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A new study from the Royal Veterinary College warned the shape of bulldogs must be altered to prevent a host of debilitating conditions. English Bulldogs are at increased risk of breathing, eye, and skin conditions due to their extreme physical features, including shortened muzzles, folded skin, and a squat body.
Currently, the Royal Veterinary College holds bulldogs have a short lifespan of around eight years partly due to its health problems.
Findings from the college found the breed were more than 38 times more likely than other dogs to get dermatitis in skin folds and nearly 27 times more likely to get an eye condition called ‘cherry eye’.
Bulldogs are also over 24 times more likely to have a jutting lower jaw and ran nearly 20 times the risk of obstructive airways causing breathing problems.
They also are 13 times more likely to have a cyst between the toes. more than 12 times suffering from dry eye, 11.5 times rolled inward eyelids, eight times the chance of mange nearly five times the rate of foot infections, and over three times more likely to have a skin infection, wet dermatitis and dermatitis.
The study, published in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics suggests that they should be bred to have more moderate physical features both for their health and to prevent their breeding being banned.
The breed was originally developed as a muscular and athletic dog for bull-fighting but has now been bred as a show and companion animal with a short skull, protruding jaw, skin folds, and squat, heavy build.
Study author Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor of Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC said: “Every dog deserves to be born with equal and good innate health by having a natural ability to breathe freely, blink fully, exercise easily, have healthy flat skin, mate and give birth.
“For breeds such as English Bulldogs where many dogs still have extreme conformations with poor innate health, the public have a huge role to play by demanding dogs with moderate and healthier conformations.
“Until then, prospective owners should ‘stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog’.”
Dr O’Neill added: “These findings suggest that the overall health of the English Bulldog is much lower than that of other dogs.
“However, what is most concerning is that so many of the health conditions that English Bulldogs suffer from, such as skin fold dermatitis and breathing problems, are directly linked to the extreme structure of their bodies that has been selectively bred for.
“Given the continued popularity of the breed, the body-shape of the typical pet English Bulldogs should be redefined towards more moderate physical characteristics.
“Doing so will not only improve the dogs’ health, but could also enable the UK to avoid following other countries in banning the English Bulldog on welfare grounds.”
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Researchers compared the risks of common disorders in English Bulldogs to other dogs by analysing records from veterinary practices across the UK from 2016 using the VetCompass database.
Looking at a random sample of 2,662 English Bulldogs and 22,039 dogs that were not English Bulldogs, they found that English Bulldogs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with at least one disorder than other dogs.
The breed showed predispositions for 24 out of 43, or 55.8 percent, specific disorders.
Dr Alison Skipper, co-author and veterinary historian, said: “Around 1900, some bulldog breeders were already concerned that the exaggeration of ‘certain typical points’ was ‘intensifying predispositions to disease’ and producing ‘cripples and deformities’ with ‘a sadly shortened duration of life’.
“This new research provides strong evidence that modern bulldogs remain troubled by many diseases linked to their body shapes, most of which have been recognised for more than a century.
“It confirms the need to follow the example of more responsible breeders who prioritise health in breeding decisions to improve the welfare of this popular and iconic breed in the future.”
Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeder Services Executive at The Kennel Club, said: “This research shows, there are increasing numbers of bulldogs bred outside any sphere of
influence and in a certain way because it is perceived to be ‘cute’, with little regard for health and welfare.
“This research, funded in part by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, enables us and all those who care about improving bulldog health to understand more about these complicated issues.
“Careful, responsible breeding can help address health problems and progress has been made to improve and protect bulldog health by those reputable breeders and caring owners who make use of evidence-based tools, like The Kennel Club/University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme.
“A collaborative approach to tackling these issues is crucial; we must continue to work together with breeders, vets and welfare organisations to reduce and ultimately eliminate the health problems faced by brachycephalic breeds, as well as reduce mass demand for these dogs.”
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