At one time, when many of today’s breeds were being created, they were developed solely with their future purpose in mind. Breeds like the bulldog were developed without considering the health of future generations. Consequently, the bulldog developed various deformities. While modern breeders are choosing to maintain much of the breed type, they are taking some steps to correct health issues that have developed in the breed.
The American Kennel Club bulldog standard of perfection calls for the head to “appear very high and very short from the point of the nose to the occiput.” That means the dog should have a round head with a high dome and a pushed-in nose. This kind of head, known as a brachycephalic head, often results in dogs having persistently tearing eyes with turned in lids, breathing difficulties and skin folds that are prone to irritation and infection. Dogs with brachycephalic heads often have other abnormalities that lead to breathing difficulties.
The bulldog’s airway problems start at the very beginning; that is, the breed has stenotic nares -- narrow nose holes -- that make it difficult for him to take in air. The effect caused by the narrow nasal passages is exacerbated by a dog having an elongated soft palate. Dogs with this condition have a soft palate that partially blocks the opening of the trachea, sometimes reducing their air intake to such an extent that the dog passes out from the lack of oxygen going to his brain. In addition, some bulldogs are born with a hypoplastic trachea. This condition, which is characterized by a trachea that is too small to support the dog’s needs, can be managed with medication but not corrected.
The bulldog’s shape is caused by a kind or dwarfism known as chondrodystrophism. This condition causes the dog to have its characteristic shortened head, as well as short and sometimes bowed legs. Dogs with chondrodystrophism can develop other issues with their skeleton, including hip and elbow dysplasia, disproportionate growth between the radius and the ulna in the forelegs and reduced range of motion.
Hemivertebrae or Screw Tail
Bulldogs can have hemivertebrae, which are deformed, wedge-shaped vertebrae. These vertebrae can twist a bulldog’s tail into what is known as a screw tail. This kind of tail curls around itself, sometimes so tightly that the tip grows inward, into the dog’s body. This extreme condition is not only painful, but it can cause persistent infections and gait problems.
What is Being Done
The Bulldog Club of America, the AKC parent club for the breed, acknowledges that some breed traits are problematic. They encourage breeders to strive for health clearances in all of the areas mentioned above, as well as in cardiac and thyroid health. Such efforts may lead to improved health for the bulldog in the future.