English Bulldog health comes under fire

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The English bulldog is one of the most popular breeds and it’s also a national icon, symbolising British pluck.  But many experts have long cited this breed as symbolising all that is wrong with dog-fancy, due to their sheer number of health problems.  In 2004, a survey by the Kennel Club of Great Britain found that the breed die at the median age of 6.25 years.  Now, a new genetic study has added weight to the debate of breeding for health rather than appearance.

Published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, the study suggests that due to selective breeding, the Bulldog has become so inbred it cannot be returned to health without an infusion of new bloodlines.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, tested the DNA of 102 registered English Bulldogs.  The team found Bulldogs had very low levels of diversity (a measure of relatedness among individual dogs) to breed out the harmful traits we find desirable in the Bulldog, like a short nose, layered skin and a stocky build, have further reduced variety in that breed’s gene pool.

Dr Niels Pedersen, a professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Companion Animal Health, who led the study says: “There are a whole litany of different problems associated with their structure and inbreeding.  We were not surprised to find they did lack genetic diversity.”  He went onto say: “The English Bulldog truly is a breed in trouble.  Inbreeding…has brought the breed to a crisis point.”

Over the centuries, the English Bulldog has been bred in such a way that the researchers believe there is now very little ‘wiggle room’ for making additional genetic changes that might help reduce the health issues that English Bulldogs often face.  These include; breathing issues due to their shortened snout, skins complaints because of their layered skin, and joint disease such as hip and elbow dysplasia, or ruptures in the spine due to their conformation.

bulldogThe English Bulldog can trace its genetic origins to a founder population of just 68 dogs after 1835.  Thanks to human interference, the Bulldog has dramatically changed in appearance – as we can see from the image published in the 1915 book ‘Breeds of All Nations’ by W.E. Mason, versus the image of the English Bulldog we know today.

While this genetic study has predicted a grim future for the continuation of the breed, there has been some attempt to expand the gene pool through breeding with other types of dogs.  This has the ultimate goal of achieving improved health.  However, there’s still a long way to go in convincing many breeders across the globe that it’s time for change, looks aren’t everything and health should always come first.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Shutz September 9, 2020 at 7:03 am

I totally agree with this article because we had a female English Bulldog and she was afflicted with so many ailments it was difficult to keep up with them. She was a sweetheart of a pet, we loved her unconditionally and spent a lot of money on her ongoing health care. The short list were scary seizures starting at five years old, eye surgery, hot spots on her paws that we tried numerous treatments without success, she blew out her ACL and bad arthritis set in, her spine didn’t conform and she had issues because of that. We had to put her on prescription raw diet at $300 a month. Except for the hotspots, her fur was in good shape, but she was also plagued with ear issues and developed aspiration pneumonia that we almost loss her over. At 10 years old she lost her hearing and really started going downhill when she developed dementia. The last 1.5 years of her life were pretty rough, but she did live to be 12.5 years old, I would say she had about five years of good health, but the cocktail of medications she had to take to control her gran mal seizures took it’s toll on her liver and other internal organs. She was a trooper the entire time and finally one day she crashed and couldn’t get back up. We rushed her to the vet and were blindsided by the diagnosis that she had a malignant tumor on her liver or spleen that burst. We had no more options left at that point and we stayed with her to the end. It was the saddest day of my life as we made eye contact with eachother as I brushed her with her favorite brush. I wife and I were so distraught that the impact of the event even after eight months is still with us every day. She’s on my desktop and I say goodnight to her every night. The last thing on our minds is to repeat that day again and as much as I would love to get another bulldog, their poor health and chance of loosing another at a much younger age has convinced us not to get another bulldog. For that matter, we are in no mood to get any pet in the forseeable future.

Hanne Grice September 9, 2020 at 8:55 pm

Thanks so much for sharing your story John. She did so well to get to 12.5yrs which is a testament to the love and care you and your wife gave her. Best wishes, Hanne

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