The Royal Veterinary College has published the results of the largest ever study of British bulldogs treated in first opinion veterinary practices, finding that ownership of British bulldogs has doubled over the last five years, despite the breed suffering disproportionately from a variety of health conditions1.

The study, which was led by the College's VetCompass programme, found that British bulldog ownership has increased from 0.35% of all puppies born in 2009 to 0.60% in 2013.

At the same time, the study found that British bulldogs suffer more than other breeds from a number of conditions associated with their aesthetic characteristics, including: skin fold dermatitis (7.8%), prolapsed gland of the third eyelid or 'cherry eye' (6.8%), interdigital cysts (3.7%), entropion or inward turning of the eyelid (3.6%), and corneal ulceration (3.1%).

Worse still, only 3.5% of the 1,621 British bulldogs analysed in the study were diagnosed with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), despite an earlier study reporting that 84.8% of tested Bulldogs are affected by BOAS to some extent, with 44.0% exhibiting clinically relevant disease2.

This, say the researchers, suggests owners consider breathing problems such as snoring as normal and are not therefore taking their dogs for needed check-ups.

Other findings included: 

  • 12.7% of British bulldogs suffer from ear infections, 8.8% from skin infections and 8.7% from obesity

  • Males are more likely than females to develop skin infection, interdigital cysts, atopic dermatitis and aggression, whereas females are more likely to develop dental disease and obesity.

  • The average adult bodyweight for a British bulldog is 26kg. 

  • The average lifespan of bulldogs is 7.2 years.

  • The most common causes of death are heart disease (11.8%), cancer (10.9%) and brain disorder (9.1%).

The RVC says that the results of the study will support initiatives by the Kennel Club and the UK Bulldog Breed Club to improve breeding and also help owners and vets prioritise tackling the leading issues British bulldogs face. 

Dr Dan O’Neill, VetCompass epidemiologist at the RVC and Chairman of the Brachycephalic Working Group, said: "The UK has seen unprecedented increases in the popularity of certain short-faced breeds over the past decade. This has led to a series of well-documented welfare issues relating to how these dogs are bred and sold for the UK pet-owning market, high levels of dumping of unwanted dogs into the UK charities and health problems that are intrinsically linked to the extreme body shape of these dogs.

"This new study gives firm evidence for the first time on the true levels of popularity and also of disease diagnosed in the wider population of bulldogs in the UK. This information can help to move the conversation on welfare from 'what are the issues' to 'how do we deal with these issues'. Reliable evidence is pivotal to good decision-making."

Dr Rowena Packer, BBSRC Research Fellow at RVC, said: "The bulldog is an iconic breed but concerns over the health problems allegedly facing these popular dogs have mounted in the past decade. It is extremely valuable to have solid data on the health problems facing this breed, confirming a number of inherent breed predispositions that need to be tackled.

This data supports current initiatives encouraging breed reform, particularly regarding health problems inherently related to their looks, and the need for selection for healthier body shapes. For example, skin fold dermatitis was common in bulldogs and is associated with the desired wrinkled face in this breed – this calls into question the justification of this and other such breed traits that put dogs at risk of potentially avoidable disease."

Steve Dean, Chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust said: "The Kennel Club has put into place a number of crucial measures over the years to monitor, protect and improve bulldog health and to provide the many responsible breeders with the tools they need to do the same, but this paper highlights there is still work to be done."

The study is published open access in PLOS ONE

References:

  1. DAN G. O'NEILL, ALISON M. SKIPPER, JADE KADHIM, DAVID B. CHURCH, DAVE C. BRODBELT & ROWENA M.A. PACKER 2019. Disorders of Bulldogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013PLOS ONE.
  2. Liu N-C, Adams VJ, Kalmar L, Ladlow JF, Sargan DR. Whole-Body Barometric Plethysmography Characterizes Upper Airway Obstruction in 3 Brachycephalic Breeds of Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 2016;30(3):853–65. pmid:27159898

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