The Selective Breeding of English Bulldogs Has Led to a Lot of Health Problems

Their deep facial folds, pronounced underbite and other distinctive features lead to issues

An image of an english bulldog standing in the grass and looking at the camera
Vets of the study say that if breeders and the public stop selecting the bulldog’s current characteristic features, the future English bulldog will have a longer face, trimmer head, and no skin folds. Lua Bittencourt via Wikimedia Commons undeerr CC BY 2.0

The English bulldog is beloved for its distinct features, like an exaggerated stout snout, stocky body shape, deep facial folds and protruding lower jaw. While undeniably cute and cuddly, researchers in the U.K. have linked these features to serious health and welfare issues, such as skin and ear diseases, eye disorders and breathing problems. The dogs are 30 times more likely to develop health issues than other breeds, but researchers say that it’s still possible to breed healthier bulldogs, Gizmodo’s Ed Cara reports. The study from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) north of London was published this month in Canine Medicine and Genetics.

Bulldogs originated hundreds of years ago in England, bred for bull baiting (antagonizing a bull for sport and theater) because they were characteristically powerful and often vicious, reports Lianne Kolirin for CNN. Because of their strength and viciousness, they were popular in dog fighting as well. The breed almost disappeared when dogfighting was outlawed in 1835 but was brought back when owners bred out their aggression.

In the study, 2,662 randomly selected English bulldogs were compared to 22,039 dogs of other breeds. Researchers found that bulldogs were twice as likely to have one or more health disorders in one year than other breeds, CNN reports. For example, bulldogs were 38 times more likely to develop skin fold dermatitis than other breeds.

Other health problems that disproportionately trouble bulldogs include cherry eye (a prolapsed tear gland in the eye), mange, foot infections, and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (a series of upper airway disorders), according to a statement.

These problems don’t just cause stress to the pups and their owners, they result in shortened life spans for the pets. In the study sample, only one in ten bulldogs was over eight years old.

Some of the American Kennel Club’s official standards of the bulldog include having an extremely short muzzle, with the nose being as short as possible, and having well-rounded cheeks. The dogs’ jaws should be massive, square and undershot, with the lower jaw projecting in front of the upper jaw.

Veterinarians who participated in the study say that if breeders and the public stop selecting the bulldog’s current characteristic features, the future English bulldog will have a longer face, trimmer head and no skin folds, per CNN. The team has called for owners to breed for the bulldog’s health and not for unusual and extreme characteristics, and for the public to reconsider purchasing a bulldog with unhealthy detrimental physical characteristics.

“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,” Dan O’Neill, study lead author and an expert in companion animal epidemiology at the RVC, says in a statement. “For breeds such as English Bulldogs, where many dogs still have extreme conformations with poor innate health, the public has 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.’”

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