Pet owners urged to ‘stop and think’ before buying ‘cute but unwell’ bulldogs

EMBARGOED TO 1600 THURSDAY APRIL 28 File photodated 06/03/20 of Molly, an English Bulldog. According to the research, Jack Russell Terriers had the greatest life expectancy at 12.7 years, followed by Border Collies (12.1 years) and Springer Spaniels (11.92 years). our flat-faced breeds were found to have the shortest life expectancy with French Bulldogs only expected to live 4.5 years, followed by English Bulldogs at 7.4 years, Pugs at 7.7 years and American Bulldogs 7.8 years. Issue date: Thursday April 28, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SCIENCE Dogs. Photo credit should read: Jacob King/PA Wire
Bulldog breeding could be banned in the UK if their health does not improve (Picture: PA)

Would-be dog parents have been told to ‘stop and think’ before buying a bulldog, after a study underlined the breed’s poor health.

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) warned that breeding could be banned if their shape does not change to prevent a host of debilitating conditions. The breed – also known as the English or British Bulldogs – have a far higher risk of breathing, eye, and skin problems than many other dogs , due to their extreme physical features.

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They have shortened muzzles, folded skin, and a squat body which experts say is a result of extreme selective breeding by pet owners who value their cuteness.

But the study suggests their endearing looks come at the expense of their health, with average lifespans of the animal now at just eight years.

Countries including 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.

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‘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.

The Duchess of Cornwall meets a bulldog at The Dog Show during the Royal Cornwall show at Whitecross near Wadebridge. Picture date: Friday June 10, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Chris Jackson/PA Wire
Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, meets a bulldog at The Dog Show last month (Picture: PA)

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

The study found that bulldogs are 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’, at least 24 times more likely to have a jutting lower jaw and had nearly 20 times the risk of obstructive airways causing breathing problems.

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The problems don’t end there – with the breed significantly more at risk of having a cyst between their toes, rolled inward eyelids, mange, foot infections, skin infections and dermatitis.

The study, published in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics, suggests bulldogs should be bred to have more moderate physical features – both for their health and to avoid a breeding ban.

Bulldogs were originally developed as a muscular, athletic fighting dog, but now preferences have moved towards cute companions with a short skull, protruding jaw, skin folds, and a squat, heavy build.

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Dr O’Neill continued: ‘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.

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‘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.’

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Researchers looked at a random sample of 2,662 English Bulldogs and 22,039 other dogs to compare the risks of common disorders, using records from across the UK since 2016 in the VetCompass database.

The breed were found to be at reduced risk of some conditions such as dental disease, heart murmur and flea infestation compared to other dogs.

But the work also showed that only 9.7% of English Bulldogs in this study were older than eight, compared to 25.4% of other dog breeds.

Dr Alison Skipper, co-author and veterinary historian, explained that even around 1900 some breeders were concerned about an ‘intensifying predispositions to disease’.

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‘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’, she said.

‘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.’

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The study’s authors hope that going forward, bulldogs could become loved for a longer face, smaller head and non-wrinkled skin – representing a more moderate and healthier conformation.

But purchasing power means it is up to prospective dog owners to push for healthier breeding, according to experts.

Bill Lambert, The Kennel Club’s health, welfare and 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.

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‘Careful, responsible breeding can help address health problems and progress has been made to improve and protect bulldog health.’

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