Bulldogs: Questions and Facts were written by the Communications Committee of the BCA
Why do Breeders continue to breed Bulldogs if they have health issues?
It is a myth that the Bulldog is inherently unhealthy by virtue of its conformation. Good breeders
use healthy dogs in their breeding programs. This has been proven time and again by Bulldogs
excelling in performance and conformation events and passing various health clearances.
Anyone who breeds dogs has to make informed decisions to prevent health issues in their lines,
regardless of whether they are pure-bred or mixed breeds. Until genetic tests are developed to
identify inherited health issues, only an in-depth knowledge of the lines involved can provide
guidance to produce healthy dogs. The puppy buyer's best chance of getting a healthy dog is to
buy from a breeder who is a member of a national breed club, like the Bulldog Club of America,
and who tests their dogs for health issues as recommended by their breed club before using them
for breeding. This is one of the reasons the BCA encourages participation in the AKC's Breeder
of Merit program. Breeders who can call themselves "Breeders of Merit" certify, among other
things, that health screens (as prescribed by each breed's parent club) are performed on the dogs
that they use for breeding.
What are BCA members and others doing to improve Bulldog health?
The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) is a centralized health database for dogs, jointly
sponsored by the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
(OFA). The CHIC database contains results from the health screenings that responsible breeders
incorporate into their breeding programs, as well as a DNA repository to support research efforts.
BCA-recommended testing includes OFA evaluations for Patellar Luxation and Congenital
Cardiac disease. In order to pass a cardiac evaluation, an exam by a board-certified cardiologist
is required, and use of an echocardiogram is preferred. The BCA expects to add testing for
Tracheal Hypoplasia to its recommendations in 2012.
What about the respiratory problems we hear about?
These are issues that are easily managed with intelligent breeding choices. Many Bulldogs live a
life free of breathing and related problems. A Bulldog should be able to breathe freely. In
describing the "ideal" nose on a Bulldog, the official Bulldog Standard states, "The nostrils
should be wide, large and black..." Further, "the general appearance and attitude should suggest great stability, vigor and strength." A dog that cannot breathe properly does not bring
to mind great stability or vigor! Uninformed people continue to breed dogs with breathing
problems; the BCA and the AKC address this problem by providing education about the
Standard and good breeding practices.
Bulldogs are not necessarily heat intolerant. What can kill a Bulldog is hyperventilation due to
stress or nervousness. Open nostrils, as called for in the Standard, and a normal sized trachea,
are key in good respiratory health in any brachycephalic breed. (A database of trachea test
results is now available on Bulldogs at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or "OFA",
In any case, all dogs and cats, both domestic and in the wild, are susceptible to environmental
heat because they do not possess sweat glands. As a result, they use a water evaporation
mechanism to remove heat by panting. In order to prevent heat-related problems, wild animals
limit their activity levels. Most wild dogs and cats are active only at night, and for only short
periods of time to prevent heat build-up problems. A Bulldog is bred for bursts of activity in cool
climates, like a wild cat, which is not considered unhealthy although it has a similar adaptation to
If Bulldogs are healthy, then why can't they reproduce on their own?
This is another myth. Bulldogs can and do naturally breed. Natural breeding is sometimes
replaced by artificial breeding for many reasons, i.e., geographic separation between the parents,
and the use of frozen semen. In addition, it can be healthier for the dogs, eliminating the potential
for disease transmission. In either case, the prime concern of the breeder is the welfare of the
puppies, as well as their father and mother.
Is it true they have to have c-sections instead of giving birth naturally?
Bulldogs, like most breeds, can and do whelp naturally. Unfortunately, 24-hour vet care is not
available everywhere. Breeders often choose to plan c-sections as a precautionary measure in
hopes to avoid any possible complications in a setting without proper medical care readily
available. Planning a c-section birth allows the breeder to ensure the best of care for the mother
and the very best start in life for her new born puppies.
They do not seem very athletic. Do they have movement issues?
