Looking at the sturdy American bulldog, it's hard to believe this strong guy has any health issues. A healthy diet and adequate exercise go a long way to help a dog maintain his good health, but every dog, no matter what breed he is, has potential health risks. For the American bulldog, those issues include hip dysplasia, bone cancer and some eye conditions.
The American bulldog is only one of the large breed dogs vulnerable to hip dysplasia, one of the most common skeletal conditions in dogs. If your dog's hip joints didn't develop normally, they will degrade over time, making it difficult for him to move. If it's a congenital condition, you'll probably see signs before his first birthday. Symptoms include a lower activity level -- especially movements that include running, jumping or climbing steps -- a swaying gait, pain in the hip joints, loss of muscle mass in his thighs, back legs unusually close together and developed shoulder muscles to help take on the dog's workload. Radiographs are critical for properly diagnosing hip dysplasia and treatment depends on the size and age of your dog, as well as how significantly his hips are affected. Surgery to rotate the hip socket is useful for juvenile dogs, while some older dogs receive hip replacements. Anti-inflammatories and pain medications are useful for managing the condition and weight management is crucial to minimize the load on your dog's hips.
Any dog can develop bone cancer, but the American bulldog is one of the breeds especially vulnerable to this disease. There's no established cause for bone cancer, which takes one of four forms: chondrosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, fibrosarcoma and osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer. Osetosarcoma usually develops in the long bones or hip or shoulder bones, though the ribs, spine, skull and pelvis are at risk. Large and giant breed dogs, such as the American bulldog, are particularly vulnerable to osteosarcoma. Pain and lameness is the first indicator of bone cancer, and often a dog's given medication to address his symptoms, delaying diagnosis. X-rays are the best way to study a dog's lameness, as they can exclude other conditions and show potential changes characteristic of bone cancer early in the disease. Amputation and chemotherapy are becoming increasingly effective in treating osteosarcoma.
The American bulldog has a few eye conditions he's vulnerable to inheriting, including entropion, occurring when part of his eyelid folds inward or is inverted. As a result, an eyelash may scratch his eye's surface, leading to corneal ulceration, and eventually, scar tissue buildup. Over time, entropion potentially can cause a decrease or loss of vision. The condition usually is diagnosed by the time the pup turns a year old and is characterized by a pus or mucus discharge from the outer corners of his eyes. If your dog has an ulcerated cornea, it will be medicated with antibiotic ointments. Surgery is sometimes required to fix his eye permanently. Ectropion, when his eyelid turns out, and cherry eye, a pink mass in the eye, are other eye conditions potentially affecting an American bulldog.
Many medium and large breed dogs are prone to hypothyroidism, an inherited disease of thyroid deficiency. The thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), lowering his metabolism. Symptoms include weight gain and hair loss on the front of the neck and chest, sides of the body, backs of the thighs and tail. Lower heart rate, cold intolerance, lethargy and dry, thick, puffy skin are other signs of hypothyroidism. A blood test helps confirm diagnosis, and though the condition is permanent, it can be treated with a synthetic hormone replacement given twice daily.
All in Good Health
Just because a dog is predisposed to a disease doesn't mean he will get sick. Understanding what your American bulldog may be vulnerable to allows you to be aware and watch for any signs he may be developing a condition. As well, if you're in the market for an American bulldog, find a reputable breeder who knows the background of his dogs and can provide records of their medical and genetic history. For example, dogs with a history of hip dysplasia will not be bred by an ethical breeder.
- PetMD: American Bulldog
- National Kennel Club: American Bulldog Breed Standard
- PetWave.com: American Bulldog: History and Health
- PetMD: Hip Dysplaysia in Dogs
- BoneCancerDogs.org: Bone Cancers
- PetMD: Abnormal Eyelid in Dogs
- WebMD: Hypothyroidism in Dogs
- The Pet Lover's Guide to Canine Arthritis & Joint Problems; Brian Beale, Ian Holsworth, p. 51-53
- dnsphotography/iStock/Getty Images