English bulldogs' health issues are getting worse, and it's our fault

Aug 17, 2016 at 3:21 p.m. ET
Image: Pixabay

I've got a soft spot for English bulldogs. I saw a lot of them when I worked in the veterinary field, and their goofy, happy-go-lucky personalities are hard to resist, even if the health problems associated with bulldogs are a bit of a turn-off.

People love bulldogs. English bulldogs are the mascots of countless schools, sports teams and organizations around the globe. The breed's tenacity and rugged appearance are legendary, which is probably why they are the national symbol for the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately for the dog breed, we have focused a little too much on keeping this breed "pure" and appearances intact, much to the detriment of their health. Just how bad is the situation? Scientists recently discovered that there is literally no hope for fixing the breed using the current breeding population. They are at a genetic dead end.

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Science spells out bad news for bulldogs

According to Niels Pedersen, the lead author of the study released in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, "The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime. More people seemed to be enamored with its appearance than concerned about its health. Improving health through genetic manipulations presumes that enough diversity still exists to improve the breed from within, and if not, to add diversity by outcrossing to other breeds. We found that little genetic 'wiggle room' still exists in the breed to make additional genetic changes."

In other words, English bulldogs are so inbred the only way to save the bulldog is to reintroduce other breeds into the bloodline.

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How bad are these health issues?

So maybe you're thinking to yourself, "that sounds a little dramatic. How bad could these health issues really be? What's so wrong with English bulldogs, anyway?"

Let me fill you in. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the English bulldog's common health problems:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Heat intolerance
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Stenotic nares
  • Hypoplastic trachea
  • Overlong soft palette
  • Everted laryngeal saccules
  • Ingrown or corkscrew tails
  • A host of skin issues, like dermatitis
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Eye issues like cherry eye, entropion, ectopic cilia, etc.
  • Short lifespan

Basically, English bulldogs have trouble breathing, can't tolerate heat or exercise, suffer from obesity, suffer from irritating skin problems, often require surgery to correct their breathing, and in general cost their owners a great deal of money.

It doesn't have to be this way.

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How can we save the English bulldog?

Excessive inbreeding and a focus on appearance over health led to the bulldog's current status. It can be undone, but not without bringing other breeds into the mix. This will probably change the bulldog's iconic appearance, which is something we need to be willing to accept.

It is not just the fault of the breeders. We as consumers need to speak up if we want to save the breed. Enthusiasts can (politely) talk with their breeders and local English bulldog clubs to express their concerns, and potential buyers can look for breeders working to improve the breed, not destroy it. Together we can make the English bulldog healthy again.