Bulldog breeding could be banned in the UK, say senior vets

The breeding of bulldogs in the UK could be banned unless their shape is changed to prevent a host of debilitating conditions, a new study from the Royal Veterinary College has warned.

Synonymous with Sir Winston Churchill and Britishness, English Bulldogs are at increased risk of respiratory, eye, and skin problems due to their extreme physical characteristics, including shortened muzzles, folded skin, and stocky bodies.

Currently, the breed has a short lifespan of around eight years, in part due to its health issues and the study recommends people to “stop and think” before buying them.

The results showed they were over 38 times more likely than other dogs to have dermatitis in skin folds, nearly 27 times more likely to have an eye condition called ‘cherry eye’, over 24 times more likely to have a protruding lower jaw and ran nearly 20 times the risk of airway obstruction causing breathing problems.

And the list goes on with them 13 times more likely to have a cyst between the toes over 12 times with dry eyes, 11.5 times with inwardly rolled eyelids, eight times the risk of scabies nearly five times the rate of foot infections, and more than three times more likely to have skin infection, wet dermatitis, and dermatitis.

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

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

This physique has been linked to several health issues and countries like 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 RVC, said: “Every dog ​​deserves to be born with equal and good innate health by having a natural ability to breathe. freely, to blink completely, to exercise easily, to have flat healthy skin, to mate and give birth.

“For breeds like English Bulldogs where many dogs still have extreme conformations with innately poor health, the public has a huge role to play in demanding dogs with moderate conformations and healthier.

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

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

“However, what is of most concern is that so many of the health problems that English Bulldogs suffer from, such as skin fold dermatitis and respiratory problems, are directly related to the extreme structure of their body for which they were selectively bred.

“Given the continued popularity of the breed, the body shape of typical English Bulldogs should be redefined towards more subdued physical characteristics.

“This will not only improve dog health, but could also allow the UK to avoid following other countries in banning the English bulldog on welfare grounds.”

Researchers compared the risk of common disorders in English Bulldogs to those of other dogs by analyzing UK veterinary practice records from 2016 using the VetCompass database.

Looking at a random sample of 2,662 English Bulldogs and 22,039 non-English Bulldog dogs, they found that English Bulldogs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with at least one disorder as other dogs.

Breed showed predisposition for 24 of 43 (55.8%) specific disorders.

They were 38.12 times more likely to develop skinfold dermatitis than other dogs.

They also had a 26.79 times greater risk of developing an eye condition called prolapsed nictitating membrane gland, also known as “cherry eye”, where the dog’s third eyelid protrudes as a swollen red mass in the eye. lower eye.

English Bulldogs were also 24.32 times more at risk for mandibular prognathism when the lower jaw is too long compared to the upper jaw and 19.2 times at risk for brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome which can lead to serious breathing problems. , compared to other dogs.

However, they had a reduced risk of certain conditions such as dental disease, heart murmurs and flea infestations compared to other dogs.

They also found that only 9.7% of English bulldogs in this study were over the age of eight, compared to 25.4% of other dog breeds.

This supports the idea that a shorter lifespan in English Bulldogs is linked to their poorer overall health.

Dr Alison Skipper, co-author and veterinary historian, said: ‘As early as 1900 some bulldog breeders were already concerned that exaggeration of ‘certain typical points’ would aggravate predispositions to disease’ and produce ‘cripples and deformities” with “a sad shortening of lifespan”.

“This new research provides strong evidence that modern bulldogs remain troubled by numerous diseases related to their body shapes, most of which have been recognized for over a century.

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

The authors hope that in the future, the English Bulldog should be recognized and loved for having a longer face, smaller head, and unwrinkled skin, representing a more subdued and healthier conformation.

With around 70% of UK dogs not registered with the Kennel Club and only a tiny proportion (2%) having ever competed in dog shows, the real power for change lies with the public who can only demand and buy the types of dogs at the healthier conformations.

Bill Lambert, Manager of Health, Welfare and Breeder Services at The Kennel Club, said:
“This research shows that there are more and more bulldogs being raised outside of any sphere of influence and in some way because they are perceived as ‘cute’, with little regard for health and well-being. welfare.

“This research, funded in part by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, gives us and everyone concerned about improving bulldog health a better understanding of these complex issues.

“Careful and responsible breeding can help address health issues and strides have been made to improve and protect the health of bulldogs by reputable breeders and caring owners who use evidence-based tools, like the Kennel Club/ University of Respiratory Function Grading Scheme.

“A collaborative approach to solving these issues is crucial; we must continue to work with breeders, veterinarians and social welfare organizations to reduce and ultimately eliminate the health problems faced by brachycephalic breeds, as well as to reduce the demand for mass for these dogs.”