many of these are thought to be due to an extremely small gene pool and subsequent inbreeding that has occurred, in addition to the selection of over exaggerated characteristics, which have led to health problems.

Kennel Club Points of Concern

Due to concerns over welfare of the breed, the Pug is classed as a ‘Category 3’ breed by the Kennel Club. Judges should penalise any of the characteristics on the watch list and, if you are thinking of getting a puppy, it is important to look out for them and avoid them in the parents. Points of concern which responsible breeders should be trying to eliminate and minimise include:

  • Problems breathing and pinched nostrils
  • Excessive nasal folds
  • Overly prominent eyes, incomplete blink and sore eyes due to damage or poor eyelid conformation
  • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis, signs of dermatitis in skin folds
  • Unsound movement

Hemivertebrae Checking

The UK Kennel Club strongly recommends that breeders should participate in the Breed Council scheme for Hemivertebrae Checking. Hemi or ‘half’ vertebrae are congenital malformations where vertebrae fail to develop correctly. They are common in many brachycephalic breeds.

The malformation causes compression of the spinal cord and this subsequently causes neurological symptoms in the back legs, eventually leading to paralysis if not treated. Surgery is the only treatment. Any Pug found to have signs of hemi vertebrae to any extent should not be used for breeding. There is not currently a DNA test available and diagnosis is by evaluation of x-rays.

Some of the other health problems which can affect the Pug include:

Brachycephalic Syndrome

Caused by the shortened conformation of the face which can lead to a condition called BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome), as a result of the limited space available for internal structures involved in breathing. This lack of space leads to difficulty breathing and can also cause the larynx to collapse. In addition, dogs may have an excessively long soft palate, which exacerbates problems.

This condition is particularly significant in hot or stressful conditions where dogs may not be able to breath in sufficient oxygen or lose enough heat through panting. If a dog does have difficulty breathing special care should be taken not to exercise it when it is hot and to keep it as cool as possible.

Eye Problems

The bone structure of the skull means that Pugs eyes are prone to being damaged and having problems. Some of these conditions can include:

  • Proptosis – This is when the eye prolapses or pops out of its socket. In brachycepahlic dogs, this is more likely as eye sockets are shallow and eyes are often large. This displacement is usually caused by trauma but can be caused simply by the dog pulling on the lead if it is wearing a collar. It is therefore advisable for Pugs to be walked wearing a harness. Prognosis depends on the time the eye is displaced and the extent of the damage. Immediate veterinary attention is essential.
  • Entropion – A condition where part or all of the eyelid faces inwards causing the hair and eyelashes to rub and irritate the eye. If this is severe it can be painful and cause serious damage. The annoyance often means that dogs cause additional damage. Surgery is needed to treat the condition but success can depend on the type of entropion. If left untreated it can eventually lead to blindness.
  • Corneal Damage – Pugs have large protruding eyes which means they are prone to traumatic damage. Scratches or bumps can cause corneal damage, such as ulcers, which can lead to serious problems and ultimately affect sight if not treated or damage is frequent.
  • Primary Lens Luxation (PLL) – This is a genetic disorder where the fibres which keep the lens in position are weakened and consequently the lens is able to move. This can cause blindness and often occurs between 3 – 6 years old if a dog is affected. A DNA test is available.

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

A condition where abnormal development or other abnormalities of the hips can lead to joint problems, such as osteoarthritis later in life. X-rays of the hips are evaluated by experts, using several specific criteria in dogs older than a year. The maximum score is 106, and a low score correlates with the presence of fewer signs of dysplasia.

HD is transmitted genetically but can also be influenced by environment. A large percentage of Pugs are affected by the problem and it is the second most affected breed, which has been tested for hip dysplasia.

Pug Dog Encephalitis (PDE) or Necrotising Meningoencephalitis

Pug Dog Encephalitis, or PDE, is inflammatory disease which affects the central nervous system. Symptoms include loss of coordination, depression, seizures and blindness and are progressive and often fatal. It is appears to be more prevalent in fawn coloured, female Pugs and usually develops between 7 years of age. A DNA test is available.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency

A condition which affects the enzyme – pyruvate kinase, which is key to the normal function of red blood cells. This causes red blood cells to die sooner than they otherwise would and causes anaemia. The disease also has some other effects and over time causes liver failure and subsequent death. A DNA test is available.

