Questions and Answers Bulldog Health

Q. What more could the Kennel Club be doing (particularly to help breeders)?

When it comes to something as important as the health of dogs, we firmly believe that more can be done, and we are working on many ongoing projects which will continue to help us improve Bulldog health.

The research that we have funded at the University of Cambridge into brachycephalic breeds will help us to find solutions based on solid evidence, to ensure that we can improve the health of these dogs in the most effective way possible. The outcome of the research we have funded so far has been vitally important in helping us develop a BOAS functional grading scheme, which enables breeders to assess the risk of breeding from a dog based on its breathing and respiratory function.

Whilst there are many Bulldogs bred outside our sphere of influence, and to look a certain way that is seen as fashionable, we are determined to help inform all breeders about the problems related to buying dogs with exaggerated physical features, and to help breeders who register their dogs with us to breed healthy Bulldogs. 

A collaborative approach to tackling health problems is crucial. This is why we work with other dog organisations, vets and veterinary researchers, dog clubs and breed experts to find ways to improve the health of Bulldogs.  The Kennel Club set up a working group in 2016 consisting of these different groups to do just that. 

Q. Why are they such a popular breed? (they are currently the 6th most popular breed in the UK according to KC registration statistics)

Bulldogs are very loyal and have great character which means they appeal to a wide audience, and make good companion dogs for both families and individuals. The Bulldog is iconic to Britain which may also add to its appeal.  A number of celebrities have owned Bulldogs, including such names as David Beckham and Reese Witherspoon, which could also add to their appeal with puppy buyers. The fact that the breed is so popular makes it all the more important that we find ways to improve and protect its health as a priority.  Puppy buyers need to understand how to buy a healthy puppy from a responsible breeder.

Q. What should people do if they already have a Bulldog?

Good advice to existing owners of Bulldogs would be to ensure they are not overfeeding their dog and are giving them sufficient exercise that they require to ensure they are kept in good shape.  It is known that being overweight can exacerbate Bulldog breathing issues and some of the other health conditions to which the breed is prone. There are a number of clubs dedicated to Bulldogs around the UK that can offer lots of advice on caring for your Bulldog. Anyone with concerns about their dog’s health should seek veterinary advice and people should participate in the Bulldog Breed Council’s Health Scheme and the Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme

Q. What should people do if they want to get a healthy Bulldog?  What should they avoid?

Always go to a responsible breeder who prioritises health, such as a Kennel Club Assured Breeder, or a breeder that is participating in the Bulldog Breed Council’s Health and confirmation scheme and the Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme.  Speak to a breed club for advice and for a list of good breeders.  Avoid buying a puppy online, always see the puppy with its mother in its breeding environment, and observe the condition of the mother. 

People should do the proper research before getting a dog to ensure they are choosing a breed that is the right fit for their lifestyle.  People should familiarise themselves with health problems and the associated costs – both financial and emotional – when choosing a breed.

The Bulldog Breed Council’s health Scheme encourages health testing and freely publishes the results on their website.  The Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme helps owners reduce the risk of breeding puppies that grow up to develop breathing problems. These schemes helps breeders and puppy buyers to make informed decisions and the Kennel Club strongly recommend that breeders use these scheme and puppy buyers always ask if the puppies’ mother and father have been through them.    

Seeing mum (and dad if possible) is an important part of buying any puppy, but especially so for brachycephalic dogs, as it may tell you something about the future health of your puppy.  If you’re thinking of buying a brachycephalic dog then you should ensure you research if there are any health problems that are more likely to occur in the type of dog you are interested in.  If you are concerned about the health of the mother then you should speak to the breeder or the breeder’s vet and only proceed with the sale of the puppy if you are happy that the mother and father are healthy.

If you would not be happy to own a dog which resembles or acts like the puppy’s parents, then it may not be advisable to choose a puppy from the litter.  Both the mother and father will pass various traits on to their puppies and the traits that you may not like may also appear in the puppies when they are a little older.  

When seeing the mother (and father, where possible) you should check for the following signs of illness.  If none of these are apparent then it’s a good idea to ask the breeder whether any of these health concerns have been seen in either parents. 

Breathing difficulties -The soft tissue in the nose and throat of some brachycephalic dogs may be excessive for the airways, making it difficult for them to breathe normally. Some dogs may also have narrow nostrils making it even more difficult to breathe.

What to listen out for -Loud breathing, snoring noises (while awake), snorting or wheezing suggest a breathing problem.  Some dogs may only develop these effects after exercise, feeding, drinking or during exciting/ stressful events, so it may be difficult to assess if a dog suffers from breathing difficulties.  Ensure that the parents’ nostrils are open, resembling a kidney shape, and not tightly closed, as this can restrict their breathing further.  Always ask the owner if the mother or father have previously had any breathing difficulties or have been treated for breathing problems.

Skin problems -Some brachycephalic dogs may have an excess of skin, which creates folds, especially around the front of the face. These folds can make a warm, moist environment which is perfect for bacteria and yeast to grow, possibly leading to infection and severe itching.

