English bulldogs suffer significant health issues from breeding practices, study warns

The breed has an increased risk of breathing, eye and skin conditions.

English bulldogs suffer significant health issues from breeding practices, study warns
STOCK IMAGE/Ammit Jack/Shutterstock
June 14, 2022, 8:01 PM

English bulldogs suffer from severe health effects due to the way they are bred, a new study says. Experts are now calling for breeders to change their practices to ensure the longevity of the beloved dog breed.

The mastiff-type breed, characterized by its stout stature, wrinkled face and pushed-in nose, suffers from the very traits many dog owners seek them out for, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics.

The breed was originally developed as a muscular and athletic dog for bull fighting, but over the years it has been bred to be a show and companion breed with a short skull, protruding jaw, skin folds and a squat, heavy build, according to the study.

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire, England, compared the risks of common disorders in English bulldogs to other dogs by analyzing records beginning in 2016 of a random sample of 2,662 English bulldogs and 22,039 dogs of other breeds from veterinary practices across the United Kingdom using the database VetCompass.

Guinness, an English bulldog, waits patiently to hit the surf during the Surf City Surf Dog competition in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sept. 25, 2021.
Orange County Register via Getty Images, FILE

The breed was found to be "significantly less healthy" than other dog breeds, with increased risk of breathing, eye and skin conditions due to their extreme physical features, the researchers found. English bulldogs were found to be twice as likely to be diagnosed with at least one disorder than other dogs and showed predispositions for 24 out of 43 specific disorders, according to the study.

English bulldogs were more than 38 times more likely of developing skin fold dermatitis than other dogs and more than 26 times more likely of developing an eye condition called prolapsed nictitating membrane gland, also called "cherry eye," where the dog’s third eyelid protrudes as a red swollen mass in the lower eye.

The breed was also found in the study to be more than 24 times at greater risk of mandibular prognathism, where the lower jaw is too long relative to the upper jaw, and over 19 times more at risk of developing brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, which can lead to severe breathing problems, compared to other dogs.

By contrast, English bulldogs were found to be at reduced risk for some conditions such as dental disease, heart murmur and flea infestation, compared to other dogs.

PHOTO: Maya, an English Bulldog, lays on her belly and pants on the pavement of the Zeil in downtown Frankfurt, Aug. 11, 2021.
Maya, an English Bulldog, lays on her belly and pants on the pavement of the Zeil in downtown Frankfurt, Aug. 11, 2021. According to her owner, Maya is not fond of the hot weather and sunshine.
Picture Alliance via Getty Images, FILE

The authors also noted that less than 10% of English bulldogs studied were aged over 8 years old, compared to more than 25% of other dog breeds. The researchers believe this supports the view that a shorter lifespan in English bulldogs is linked to their poorer overall health.

The breadth and scale of the issues English bulldogs are currently suffering through were a surprise to the researchers, Dan O'Neill, senior lecturer in companion animal epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College and author of the study, told ABC News.

"The extreme conformation of the body that we force them to live in leads to huge health issues," O'Neill said over email. "This is a human issue in that we are blind to the suffering of many of these dogs. moving the breed to a more moderate conformation could lead to health dogs while still being English Bulldogs; but this change is up to us as humans to drive."

English bulldogs must be bred with more moderate physical features or there may be a risk that breeding English bulldogs could become banned in the United Kingdom under animal welfare laws, according to the study.

A purebred English Bulldog is pictured in an undated stock image.
STOCK IMAGE/Ammit Jack/Shutterstock

To protect the breed for the future, the public must demand future English bulldogs that are much more moderate in conformation, such as a longer muzzle, a lower jaw that does not protrude, flatter skin and a longer tail, O'Neill said over email. Society is currently at a "pivotal moment" in the public discussion on how to deal with the welfare issues associated with extreme conformations in dogs, he added.

"The power to ensure in the future that we can have dogs that we call English Bulldogs while these dogs still have good welfare lies heavily in the hands of the public," O'Neill said.

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