English bulldogs must be bred with less extreme features to improve their health and to prevent breeding from being banned in the UK on welfare grounds, veterinarians have said.
A study by the Royal Veterinary College found that distinctive features of English bulldogs such as their flat faces, protruding lower jaws and folds of skin contribute to them being twice as likely as other breeds to have health problems and substantially shorter lives.
The problems with breathing, skin and eye conditions, among others, are so serious that experts on the study called for an “immediate redefinition of the breed” in the hope of encouraging breeders – and buyers – to prioritize healthy animals rather than supposedly cute features .
“The issues with English bulldogs are really issues with humans and what we deem cute and what we deem acceptable,” said Dr Dan O’Neill, a senior author on the study at the Royal Veterinary College. “We need people to view dogs not from a human perspective, where short noses and wrinkled skin are considered cute, but from the dog’s perspective, where good innate health is cute.”
To investigate the health of English bulldogs, the researchers examined the medical records of 2,662 English bulldogs and 22,039 other breeds selected at random in 2016 from veterinary practices across the UK. The bulldogs were substantially younger, with less than 10% aged eight and above, compared with more than a quarter of other breeds, indicating a substantially shorter lifespan.
Stark differences were seen in the health of the animals, too, according to the study in Canine Medicine and Genetics. English bulldogs were twice as likely as other breeds to be diagnosed with at least one health problem, with predispositions found for 24 out of 43 conditions the vets looked at.
Many of the problems the bulldogs developed were directly linked to features that some breeders encourage due to their popularity with buyers. Compared with other breeds, English bulldogs were 38 times more likely to have skin fold dermatitis, 27 times more likely to have “cherry eye” – a prolapsed eyelid gland – and 19 times more at risk of particular airway abnormalities caused by their shortened skulls. “Consequently, immediate redefinition of the breed towards a moderate conformation is strongly advocated to avoid the UK joining the growing list of countries were breeding of English bulldogs is banned,” the experts write.
Some countries, such as Norway and the Netherlands, are already taking action to in effect ban the breeding of English bulldogs and some other breeds on animal welfare grounds, though many dogs bought in the UK are imported or sold by dealers who operate outside official breeding guidance. “The vast majority are not bred by breeders, but farmed, often in appalling conditions, to meet a market and sold on the internet to anyone who will pay the money,” said O’Neill.
Sonia Saxon, a PR representative for the Bulldog Breed Council, said: “The bulldog breed standard, which is our ‘blueprint’ to help us breed the bulldog, does not call for any exaggerations or unsoundness; in fact it guides us away from them.
“If all bulldogs were bred to this standard, and the health tools available utilized, we would not see some of the so-called bulldogs being advertised on social media of various types, coats, colors and size that are purposely bred for exaggeration with little regard for the health and welfare of the UK’s national breed.”
She added: “The Bulldog Breed Council would like to work with the Kennel Club to find a better means of communication to educate the public when buying a puppy.”