What to look out for -Red, itchy or smelly skin inside the wrinkles.  Ask the breeder if any of the parents have had skin problems and what is required to treat/ prevent them.

Dental problems -Dogs with a shortened skull will often have a shortened jaw, but the number and size of teeth will stay the same. This can mean that the teeth become overcrowded and can cause dental and gum problems.

What to ask about -We wouldn’t recommend you try and look in a dog’s mouth, especially one that you have only just met, but ask the breeder if the mother and father have suffered from any dental issues, such as overcrowding.

Eye conditions -Some brachycephalic dogs may have particularly shallow eye sockets, causing their eyes to become more prominent and at a higher risk of trauma, ulcers and increasing the chance of them becoming dry and painful (due to not being able to blink properly).

What to look out for - Sore, red or cloudy eyes with tear stain on the hair below the eyes.  Sometimes affected dogs may blink a lot.

Q. Has the health of the breed improved over recent years?

Many of the dogs that we see today would definitely appear to be healthier than the dogs seen in recent years.  With improved awareness of health issues and an increase in the availability of scientific research, changes have been made. Dog shows now have vet checks for Bulldogs, amongst other breeds, and judges are required to reward healthy dogs free from physical exaggerations that contribute to health issues, so there is certainly improvement in the show ring.  Although there is a general improvement, change is a gradual process and cannot be instantaneous.  Breeders who are selecting for health have the difficult challenge of making balanced breeding decisions that balance health, genetic diversity, temperament and conformation.

But itis also worth remembering that there are still large numbers of dogs being bred outside of the influence of the Kennel Club. Puppy buyers can drive continued improvement in Bulldog health by going to responsible breeders and asking to see relevant health test results and looking at whether the breeder’s dogs snort and snore, or have sore looking eyes or bad skin, or appear to have difficulty breathing.

Q. Are there plans to change breed standards for Bulldogs?

All breed standards were comprehensively reviewed in 2009 by the Kennel Club, alongside vets, and make it clear that Health, welfare and soundness are essential and that exaggerated physical features that are detrimental to health are not acceptable. Breed Standards are reviewed on an ongoing basis.  If the Kennel Club were to receive evidence, through scientific research like that being funded by the Kennel Club at the University of Cambridge into Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, that further changes needed to be made to the breed standards to improve health, would be considered.. Part of the work of the Brachycephalic Working group is to look at the Breed Standards and to see if changes are necessary.

Q. Do dog shows make the problems better or worse? What part does dog show judging play?

Only around two per cent of dogs registered with the Kennel Club  ever attend adog show, and these days popular social media accounts for dogs on the likes of Instagram are probably more influential to the public when it comes to how dogs should look - however we firmly believe that dog shows can still be a positive force for good.  In fact, Sir Patrick Bateson in his independent inquiry into dog breeding found that dog shows are a ‘powerful lever for change’ and we are dedicated to making sure this is the case. 

By ensuring that judges are only rewarding healthy, sound dogs we hope to encourage responsible health-focused breeding of dogs without exaggerated physical features which could negatively affect their health.  To achieve this we have introduced robust education and training for judges, veterinary checks at championship dog shows and Breed Watch, which monitors health through judging any physical points of concern in dog breeds that might negatively affect their health and welfare.

Dogs at shows are often far healthier and well cared for across the board than those you see in the street, which highlights how dog shows have been effective in improving the health of dogs that take part.

Q. What do judges look for when judging Bulldogs?

Judges should be judging to the Breed Standard and should be looking for healthy dogs that are good examples of their breed. Judges should penalise any dog that has exaggerated physical features, including closed or narrow nostrils, and dogs that are very overweight or are exhibiting any visible signs of pain or discomfort. 

Q. What health tests are there for Bulldogs and do we make breeders use them?

When an inherited condition has been proven to be a problem for a breed, and providing that a reliable DNA test is available the Kennel Club work closely with breed clubs to make it a requirement or recommendation under the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme.

The Kennel Club funds the work of the Animal Health Trust at the Kennel Club Genetics Centre, to understand the inheritance of dog diseases and to develop DNA tests for conditions for single gene disorders.  During 2017 the Genetics Centre tested over 10,000 dogs and developed six new DNA tests. 

Currently, the recommended health tests are for:

DNA test for HUA (Hyperuricosuria)

Participation in the Bulldog Breed Council Health Scheme

The Kennel Club and University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme.

These schemes encourages health testing and freely publishes the results online.  These schemes helps breeders and puppy buyers to make informed decisions and the Kennel Club strongly recommend that breeders use them, and that puppy buyers always ask if the puppy’s mother and father have been through them.    

The Bulldog is part of the Animal Health Trust’s Give a Dog a Genome Project.  A Bulldog affected with BOAS has had its genome sequenced, and these data have been shared with the University of Cambridge to assist in their ongoing research into the genetics of the condition. 

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