The Bulldog is the archetypal English dog, and is often used as a mascot or national symbol for and all things British. They are highly distinctive in appearance with a short, stocky body and a “leg at each corner,” as well as large, square heads, wrinkled faces, and often, a pronounced under-bite. Bulldogs are fairly sedentary dogs, not prone to excessive bursts of energy, and are calm, loyal and friendly. They can sometimes be rather stubborn, but are renowned to be good natured, tolerant with children, and bond strongly with their families.
All of these good personality traits, the Bulldog’s distinctive appearance and even its association with all things British makes the Bulldog a highly desirable pet for many people, and one that prospective dog owners are often keen to consider.
However, due to centuries of human intervention into Bulldog breeding to achieve the exaggerated look that most of today’s Bulldogs possess, the Bulldog is prone to a range of health, conformation and care issues that all prospective buyers should be aware of.
The Bulldog is not one of the breeds of dog that are renowned for their longevity, and the average lifespan of the Bulldog is generally considered to be between 8 and 12 years of age. However, due to the relatively large range of significant health problems that Bulldogs can suffer from, many dogs of the breed may have rather shortened life spans.
Because the Bulldog has been selectively bred for many years to have a particularly large, square head, Bulldogs are rarely able to give birth naturally, and over 80% of Bulldogs must be delivered by caesarean section. Bulldogs that are left to deliver naturally must be carefully monitored throughout labour, as problems with delivery can lead to the death of the bitch, and/or the puppies.
Bulldogs have the highest occurrence rate hip dysplasia of any breed of dog, according to the British Veterinary Association and The Kennel Club’s statistics. Around 70% of dogs of the breed are affected by hip dysplasia to some degree, which can cause problems with mobility, pain, and deformation of the hind legs.
Patellar luxation, a propensity for the kneecaps to dislocate or become detached from their proper location, is another condition that affects a reasonable proportion of Bulldogs, around 6% of all dogs of the breed. This condition is of course very painful, affects mobility, may require surgical correction, and may be recurrent or persistent even after treatment.
The wrinkled faces of Bulldogs mean that the skin folds of the face can potentially trap moisture and dirt, leading to sores, abscesses and infections. In order to avoid this, the skin folds must be thoroughly cleaned, inspected and dried on a daily basis, something that is not necessary with most other breeds of dog.
Bulldogs are brachycephalic, meaning that they have squat, wrinkled faces with short nostrils and narrowed airways. This can lead to pronounced problems with respiration that often leads to snoring and open-mouthed breathing, which may require surgical correction in extreme cases to allow the dog to breathe comfortably.
Because Bulldogs are heavy, muscular dogs with narrow airways, they find it extremely difficult to regulate their temperatures, and are prone to overheating. Great care must be taken of the Bulldog during the warmer months to ensure that they are kept cool enough and not left in direct sunlight or unable to get away from the heat. They must always have access to cool water, and an area where they can go to cool down. Bulldogs are at great risk of heatstroke during the summer months, and must be carefully supervised.
Bulldogs are very muscular and rather sedentary, and have a tendency to put on weight easily. As Bulldogs already have elevated risk factors for problem such as hip dysplasia and patellar luxation, significant care and attention must be paid to their diet and exercise regime. Carrying too much excess fat also heightens the risk of heart and lung problems in later life.
Cherry eye is a condition that causes the inner eyelid of the eye to protrude inwards, and requires surgical correction. Bulldogs, like all dogs with brachycephalic muzzles, have an elevated risk of developing this condition.
Inter-digital cysts are painful lumps that can form between the toes, due to faults in conformation and the relative weight of the dog compared to the structure of its feet. These are painful and can cause problems walking, but can be corrected by a simple surgery.
The Bulldog was one of the dog breeds highlighted in the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which ultimately led to the UK Kennel Club reviewing and revising the desirable breed standards of the Bulldog. These changes were opposed by the British Bulldog Breed Council, the UK’s largest breed-specific Bulldog organisation, although the fact that selective breeding has ultimately led to many of the most desirable traits of the breed being inherently associated with discomfort and poor health cannot be denied. The historical appearance of the Bulldog is dramatically different to the appearance of most dogs of the breed today, which have shorter muzzles, a smaller height to build ratio and a more muscular appearance than the working Bulldogs of the past.
The newly outlined breed guidelines for the Bulldog will hopefully, over time, lead to a variety of subtle changes in the appearance of the modern Bulldog to bring them more into line with the natural historical appearance of the breed, removing or minimising the presence of many of the Bulldog’s more serious health problems.
If you are considering buying a Bulldog, it is important to consider all of the above issues carefully, and find out from the breeder what the incidence rate of the various conditions mentioned within their line is. Support responsible breeding by only buying a Bulldog from a breeder that is taking proactive steps to better the quality of their breeding lines, and is breeding for health and wellness rather that an exaggerated and unnecessarily distinctive appearance. Check out the Bulldogs page on Pets4Homes for the latest adverts from breeders.