The study indicates the health of these dogs has strayed substantially from non-French Bulldogs in the UK and is now largely much poorer. Urgent intervention is now required to reduce the high rate of health issues currently seen in the breed.
The findings of the study will assist owners, breeders and veterinarians to take appropriate action to improve the health of French Bulldogs, as well as encouraging the public to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog“.
The study, led by the RVC’s VetCompass programme, compared the health of random samples of 2,781 French Bulldogs and 21,850 non-French Bulldogs. Compiling a list of the 43 most common disorders across both groups of dogs, the findings revealed many of the differences in health between the two groups were closely associated with the extreme body shape that defines French Bulldogs. This includes a grossly shortened muzzle (flat-faced breed, brachycephalic), a large head, skin folds and shortened spine/tail.
The French Bulldog is hugely popular in the UK, with demand for these “must-have” breeds soaring in recent years. However, this demand has resulted in huge welfare issues, particularly with reference to breathing problems and sore eyes that are common in the breed. Body exaggerations such as the flat face, big eyes and snuffly breathing that promote these health issues are often perceived as “cute” or “normal” for the breed and, worryingly, “desirable”.
Efforts to reduce demand for the breed include advice from the UK Brachycephalic Working Group to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog” and the Dutch Kennel Club has even gone so far as to ban the registration of new French Bulldog puppies altogether (along with 11 other flat-faced breeds). However, despite wide acceptance of the health issues in the breed, there has been limited reliable evidence, until now, on just how poor the general health of French Bulldogs really is.
The findings of the new study revealed that French Bulldogs had a higher risk of 20 out of the 43 (46.5 percent) disorders and a lower risk of 11 out of 43 (25.6 percent) disorders. Narrowed nostrils (stenotic nares) was the disorder with highest risk in French Bulldogs, with the breed more than 42 times more likely to have the condition, helping explain the high frequency of breathing problems they experience.
Other conditions with the highest risk in French Bulldogs included Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (x 30.9), ear discharge (x 14.4), skin fold dermatitis (x 11.2) and difficulty giving birth (x 9.1).
These results support general agreement by leading academics, kennel clubs, veterinary organisations and welfare bodies that the typical body shape of French Bulldogs must be shifted towards a more moderate and less extreme, make-up, in order to reduce these health issues. Humans need to accept that the needs of dogs for good health, welfare and temperament overrides any humans wishes for cute or internet-popular breeds with compromised health. Every dog should expect to live a life without hugely increased health risks related to extreme conformation.
Dr Dan O’Neill, senior lecturer in companion animal epidemiology at the RVC and lead author of the paper, said: “There is no doubt that many humans love the feeling of owning their special French Bulldog. But sadly, this study helps us to grasp the full extent of the serious health issues affecting these dogs. Especially in the lead-up to Christmas, we should give dogs a special present by putting the needs of the dog before the desires of the human. ‘Stop and think before buying a flat-face dog’.”
Health, Welfare and Breeder Services Executive at The Kennel Club, Bill Lambert, said of the research: “We want to ensure that all French Bulldogs are bred with their health and welfare as the absolute priority. This important paper, supported by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, enables us to understand more about the breed’s complex health concerns and can help us and those concerned with the breed to develop evidence-based tools that support responsible breeders in protecting and improving French Bulldog health.
“We, alongside vets, welfare organisations and breed clubs, continue to work collaboratively to educate the general public, many of whom simply don’t seem to be aware of the potential health and welfare issues that some of these dogs face. We aim to curb the increasing numbers of rogue breeders from filling the demand for these dogs – including some imported from overseas – with no regard for health and welfare. We urge would-be owners and breeders to think carefully about any breeding or buying decisions when it comes to French Bulldogs, and make use of health testing, evidence-based resources and expert advice.”
Justine Shotton, British Veterinary Association (BVA) president, said: “Social media and celebrity influence have really propelled the popularity of French Bulldogs in recent years, but sadly their ‘cute’ features can mask a whole host of health issues, which can require costly treatment. There’s growing concern across the veterinary profession that many owners aren’t aware of these problems when they decide to bring a Frenchie into the family.
“We’d always encourage prospective owners to do a lot of research before taking on a pet, including considering whether certain breeds and crossbreeds may be more prone to certain conditions or require health testing. Vets are happy to offer tailored advice ahead of buying or rescuing a dog, so that people have peace of mind that they’re getting a happy, healthy pet and know how to best cater to its needs.”