Wednesday 17 June 2020

BULLDOGS: hurting even more than we thought

Until recently, concern about Bulldog health has focused mainly on the their breathing problems. But other health problems in the breed are well-documented. 

Now, a new study from Finland confirms that Bulldogs suffer from serious orthopaedic disorders - including an abnormal gait, slipping kneecaps, spinal malformations, elbow dysplasia and severe hip dysplasia.

The radiographic study, of 24 ostensibly-healthy young Bulldogs registered with the Finnish Kennel Club, found the prevalence of orthopaedic disease, particularly hip dysplasia, so high in the breed that "no healthy individuals exist".  

All but one of the dogs had moderate or severe hip dysplasia.  Three-quarters had at least one malformed vertebra. Thirty-three percent had luxating patellas and almost half of the dogs in the study had elbow dysplasia. 

The orthopaedic abnormalities are linked to kennel club  breed standards which ask for a large head, a broad and heavy front end and lighter, narrow hips, all of which result in extra stresses on the dog's skeleton.

Worryingly, the research suggests owners are unaware of the problems and that the iconic British breed may be enduring significant undiagnosed and untreated pain.

"One of the most worrying points of our study actually was, that the owners of the dogs we studied, did not feel that their dogs were sick or poorly, which is alarming"  says lead author Anu Lappalainen. "It is important to note that many of the 'everyday behaviours' of these dogs are often actually symptoms of pain or discomfort, but due to the amazing but at the same time hard to interpret, stoical temperament of these dogs, these symptoms are often not noticed or understood."

Based on her clinical experience as a vet, Dr Lappalainen says she was expecting to find a number of issues but "the severity and amount of them was surprising to us."

The study, funded in part by the Finnish Kennel Club and supported by the Finnish English Bulldog Club, is actually the third published using this cohort of dogs.

The first found that every Bulldog in the cohort (aged 2-5) showed some signs of breathing difficulty, almost half of them moderate or severe. The second found that all showed abnormal dermatological findings, too - 37% unrecognised by their owners. 

So to sum up, every single one of a cohort of Finnish Bulldogs reported healthy by their owners was diagnosed with breathing, joint or dermatological issues - and all but one suffered from all three. 

Asked if the sample was large enough to be able to draw conclusions about the breed in Finland as a whole, Dr Lappalaeinen says: "Considering our research methodology, the sample size was sufficient, and our findings are noteworthy. Regarding the sample size, the key word is 'sufficient'. Modern clinical research aims to achieve reliable results by using as low numbers of animals as possible, so that we do not stress any more animals than we absolutely have to. This research was a prime example of how the examinations that the dogs were subjected to - albeit it was only walking for a kilometer, or lying on their side - were very strenuous to some of them, and thus, the less animals needed to be subjected to these tests, the better."

Even allowing for the fact that some of the conditions were mild in some dogs, and of course these were just Finnish Bulldogs, it is an astonishing finding - and little wonder the authors conclude:

"For the future of the English bulldog breed in Finland, it seems unlikely that any changes in breeding could produce healthier individuals when taking into account that the prevalence of orthopaedic diseases is high and in some conditions like hip dysplasia, no healthy individuals exist. In addition, orthopaedic problems are not the only condition that plagues this breed. At this point, the chances for selective breeding are lost and probably the only option towards healthier dogs would be crossbreeding."

They are not the first to conclude this. A study from UC Davis in 2016 found that despite their huge numbers, the breed had such low genetic diversity that it would likely be impossible to breed away from their myriad of health issues without outcrossing to a healthier breed. The study provoked uproar from Bulldog breeders who claimed lead scientist Professor Niels Pedersen had got it wrong. 

And that, sadly, is likely to be the response from Bulldog breeders to this research too.  Here's one comment I saw about the study.

I do think it's important to recognise that some Bulldogs breeders are working hard to produce healthier dogs.  We've seen that some do lead reasonably active lives; that some even do agility and other dog sports.  There's more health testing too - and clearly they are much loved by their owners.

