Compared to other breeds, the British (or English) Bulldog is more prone to a number of health conditions. This makes it unethical to keep breeding bulldogs the same way, Royal Veterinary College experts argue in a new study. Until the bulldog is bred in a way that addresses its health issues, you just shouldn’t buy one.
Bulldogs are hefty, muscular dogs that have long been associated with British culture. Initially, the bulldog was bred for bull-fighting (as the name implies), but as bull-fighting has become less popular over the years, the role of the bulldog has also changed, up to the point where now it’s essentially a companion breed.
The specific physique of the breed was useful when fighting bulls, but also causes several health conditions. A 2004 survey found that the median lifespan of bulldogs is only around 6 years, according to some estimates (and 8 according to others). Some 3 in 4 bulldogs are affected by hip dysplasia, the highest amongst all breeds. The vast majority of Bulldog litters (80%) are delivered by Caesarean section. The shape of the head also makes bulldogs more likely to suffer from brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome. Their problems are so severe that they actually do most of their sweating through their pads, and can greatly suffer in hot temperatures and even after intense workouts. It’s not just the shape of the head, either — the shape of the bulldogs’ bodies makes them put most of their weight on their front limbs, which can cause lameness and other health problems.
The English Bulldog isn’t in great shape.
Because of these major health concerns, veterinarians are urging people to stop buying bulldogs.
Authors from the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire, England, compared the risks of common disorders in English Bulldogs to other dogs. They analyzed veterinarian records from the UK from 2016 onwards, finding that bulldogs have a predisposition to over half of the 43 studied conditions. In some instances, the disparity is striking.
For instance, bulldogs are 38 times more likely to develop skin fold dermatitis than other dogs; 27 times more likely to develop an eye condition called prolapsed nictitating membrane gland (or ‘cherry eye’); 24 times more likely to develop mandibular prognathism (where the lower jaw is too long relative to the upper jaw); and 19.20 times more likely to develop brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (which can lead to severe breathing problems).
“These findings suggest that the overall health of the English Bulldog is much lower than that of other dogs. However, 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,” writes study author Dan O’Neill.
“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.”
The problems are so severe that the experts say the English Bulldog must either change or breeding must be banned. The authors also call on people to stop sharing and liking photos and videos of bulldogs on social media.
“These results suggest that the health of English Bulldogs is substantially lower than dogs that are not English Bulldogs and that many predispositions in the breed are driven by the extreme conformation of these dogs. Consequently, immediate redefinition of the breed towards a moderate conformation is strongly advocated to avoid the UK joining the growing list of countries where breeding of English Bulldogs is banned,” the researchers write in the study.
Some countries have already taken severe action against breeding bulldogs. In 2019 the Dutch government banned the breeding of bulldogs (and other short-snouted breeds), and in 2022, Norway followed suit, arguing that no dog of the bulldog breed can be considered healthy, and therefore, breeding them would be a violation of animal welfare.
The study was published in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics.