Bulldogs could be banned if not bred to be healthier, experts warn

Royal Veterinary College says public must demand better from breeders of ‘innately unhealthy’ animals

Jim Leffman
Wednesday 15 June 2022 08:40 BST
The iconic breed is far more likely than others to suffer breathing problems and skin infections
The iconic breed is far more likely than others to suffer breathing problems and skin infections (Shutterstock / Rita_Kochmarjova)

The breeding of bulldogs in the UK could be banned if their shape is not altered to prevent a host of debilitating conditions, experts from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) have suggested.

Synonymous with Sir Winston Churchill and Britishness, English bulldogs are at increased risk of breathing, eye, and skin conditions due to their extreme physical features, including shortened muzzles, folded skin, and a squat body.

Currently the breed has a short lifespan of about eight years partly due to its health problems and the study recommends people ‘stop and think’ before buying them.

The findings showed they were more than 38 times more likely than other dogs to get dermatitis in skin folds, nearly 27 times more likely to get an eye condition called “cherry eye”, more than 24 times more likely to have a jutting lower jaw and ran nearly 20 times the risk of obstructive airways causing breathing problems.

And the list continues, with the iconic breed significantly more likely to suffer cysts between their toes, dry eyes, rolled-in eyelids, mange and foot infections.

The study, published in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics, suggests English bulldogs should be bred to have more moderate physical features both for their health and to prevent their breeding being banned.

The breed was originally developed as a muscular and athletic dog for bull-fighting but has now been bred as a show and companion animal with a short skull, protruding jaw, skin folds and squat, heavy build.

This physique has been linked to several health conditions and countries such as the Netherlands and Norway have restricted the breeding of English Bulldogs in recent years.

Study author Dr Dan O’Neill, associate professor of companion animal epidemiology at the RVC, said: “Every dog deserves to be born with equal and good innate health by having a natural ability to breathe freely, blink fully, exercise easily, have healthy flat skin, mate and give birth.

“For breeds such as English bulldogs where many dogs still have extreme conformations with poor innate health, the public have a huge role to play by demanding dogs with moderate and healthier conformations.

“Until then, prospective owners should stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog.”

He added: “These findings suggest that the overall health of the English bulldog is much lower than that of other dogs.

“However, what is most concerning is that so many of the health conditions that English bulldogs suffer from, such as skin fold dermatitis and breathing problems, are directly linked to the extreme structure of their bodies that has been selectively bred for.

“Given the continued popularity of the breed, the body-shape of the typical pet English bulldogs should be redefined towards more moderate physical characteristics.

“Doing so will not only improve the dogs’ health, but could also enable the UK to avoid following other countries in banning the English bulldog on welfare grounds.”

Researchers compared the risks of common disorders in English bulldogs to other dogs by analysing records from veterinary practices across the UK from 2016 using the VetCompass database.

Looking at a random sample of 2,662 English bulldogs and 22,039 dogs of other breeds, they found English bulldogs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with at least one disorder than other dogs. The breed showed predispositions for 24 out of 43 specific disorders.

They also found that only 9.7 per cent of English Bulldogs in this study were aged eight or older, compared to 25.4 per cent of other dog breeds. This supported the view that a shorter lifespan of English bulldogs is linked to their poorer overall health, the experts said.

Dr Alison Skipper, co-author and a veterinary historian, said: “Around 1900, some bulldog breeders were already concerned that the exaggeration of ‘certain typical points’ was ‘intensifying predispositions to disease’ and producing ‘cripples and deformities’ with ‘a sadly shortened duration of life’.

“This new research provides strong evidence that modern bulldogs remain troubled by many diseases linked to their body shapes, most of which have been recognised for more than a century.

“It confirms the need to follow the example of more responsible breeders who prioritise health in breeding decisions to improve the welfare of this popular and iconic breed in the future.”

The authors said they hoped that in the future, the English bulldog could become recognised and loved for having a longer face, smaller head and non-wrinkled skin, representing a more moderate and healthier conformation.

With an estimated 70 per cent of UK dogs not registered with The Kennel Club and only a tiny proportion ever attending dog shows, experts said the real power for change rested with the public who can demand and purchase only those types of dogs with moderate and healthier builds.

Bill Lambert, The Kennel Club’s breeder services executive, said:“This research shows there are increasing numbers of bulldogs bred outside any sphere of influence and in a certain way because it is perceived to be ‘cute’, with little regard for health and welfare.

“This research, funded in part by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, enables us and all those who care about improving bulldog health to understand more about these complicated issues.

“Careful, responsible breeding can help address health problems and progress has been made to improve and protect bulldog health by those reputable breeders and caring owners who make use of evidence-based tools.”

He added: “A collaborative approach to tackling these issues is crucial. We must continue to work together with breeders, vets and welfare organisations to reduce and ultimately eliminate the health problems faced by brachycephalic breeds, as well as reduce mass demand for these dogs.”


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