English bulldogs are an unhealthy bunch, confirms new research this week. Scientists in the UK have found that these dogs are much more likely to develop a variety of health problems than other breeds – over 30 times more likely to have some conditions. But the team says it’s still possible to steer bulldogs in a healthier direction without drastic measures such as a complete ban on their breeding.
The study was conducted by scientists from the Royal Veterinary College in England. They analyzed data obtained from VetCompass, an ongoing college research project that collects (anonymized) medical information from real vet visits across the country. They compared the randomly selected medical records of more than 2,600 English bulldogs with the records of 22,000 non-bulldogs in 2016, looking for the presence of more than 40 common conditions.
Overall, they found that English bulldogs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with at least one of these conditions each year than non-bulldogs. And while bulldogs were less likely to have certain conditions, such as dental disease, in general they were predisposed to developing 24 out of 43 (55.8%) specific conditions. For certain conditions, this increased risk was dramatically higher.
For example, English bulldogs were 38.12 times more likely to develop skinfold dermatitis — an inflammation deep in the pockets of a dog’s wrinkled face that often leads to infection. They were also 26.79 times more likely to develop “cherry eyes,” a rare condition that causes a protruding red mass to form in the corner of the eye that increases the risk of infection. These problems don’t just cause misery to bulldogs and their owners; they probably contribute to a shorter lifespan. Only one in ten bulldogs was older than eight in the study sample, compared with a quarter of non-bulldogs.
Other research has long found that English bulldogs are unhealthier than the average dog. But the authors say their breed is the first to compare the breed to so many other dogs in this large sample size, which should allow for a better assessment of the problem. The team’s results were: published Tuesday in Canine Medicine and Genetics.
“The main finding of this study is that the health of English Bulldogs kept as pets in the UK is significantly lower than that of dogs that are not English Bulldogs,” study author Dan O’Neill, a veterinary epidemiologist at the college, told me. to Gizmodo in an email.
At the same time, this greater risk of poorer health is not completely isolated to English bulldogs. The team’s past work found it a similar pattern for pugs, while other studies have shown that greater prevalence of problems for brachycephalic breeds in general, including English and French bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers. These dogs are characterized by their flat faces and shortened muzzles – traits that generations of human-driven breeders have opted for and emphasized over time. But the same traits contribute to health problems, such as narrowed or blocked airways that make it difficult for dogs to breathe easily.
Vets have long called for breeders to recognize that brachycephalic dogs are not as healthy as they should be, and more recently, some countries have begun enforcing stricter rules and laws for breeding these dogs. In February, a Norwegian court decision even took effect forbidden breeding English Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
O’Neill and his colleagues are not convinced that a legal ban is the most effective way to protect the current and future health of these breeds. He is one of several canine welfare researchers and advocates in the UK who are part of the Brachycephalic Working Group. While the group has urged the public to reconsider buying these dogs and further pushing the question, they also believe that it is still possible for dogs that we consider to be English bulldogs to be responsibly bred. That said, it will also take serious public pressure to force a change in breeding practices, and he hopes the team’s findings will provide a roadmap for what these changes should look like.
“To protect the breed for the future, the public must demand future English Bulldogs that are much more moderate in conformation; for example, a longer muzzle, a non-bulging lower jaw, a flatter skin, a longer tail,” he said. “The power to ensure that in the future we can have dogs we call English Bulldogs, while still having these dogs in good health, rests heavily in the hands of the public.”