This is another myth. Bulldogs are very athletic! A quick search on YouTube will bring up
hundreds of videos of Bulldogs that are surfing, skim boarding, skate boarding, swimming,
running, jumping, and rough housing. A well-constructed Bulldog, one bred to the Standard,
moves in an "unrestrained, free and vigorous" fashion, as described in the official Standard.
This suggests good health and breathing, too.
There are different types of athletes. Some are built for long, strenuous activity and others are
built for short spurts of intense activity. Similarly, dog breeds differ based on their original form
and function. Bulldogs are not sporting or working breeds and should not be expected to have
the same kind of stamina. Those breeds are more like marathon runners, while Bulldogs are the sprinters and weight lifters of the dog world, built for short periods of intense activity. Bulldogs
are fully able to engage in intense play and leisurely walks with you and have plenty of stamina.
There are Bulldogs who are competitive in agility, rally and other performance-type events.
Both BCA and the AKC recommend that research any breed before you decide to buy.
Environmental factors are important, as well. All Bulldogs should be maintained at proper
weight and fed quality, healthy food.
What about problems with their eyes?
The Standard calls for physical attributes that promote good eye health or condition. When
discussing eyes, the Standard says, "They should be quite round in form, of moderate size,
neither sunken nor bulging..." The BCA, through its educational programs, addresses this matter
by informing potential breeders about the Standard and good breeding practices. It is important
to note that there are many Bulldogs listed in the Canine Eye Registration Foundation ("CERF")
database as being clear of inherited diseases of the eyes and eyelids.
Don't Bulldogs have skin issues?
A Bulldog meeting the Standard for the breed would have a coat that is "smooth and glossy"
with soft skin, and its coat color would be "pure and brilliant." Just like people, some dogs,
purebred and mixed breeds, have allergies. Sometimes food is the culprit; other times,
environmental issues play a role. Even with its wrinkled skin, the Bulldog will have a healthy
coat if the owner pays attention and properly cares for the dog. Responsible breeding and
responsible ownership are the keys to avoiding most of the health issues that are rumored as
normal for the breed.
Why is the Bulldog's lifespan so short?
While no formal lifespan studies of Bulldogs have been conducted in the U.S., anecdotally, we
hear of Bulldogs living into their teens. There is no valid scientific data in the U.S. to support
some of the statistics quoted in the media that bulldogs have a very short life span. (Studies
conducted in Europe indicated the average lifespan is six years; however, any Bulldog reference
in America lists the average lifespan as 10 years. Aging is a highly complex issue that scientists
do not understand completely. Many studies on aging have shown that local environment plays a
large role. For example, long lived ethnicities that move from their original region to another part
of the world end up with the longevity of the new region! Therefore, extrapolating data from one
region of the world to another does not apply to aging.)
Statistics released in 2010 by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) show that
Bulldogs have the highest rate of hip dysplasia of any breed - why?
That data is not statistically sound, due to the small sample size. The OFA database for hips lists
506 Bulldog hip x-rays submitted between January 1974 and December of 2011. Contrast that
with 130,304 Golden Retriever x-rays submitted for the same period. Clearly, the sample is too
small to evaluate the status of Bulldog hip health in this country. That being said, Bulldogs
generally do not suffer from the effects of hip dysplasia like larger breeds do; therefore very few
breeders submit film. There is also an inherent scientific problem in the standard of measure currently used to diagnose hip dysplasia; the standard that is applied to the Golden Retriever is
the same one being used to judge the Bulldog! However, their respective hip structures are vastly
different. More research is needed to verify or define Bulldog hip dysplasia and breeders are
being encouraged to have their Bulldogs' hips tested.
What about "water puppies?
It is true that a condition that causes puppies to be filled with fluid (Anasarca) can affect
Bulldogs as well as other purebred or crossbred dogs. This is not a frequent occurrence, but it
happens often enough that BCA is currently funding research to eliminate or reduce the
incidence of this problem.
Why doesn't the Bulldog Club of America (BCA), which owns the copyright to the
American Standard, follow the lead of their British counterparts and change the Standard
to reflect a healthier prototype?
