LONDON — French bulldogs are one of the most popular dog breeds in America, but a new study finds they’re also at much higher risk of developing up to 20 different disorders than other dogs. Researchers with the Royal Veterinary College found that the breed’s shorter muzzle and flat head significantly increases the chances of these dogs having breathing problems during their lifetime.
Study authors looked at the health records from veterinary practices across the United Kingdom, listed in the 2016 VetCompass database. Those records include health data on 2,781 French bulldogs and 21,850 other dogs from various breeds.
The team examined the likelihood of dogs developing 43 different disorders, finding that French bulldogs are 42 times more likely to suffer from narrowed nostrils and 30 times more likely to have obstructive airways syndrome. They’re also 14 times more likely to experience ear discharge and 11 times more likely to have skin dermatitis.
Is this breed really more prone to disease?
Interestingly, researchers discovered that vets diagnosed 63 percent of the French Bulldogs in the study with at least one health disorder, compared to 66 percent of all other dog breeds. While that would seem to show that French bulldogs are less prone to illness, study authors say it likely means owners of other breeds are better at spotting health issues with their pups.
The study also finds French bulldogs have lower odds of developing 11 of these 43 common disorders in comparison to their fellow canines. Specifically, French bulldogs are less likely to display undesirable behavior, lameness, or suffer from obesity.
Breeding out the health risks
Due to these results and high risk of breathing issues, researchers say it’s actually possible to breed out some of these particular physical traits that lead to health problems. Selectively breeding away some of these features, like their shorter muzzles and skin folds, may help improve the overall health of French bulldogs.
“Achieving meaningful changes to the typical look of French Bulldogs over time requires buy in from breeders and kennel clubs who publish breeding standards, but the biggest responsibility lies with owners who ultimately can demand dogs with more moderate features,” says Dan O’Neill, senior lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College, in a media release.
“The Kennel Club have recently updated the breed standard for the French Bulldog to move further away from elements of extreme conformation with evidence of health ill-effects. This is a very positive step to prioritize the health of dogs over human desires for how these dogs look and we must now continue this evolution of the breed towards a more moderate conformation.”
The researchers caution that their findings rely on reports from vets which don’t necessarily reveal how long a dog dealt with these health issues. They add that French bulldog owners may not recognize that the breed’s tendency to snore can be a sign of breathing disorder, leading them to not take their pups to the doctor.
The findings are published in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics.