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Vets Urge Action on Bulldogs: Stop Breeding for Extreme Features

Breeding really flat-faced, huge-headed English and French bulldogs can have serious consequences for their health

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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An English bulldog (right) and a French one.
An English bulldog (right) and a French one.Credit: Shutterstock
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

The quest for exotic features in our pets can have unintended consequences, such as extreme health risks. This has become keenly pertinent to certain breeds: English and French bulldogs.

A new paper published last week in the Nature journal of Canine Medicine and Genetics calls on breeders to urgently rethink their quest for extreme features in the English bulldog and breed for more moderate physical features, because of the health risks.

In December a paper exhorted the same regarding the French variant.

Mutts can have bad genes too, this is true, and it is also true that genetics is a crapshoot, as Patty Khuly wrote in VetStreet. You can genetically analyze potential parents before locking them in the same room but that only goes so far. "You can take the hip dysplasia out of the Labrador, but you’ll never get it out of the Bulldog, unless you change the definition of the breed," she wrote in 2012, which brings us back to the papers on the English and French bulldogs.

Small bulldogs are a mess. A paper from April found that Jack Russell terriers and Yorkies are among the longer-living U.K. breeds (specifically), with life expectancies of over 12 years. French bulldogs had the lowest life expectancy at 4.5 years, while English bulldogs clocked out at an average of 7.4 years.

A French bulldog having fun in a mud puddle. As would you if your life expectancy was only 4.5 years.Credit: Will Rodrigues /

Jack Russells may live long, but they do not necessarily prosper being prone to eye, tooth and knee problems, deafness and more. English bulldogs face risk of breathing, eye and skin problems due to their flat faces, skin folds and a barrel body on short legs.

The worst is that English bulldogs were deliberately bred to have these extreme features, says study co-author Dan O’Neill. Hence the urgency to redefine its characteristics – before they get banned.

In February, a Norwegian court banned Cavalier King Charles spaniels and English bulldogs because of their “massive burden of disease,” Ashild Roaldset of the Norwegian Animal Welfare Society told AFP. About half of English bulldogs in Norway can’t give birth. They need a Caesarean, and that in and of itself closed the case, the court ruled. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are prone to headaches and eye trouble because their skulls are so small.

At the other end of the muzzled rainbow are borzois, bred for elongated snouts. They can suffer from extreme overbite and eye issues, eating problems and increased risk of jaw fracture.

Borzois, bred for elongated snouts. They can suffer from extreme overbite and eye issues, eating problems and increased risk of jaw fracture.Credit: ROVER_JP

Dogs have been by our sides possibly for tens of thousands of years. All dogs today belong to one lineage that split from the wolf. It is possible that the first people to embrace the dog began selecting for docility and other traits, but creating peculiar breeds by unnatural selection only picked up in the 19th century.

What is a breed anyway? “The simplest way to define a breed is to say it always ‘breeds true,’” according to the United Kennel Club: mating two purebred Irish setters will result in a litter of Irish setter pups. It’s not that one nonconformist puppy will look like a mutt, heaven forfend.

How many dog breeds are there today? That depends who you ask. Purewow counts 350, while the American Kennel Club settles for 340 but recognizes just 199 (after recently adding the Hungarian Mudi sheepdog and the Russian toy), and the UK Kennel Club recognizes 222.

Rosie the English bulldog is dressed in a pink tutu at the Haute Dog Howl'oween and Easter Parades.Credit: REUTERS

Shrinking wallet syndrome

Yes, breeds can be appealing and also serve as a status symbol, in that they tend to be costly, especially is spotting is involved. In the world of cats, the Ashera spotted cat created by mixing domestic and wild animals can reportedly cost $125,000 a pop, but note that Asheras can't breed so don't think you can cover your costs by selling kittens. A spotted Savannah could set you back tens of thousands of dollars.

For breed dogs, some will pay through the snout for the pup of their dreams. A Tibetan mastiff reportedly changed hands for $1.5 million in 2019, though one can be had for as little as $3,000.

Being a working dog, one might think the Hungarian Mudi would cost less. But it doesn’t necessarily, costing $1,500 to $2,500 a pop per pup, or more. Frankly, pictures of them online show some pretty wild diversity, and according to one of their features is “a daredevil expression” – so if a puppy touted to you as a Mudi doesn’t have that, you may be getting screwed. Not as screwed as the Argentine who reportedly thought he was buying toy poodles but got ferrets on steroids après a blow-dry, but screwed nonetheless.

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