British Bulldogs at high risk of skin disease and obesity

Ownership of the iconic British Bulldog has doubled but the breed is particularly prone to ear infections, skin infections and obesity, according to the largest ever study of British Bulldogs treated in first opinion veterinary practices.

The research, led by the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompass programme, revealed British Bulldog ownership has almost doubled from comprising 0.35% of all puppies born in 2009 to 0.60% in 2013. However, the findings show that due to breeding trends 12.7% of British Bulldogs suffer from ear infections, 8.8% from skin infections and 8.7% from obesity.

Also, there are a number of conditions that are more prevalent in British Bulldogs than in other dog breeds: skin fold dermatitis (7.8%), prolapsed gland of the third eyelid or ‘cherry eye’ (6.8%), interdigital cysts (3.7%), entropion or inward turning of the eyelid (3.6%), and corneal ulceration (3.1%). Many of these issues are linked with certain desired aesthetics encouraged when breeding the dogs such as the wrinkly face.

Only 3.5% of the 1,621 British Bulldogs analysed in the study were diagnosed with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). This suggests owners consider breathing problems such as snoring as normal for this short-muzzled breed and therefore not taking the dogs for needed check-ups with their vet.

The results of this study will support initiatives by the Kennel Club and the UK Bulldog Breed Club to improve breeding and also help owners and vets prioritise tackling the leading issues British Bulldogs face.

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 body weight for a British Bulldog is 26kg.
  • 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%).

Dr Dan O’Neill, VetCompass epidemiologist at the RVC and chairman of the Brachycephalic Working Group, said: “ 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 is pivotal to good decision-making.”

Dr Rowena Packer, BBSRC research fellow at RVC, added: “This data supports 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.”

Charles BradburyThe study is published in PLOS ONE.

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