It is a myth that the British changed their standard. In reality, the "change" was a slight
modification to the British standard, reminding judges to reward only healthy specimens. No
changes to classic type were made. The American standard, which is more than 100 years old,
supports a sound and healthy dog and does not warrant changing.
The American Standard still calls for the breed to have a "massive, short-faced head," a
"heavy, thick-set, low-swung body," a "very short" face and muzzle and a "massive" and
"undershot" jaw. Don't these characteristics themselves cause health conditions?
No. These are the same words that appeared in the Standard and inspired breeders for well over
100 years. These features as explained in the Standard do not describe a dog who would have
inherent health problems.
But isn't the appearance of the Bulldog overly exaggerated? Its parts just don't fit
together into a coherent dog; they are either too large or too small.
The Bulldog Standard is very clear on this issue. In evaluating the dog against the Standard, no
feature should be "in such prominence from either excess or lack of quality that the animal
appears deformed or ill-proportioned." Its parts should "bear good relation one to the other."
BCA members, and any others breeding to the Standard, strive toward this goal.
A modern Bulldog could never succeed at the breed's original purpose. Why can't today's
Bulldog do what the original Bulldog did?
No one wants it to return to its original purpose! Bull baiting was cruel and barbaric. The
features that evolved over the centuries to facilitate the breed's original purpose were written into
the Standard to preserve for all time the incredibly unique breed that evolved for this one
purpose. The Bulldog is a testament to the diversity and adaptability of the canine species. The
modern day Bulldog is genetically identical to the bull-baiting Bulldog of the 1700s. The biggest difference between the two is the temperament; the modern-day Bulldog is not aggressive, a
change which was achieved through conscientious breeding practices.
Why were Bulldogs crossed with Pugs? To try to make them look "cuter"?
No cross to the Pug has ever been documented. Purebred Bulldogs from England were the
bloodstock of our modern dog. It was a desire to staunchly guard the purity of this breed that
caused the first formal Bulldog club to be created. A recent study conducted by Dr. Elaine
Ostrander, of the NHGRI Dog Genome Project, found no genetic relationship between Pugs and
Bulldogs. Further, this study found that Bulldogs are genetically unique and most closely related
to the British terrier and mastiff breeds.
Some media have reported on studies indicating that our human tendency toward
anthropomorphic selection - which is defined as "selection in favor of physical and
behavioral traits that facilitate the attribution of human mental states to animals" - is
partly responsible for the modern Bulldog's predicament. The theory is that dogs like the
Bulldog (and other short-faced "brachycephalic" breeds, including the Pug and the French
Bulldog) are bred to play up the cute effect. Isn't it more important to have dogs that are
healthy instead of cute?
Bulldogs are in no way, shape or form supposed to be "cute." The Bulldog is a breed whose
appearance should suggest "great stability, vigor and strength" and should be "resolute and
courageous, but still "pacific and dignified" (from the Bulldog Standard).
Puppies of any breed will make cute advertising subjects. However, the dog in the Mack Truck
commercial shows the strength of the breed and few would describe the Mack bulldog as "cute".
No characteristics of the Bulldog face, as described in the Bulldog Standard, meet the
requirements of "the cuteness theory", also known as neoteny. These traits are a flat face, a thin
skull, large eyes, small nose, a small mouth, or a small lower jaw. Furthermore, neoteny is
present in nature in many healthy species, so the theory is inherently flawed. A specific example
is adult felines, which are considered cute because of this phenomenon but would not be
described as unhealthy.
Why are vet bills so high for this breed?
This question is complex. Veterinary fee for service rates are determined by many factors. Most
well-bred dogs from any breed will have lower vet bills than those who are not well-bred
because of the care and attention utilized in the breeding program of a responsible breeder.
Unfortunately, there are many dishonest people who will take advantage of any opportunity to
make money, including breeding dogs for profit. Their profit margin is the only criteria used in
their breeding program. This is unacceptable and the AKC, BCA, and many other canine
organizations attempt to address this by educating the public about unscrupulous breeders.
