What's new for veterinary nurses to know about British Bulldogs?

Dan O'Neill
Sunday, June 2, 2019

British Bulldog ownership has doubled but the breed faces high risk of skin disease and obesity, a new study has found. Dan O'Neill explains.

A recent study led by the Royal Veterinary College's (RVC) VetCompass programme, has revealed that British Bulldog ownership has almost doubled from comprising 0.35% of all puppies born in the UK in 2009 to 0.60% in 2013. The reasons behind such an increase in ownership are complex, but could in part be down to public perceptions of the breed, their popularity with celebrities, and media portrayal.

Sadly, however, the research has shown that 12.7% of British Bulldogs suffer from ear infections, 8.8% from skin infections and 8.7% from obesity. It has also become apparent that there are a number of conditions that are more prevalent in British Bulldogs than in other dog breeds (see Table 1). Many of these issues are linked with certain desired aesthetics encouraged when breeding British Bulldogs, such as their characteristic shortened face and folded skin.

Table 1. Prevalence of the most common disorders at a fine-level of diagnostic precision recorded in Bulldogs
Table 1. Prevalence of the most common disorders at a fine-level of diagnostic precision recorded in Bulldogs
Fine-level disorder Count Overall prevalence % 95% CI Female prevalence % Male prevalence % p value Median age at diagnosis
Otitis externa 206 12.7 11.1–14.4 11.6 14.0 0.143 3.8
Pyoderma 142 8.8 7.4–10.2 6.5 11.1 0.001 2.4
Overweight/obesity 141 8.7 7.4–10.2 10.7 6.8 0.006 2.7
Skin fold dermatitis 126 7.8 6.5–9.2 7.1 8.5 0.275 2.4
Overlong nails 119 7.3 6.1–8.7 7.0 7.8 0.518 2.8
Prolapsed gland of third eyelid 110 6.8 5.6–8.1 6.2 7.4 0.333 1.2

Disturbingly, only 3.5% of the 1621 British Bulldogs analysed in the study were formally diagnosed with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). This suggests that owners and veterinary professionals accept breathing problems, such as snoring, as normal for this short-muzzled breed and are therefore not focusing on these issues during clinical examinations.

Other key findings by the researchers include:

  • Males are more likely than females to develop skin infection, interdigital cysts, atopic dermatitis and aggression, whereas females are more likely to develop dental disease and obesity.
  • The average adult bodyweight for a British Bulldog is 26 kg.
  • The average lifespan of Bulldogs is 7.2 years.
  • The most common causes of death are heart disease (11.8%), cancer (10.9%) and brain disorder (9.1%).

The unprecedented increases in the popularity of certain brachycephalic breeds over the past decade has meant that numerous welfare issues — such as how these dogs are bred and sold for the UK pet-owning market, the high levels of dumping of unwanted dogs into the UK charities, and the health problems that are intrinsically linked to the extreme body shape of these dogs — have been well documented. This new study gives firm evidence for the first time on the true levels of popularity and also of disease diagnosed in the wider population of Bulldogs in the UK. This information can help to move the conversation on welfare from ‘what are the issues’ to ‘how do we deal with these issues’. Reliable evidence, derived from the wider population of dogs in the UK, is pivotal to good decision-making.

The data resulting from this VetCompass study support current initiatives encouraging breed reform, particularly regarding health problems inherently related to their looks, and the need for selection for healthier body shapes. For example, skin fold dermatitis was common in Bulldogs and is associated with the desired wrinkled face in this breed — this calls into question the justification of this and other such breed traits that put dogs at risk of potentially avoidable disease.

The British Bulldog — increasing in popularity.

The Kennel Club has put into place a number of crucial measures over the years to monitor, protect and improve Bulldog health and to provide the many responsible breeders with the tools they need to do the same, but this paper highlights there is still work to be done.

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