Warning from vets: the cuteness of French bulldogs comes at a high price

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In Great Britain and the United States, there is a huge surge in the popularity of French bulldogs, a brachycephalic breed. This is a worrying trend, according to a recent study, which points the finger at the numerous health problems suffered by these canine cuties. 

French bulldogs are loved and adored. How could you not melt for their little snub noses? However, their popularity is a relatively new phenomenon. In the United States, these bulldogs didn’t even feature among the 30 most popular breeds of dog listed by the American Kennel Club in 2007. Last year, they came in at number 4. In Great Britain, they were ranked in 76th position in 2005. They are now coming in second, well on the way to knocking the Golden Retriever out of first place between now and the end of the year. But their cuteness comes at a price. And that is a price that is paid by the dogs themselves.

The problems are largely to do with the odd shape of their snouts, which interferes with breathing. They snore, they find it hard to tolerate heat, and even more so exercise. Their expressions give them a certain “human” character which is increasingly sought-after, and is thus being bred through genetic selection which exaggerates these traits. However, this trend leads to worrying clinical consequences: snoring, breathing difficulties, vomiting or fainting. This breed and other related breeds (British bulldog, French bulldog, Pekingese, Shih-Tzus or pugs) have such difficulties breathing that several airlines refuse to accept them.United Airlines recently joined this list of airlines, two months after a French bulldog suffocated to death in the upper compartment of one of their planes.

“These dogs came out of nowhere 10 years ago”, explains Dan O’Neill, a lecturer in the Royal Veterinary College of London and the main author of a new study on the demographics and problems of this breed. “They are not in good health, but their growing popularity is causing an enormous problem.”

To get a better idea of the problems among this population, whose popularity is flourishing in Great Britain, O’Neill and other researchers compiled the data on all of the dogs treated in over 300 clinics in 2013. They ended up with 2,228 French bulldogs, and with some very revealing data.

Among the puppies born that year and observed in clinics, 1.46% of them were French bulldogs, compared to only 0.02% in 2003, which the researchers explain is an unprecedented expansion for one sole breed of dog. Furthermore, the median age of French bulldogs in 2013 was 1.3 years old, compared to around 4.5 years old for dogs of all breeds. This indicates that many of the dogs had been recently acquired.

Despite their youth, 72% of the French bulldogs were suffering from diverse problems. The most common of these dog’s problems were common canine ailments such as diarrhea and ear infections. But several were problems linked specifically to this breed, or illnesses linked to their physical appearance. The authors of the study noted a strong propensity to developing dermatitis, a bacterial infection that develops between the dog’s wrinkles, and corneal ulcers. Unsurprising, five of the 25 most widespread problems were to do with problems in the upper respiratory passages.

This is not the case with dogs in general”, notes the researcher. “And when these dogs reach maturity, these numbers rise spectacularly”. This trend indicates that there will be more sick animals presenting in veterinary clinics, increasingly costly bills for the owners and more and more dogs in shelters, not to mention a major incitement for unscrupulous breeders to breed puppies without worrying about their health or well-being. According to O’Neill, the goal is not to shame and blame the owners, but to help them. There are other dogs who could well do with a good home.

You can find all the details of this study in the journal Biomedcentral.


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