Poorly-bred Bulldogs will have more likelihood of health problems than Bulldogs from a breeder
who uses health testing results to make informed decisions and breeds to the standard for the
breed. Unfortunately, many Bulldogs are bred by those who are not knowledgeable about the breed and do not have historical, in-depth knowledge about their ancestors.
Anyone buying a Bulldog puppy should have it examined by a veterinarian with breed-specific
expertise. Like many things, puppies may look the same on the outside, but a close look by an
expert may reveal subtle differences that affect their performance and lifespan. An experienced
breeder and a qualified veterinarian can best guide the puppy buyer to the purchase of a quality
Why are Bulldogs so expensive to buy as compared to other breeds?
The market for Bulldogs is influenced by many factors. One reason is simple supply and
demand: the popularity of the Bulldog is on the rise while the supply remains smaller than many
other breeds, especially those bred from responsible BCA members. Sadly, the supply of dogs
bred by "back-yard breeders" is increasing rapidly as disreputable people try to take advantage of
the breed's continuing popularity. This means more, but not necessarily healthier, dogs.
Most people are not familiar with the term "Brachycephalic," but if you own a pug, Boston terrier, Pekingese, boxer, bulldog, shih tzu or any one of the other breeds with "pushed in" faces, you should become familiar with this word.
THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Brachycephalic breeds are characterized by "brachycephalic respiratory syndrome," which affects the different areas of the respiratory tract. Fortunately, most dogs do not suffer from all aspects of the syndrome but you should be aware of which your particular pet may have.
STENOTIC NARES - This is a fancy name for narrowed nostrils. The brachycephalic dogs begins by having very small nasal openings for breathing. If this is severe, surgical correction is possible and may be necessary.
ELONGATED SOFT PALATE - It is difficult to fit the soft tissues of the canine mouth and throat into the brachycephalic's short face. As a result, the soft palate which separates nasal passage from oral cavity flaps loosely down into the throat creating snorting sounds. Virtually all brachycephalics suffer from this but, actual respiratory distress is rare.... except in the bulldog. Excess barking or panting may lead to swelling in the throat which can, in turn, lead to trouble.
TRACHEAL STENOSIS - The brachycephalic's windpipe may be dangerously narrowed in places. This condition creates tremendous anesthetic risk and should be ruled out by chest radiographs prior to any surgical procedures.
HEAT STRESS - Because of all these upper respiratory obstructions, the brachycephalic dog is an inefficient panter. A dog with a more conventional face and throat is able to pass air quickly over the tongue through panting. Saliva evaporates from the tongue as air is passed across and the blood circulating through the tongue is efficiently cooled and circulated back to the rest of the body.
In the brachycephalic dog, so much extra work is required to move the same amount of air that the airways become inflamed and swollen. This leads to a more severe obstruction, distress, and further over-heating.
BRACHYCEPHALIC DOGS ARE THE MOST
LIKELY CANDIDATES FOR HEAT STROKE.
Altogether, the upper airways of the brachycephalic dog compromises his or her ability to take in air. Under normal conditions the compromise is not great enough to cause a problem; however, an owner should take care not to let the dog become grossly overweight or get too hot in the Summer months. Be aware of what degree of snorting and sputtering is usual for your individual pet plus, should your pet require general anesthesia or sedation, your vet may want to take extra precautions or take radiographs prior to assess the severity of the syndrome. Anesthetic risk is higher than usual in these breeds, though under most circumstances the necessary extra precautions are readily managed by most animal hospitals.
Skin fold infections are common among the facial folds of the brachycephalic breeds. Be sure to examine these areas periodically for redness.
Difficult labor is common and surgical assistance is often necessary. The broad shoulders and large heads of this breed make it very difficult to free whelp, and death can easily occur as the bulldog overheats from all the work, or if she grows so tired that she quits trying.
Breeding is best left to the experts.
Altogether, the brachycephalic breeds show plenty of personality and intelligence just as all dogs do but because of their special needs, they require some extra knowledge of their owners.