But it is ethical to continue to breed dogs that suffer this much?

The answer, surely, is no.

See also:


  1. And their mouths are a mess - an issue so far often ignored, not only by the owners but by the veterinary world as well.

    1. We need a veterinary study, Fraser....!

    2. I had a friend who has an english bulldog . I saw him as a puppy . E could hardly walk. And one of his eyeballs cameout in a very short time .

  2. I have had 2 bulldogs. 1 where I listened to my vet which ended up with my bulldog being overmedicated and overvaccinated, got cushings, calcinosis etc. not to mention being on kibble all his life. 97 meds in 6 yrs, 14 vaccines, over $20,000 in vet bills for a simple paw cyst. RIDICULOUS. Lived 8 yrs, I reversed the calcincosis, cushings, detoxed from vaccines and changed his diet to raw, I got an extra year with him till he got cancer which I'm attributing to the prednisone and atopica he was on. Now with my new bulldog now 18 months, he's only known raw since 4 weeks, 2 major core vaccines given seperately at 16 and 20 weeks when immune system was mature, titered at 1 yrs, blood test at 1 year to check health overall and he's healthy as can be. Never an issue, energy through the roof, no meds or supplements, just real raw food, fruits and veggies likes dogs are supposed to eat. Its all a money game, sicker the dog richer the vets. I learned the hard way. Sad that bullodgs get a bad wrap for health be it obesity, hip displaysia, allergies etc. when a good diet can be achieved from any age ensuring better quality of life and longevity. Its not rocket science, put good things in you get good things out. Simple as that. Pump with kibble, meds, you only band aid and exacerbate the issues.

    1. That is probably the dumbest and most ignorant take on the issue of Bulldog health I have ever read. It's the vets fault....??!?! poor dogs!!! By not acknowledging the problems they have, you are adding to them!!

    2. My kibble-fed, fully vaccinated dogs have all been long-lived. Two died at the ages of 17 and 17/18, respectively. The current ones are 10 and 14.

    3. Same. I don't ever kibble feed or vaccinate anymore. My raw feed unvaccinated English Bulldog lived 13 years, which is very long for the breed.

      Kibble and vaccines are the worst thing you can do for a dog. Its equivicale to abuse. Feeding and injecting pure poison.

    4. I'll agree with you on the kibble. I don't know about over vaccination. But surely you can see that if a raw diet helps conformation-show bred bulldogs be healthier, just imagine how much healthier they'd be if they had both a raw diet AND were outbred to have a biomechanically sound head and body?

    5. I agree with this person not the ppl who replied but the comment my vet has done things that affected my bulldog in a bad way for the things she does very much disagree with bulldog health. My bulldog was perfectly fine with no problems but the vet said she was fat and we were confused because she looked like every other bulldog we had seen. We followed what she said and she lost weight and we say she has a bottle shape now and she doesn't look like a bulldog. Things only started getting bad once she lost weight, after she lost weight she started eating rocks and everything that could fit in her mouth all the time. I would feed her more but now she has a little bit of arthritis in a leg and i'm afraid if she got her weight back to normal it would hurt her leg or legs because she is getting to be old for a bulldog and her joints aren't what they used to be. I guess the purpose of this reply is to always know more about your breed than your vet and the breeds health and there are problems with dogs that can't just be blamed on bad breeding like how my bulldogs structure has been permanently altered from normal to abnormal because of my vet.

  3. So cruel-how anyone could look at a Bulldog and not think it is cruel to breed a dog that looks like this? I don't understand.

  4. Keep up the good work, jemima 👏

  5. I half agree. I think we should remake the bulldog. The start should be to develop a working test that is not hurting dogs or bull but mimic the activity in somekind of safe way. Then set some standards for how the everyday mentality should be and test that too. Now let anyone that can pass this test and a healthcheck breed. Maybe start a cross with the sic bulldogs off today. Only let dogs that pass all the test breed.
    you should be abel to only show dogs that pass the other tests.