English Bulldog Breed Information – Questions and Facts

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.


What are BCA members and others doing to improve Bulldog health?

The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) is a centralized health database for dogs, sponsored in part by 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.


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 addresses 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.

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 excessive heat.


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.

We recommend that you 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 many 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 Bulldog.


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.