Bulldogs were once adorable dogs with shortened snouts. However, because their “squished” face was considered adorable, breeders continued to breed dogs with smaller and smaller snouts. Eventually, this led to the dog we know today.
However, their significantly shortened snout has led to many problems in the long run. These dogs are highly prone to health problems, and many cannot breathe properly. Therefore, many welfare groups have called for the ending of the breed—or at least a reversal of the shortened snout we know today1.
Furthermore, to make these dogs have such shortened faces, plenty of inbreeding had to occur and this has led to other genetic problems.
Sadly, all of this damage is man-made. These dogs used to be healthier with longer lifespans. However, due to human-driven breeding, they have become more and more unhealthy.
Where the Bulldog Started
Once upon a time, the Bulldog was pretty athletic. This breed was bred originally to help control livestock, hence the term “bulldog.” They faced bulls. Over time, they were eventually used for bull-baiting—a sport that involved setting dogs on a tethered bull. However, this sport was soon banned by the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835.
Therefore, the dogs shifted from a working breed to a companion breed. The breeding of these dogs also shifted from purpose-driven to primarily aesthetic. Of course, some unnecessary characteristics like aggression were also bred out. However, over time, appearance became more and more critical.
In this way, the athletic Bulldog was eventually led down the path that got us the unhealthy dogs of today.
Where the Bulldog is Now
Despite once being athletic, the modern Bulldog can hardly stand small amounts of exercise. They have been bred to have the extreme trait of a flat face. Their legs have also been shortened, and their head has grown larger. These traits also led to an underbite, which has grown seriously over the years. These changes have made the dog look like a human child, which is what most people find cute.
While this helps breeders sell more dogs, it isn’t great for bulldogs. It has led to severe health difficulties. In many cases, these dogs struggle to live out their everyday, normal lives.
At one point, this may have been reversible. However, this breeding path has led to severe inbreeding, and the current breed has an extreme lack of genetic diversity. Therefore, there simply aren’t enough good genes left.
Litany of Health Concerns
These dogs have a lot of health issues. However, the most shocking health problem is their inability to give birth. When left to their own devices, these dogs cannot give birth on their own. The mother’s body has become too squat, and the puppies’ heads are too big to fit through the birth canal.
Therefore, just about all bulldog puppies are born via Cesarean section—about 90% of these dogs are born via C-section.
Due to their shortened snout, these dogs have severe breathing problems. They can easily choke while eating. The “cute hiccups” these dogs often produce are the result of them struggling to breathe, even when resting. Enlarging their soft palate means that some dogs can hardly exercise and have permanently lowered blood O2.
They cannot pant like other dogs, so they are very heat intolerant. They also can’t swim since their shortened face allows water to enter their nostrils quickly. They can die from dry drowning easily, which involves water pooling in the lungs but not causing death until hours later. They can develop heat stroke quickly, even when it isn’t that hot.
This breed also has the highest rate of hip dysplasia. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals reports that 71.8% of bulldogs have hip dysplasia. That’s more than any other dog breed.
All of these health problems lead to higher vet bills. Because these dogs already have trouble breathing, they don’t do well under anesthesia. Therefore, surgeries that would be straightforward for other breeds can be extremely risky for bulldogs. Sometimes, surgeries simply can’t be done.
This has led to a decreased lifespan for the bulldog compared to other breeds. The average bulldog only lives for about 7 years. Furthermore, there is also an increased rate of birth defects, which has led to high puppy mortality.
Is There Hope?
Recently, the British Kennel Club rewrote the breed standard to call for less extreme features. However, the American Kennel Club has not changed its standards. The breed’s club has refused to follow any new standard, and the AKC likely won’t pressure the breed club to make the change.
Therefore, while European bulldogs may get healthier, those in America will likely continue to be bred the same. Vets have urged for a new standard to prevent dogs from unnecessarily suffering.
Breeding dogs in itself is not bad. Careful breeding can make dogs healthier by filtering out potentially harmful health traits. For instance, breeders can choose dogs with better hip joints to lower the odds of hip dysplasia in the breed. However, breeding can also be detrimental, and the bulldog is a clear example.
Instead of having the best interests of the breed at heart, some breeders produce puppies that are simply more marketable—even if those desired traits have negative consequences for the dog. When they are spurned along by an extreme breed standard, it is easy for things to get pushed too far.
There are some things the average person can do to protect this breed and prevent poor breeding. Firstly, do not purchase a puppy from a breeder that adheres to the American standard. There are breeders out there trying to reverse the adverse health effects on these dogs. Purchase from them instead. Ask a breeder plenty of questions before you purchase a puppy to ensure that they have the breed’s health in mind.
Bulldogs have become extremely unhealthy over the years due to poor breeding practices. At the current rate, it won’t be long before these dogs are simply too unhealthy to survive. Their life expectancy has dropped to only 7 years, and puppies must often be born via C-section. They have the highest rate of hip dysplasia out of any breed and double the vet bills.
Therefore, the average person is encouraged to avoid purchasing a bulldog puppy from a breeder that produces them solely for the show ring or to make a quick buck. Instead, seek out breeders that are attempting to reverse these health problems.
Featured Image Credit: Branislav Nenin, Shutterstock