May-Hegglin Anomaly

This disease affects red blood cells. It causes lower numbers of platelets (responsible for clotting), which are larger in size than normal, as well as an abnormal appearance of a type of white blood cells. Severity of symptoms varies but it is likely to cause problems with blood clotting. A DNA test is available.

Degenerative Myelopathy

A progressive condition which affects the spinal cord on older dogs. The white matter of the spinal cord begins to degenerate affecting movement and sensory function. It is diagnosed by elimination and other spinal disease can cause similar signs. There is no effective treatment at the time of writing and care is palliative. A DNA test is available.

Skin Fold Dermatitis

Pugs have a relatively high prevalence of skin problems. This is largely due to the fact they have lots of excess skin and wrinkles, which fold over on themselves meaning that air cannot get adequately to all areas. A tightly curled tail can also result in skin problems. The inner parts of these folds and wrinkles are prone to becoming irritated and infected. This can be a lifelong problem and treatment revolves around being persistent with hygiene and cleanliness.

Mite Infestations

Pugs seem to be more prone to suffering from some types of mite infestation such as demodectic mange and cheyletiellosis than some other breeds. This is more likely to be a problem in puppies but can be treated with persistence.


Pugs can be prone to becoming overweight. They are not especially active and enjoy their food, which means they can easily put on extra kilos. This can cause other health problems or make existing ones such as breathing problems and hip dysplasia worse and cause a faster progression. Appropriate feeding and exercise is key to maintaining a Pug at a healthy weight and ensuring weight does not become a welfare issue.

Birthing Issues

The Pug, like many other brachycephalic breeds with large heads, often has problems with natural birth and many female dogs have to undergo caesarean sections. The large head size of puppies means they are prone to getting stuck in the pelvis.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Pugs are not especially active and around an hours walking a day should be enough to keep them healthy and happy. All dogs love some time off the lead so they are bound to enjoy it if some of this time can be spent in this way, although, it is not essential. This means Pugs can readily adapt to urban environments and live happily in cities.

Many Pugs love to snooze and can be lazy and prone to weight gain so ensuring they do get an appropriate level of exercise is important, especially as they get older. Pugs are a brachycephalic breed and this means that they can be prone to breathing difficulties and becoming overheated. Hot or stressful conditions should therefore be avoided where possible.


The Pug has a short, fine coat which can be easily maintained with occasional brushing at home. It is a medium shedder and apart from maintaining the coat in good condition brushing should be enough to prevent hair being left around the house.

The wrinkles found on Pugs, which have been selected by some breeders to become over exaggerated can mean that the breed has a higher incidence of skin problems. If a Pug does have overly wrinkled skin regular cleaning can help to avoid these, although responsible breeding will hopefully help to reduce the prevalence of this problem in the long run.

Famous Pugs

The Pugs breeding as a companion dog means that it has been an exceptionally popular pet and there are numerous well known examples of the breed in history and popular culture:

  • The Pug in the painting, Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot
  • Trump in William Hogarth’s self-portrait
  • Fortune, Joséphine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife’s dog
  • Olga, Pedro, Minka, Fatima and Venus amongst others which were bred and belonged to Queen Victoria
  • Frank from the Men in Black films
  • The Pug which appeared in the series Friends
  • Otis from the film, The Adventures of Milo and Otis
  • The Pugs from the film, The Big Wedding
  • The Pug from the series, Marry Me
  • Poundcake and Muffins from the film, The Campaign
  • Rufus from the film, Breakin’ all the Rules
  • Precious from the animated film, The Nut Job
  • Percy from the animated film, Pocahontas
  • The Pugs from the film, The Great Race
  • J.B. from the film, Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Alan from the TV series, The King of Queens
  • Goodchance My Delila from the film, Walk with Destiny
  • Pugs from the film, A Pug’s Life: The Dogumentary
  • The Pug from the film, Dune


Some examples of popular Pug cross-breeds are:

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