Birth defects, such as flat chests, have led to high puppy mortality. A skeletal disorder common to the breed causes high rates of hip dysplasia. #Bulldogs’ wrinkly faces beget acne and eye problems. Their underbites often mean dental troubles. But the biggest issue is their smushed, “brachycephalic” faces, large palate and narrow nostrils — visages their wolf ancestors might not even recognize as canine. They can cause a bulldog to pant like mad while exercising, slobber like a fountain while resting, choke and gag while eating, suffer from heat stroke, and, to top it off, have unusually wicked flatulence.
The litany of health problems common to the English bulldog, as the breed is formally known, has been at the center of a controversy over breeding in Britain since 2008. That year, a damning BBC documentary on purebred dogs’ poor health and welfare, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” prompted several independent reports and caused the Kennel Club — the British counterpart to the #American Kennel Club — to modestly revise its standards for several breeds, including the bulldog.
The debate has barely made a ripple here, across the pond, where Americans’ love for the baby-faced dogs has made them the fourth most popular breed registered with the AKC. But Niels Pedersen has been paying attention.
Pedersen, a veterinarian at the Center for Companion Animal Health, at the University of California at Davis, said he noticed the argument in Britain boiled down to two sides. On one were animal rights activists and veterinarians, who said bulldogs had been so inbred and selectively bred to conform to breed standards that they were doomed unless crossed with other breeds. On the other were breeders, who denied there was a problem or said it could be addressed through carefully engineered mating, which has for generations been done using dog pedigrees — family trees, essentially.
Bulldogs World, a website devoted to the jowly breed, cites a stunning figure among its frequently asked questions: More than 90 percent of bulldog puppies are delivered by Caesarean section. That’s because the puppies have such enormous heads that they can’t fit through the mother’s birth canal — and that’s just the beginning of bulldog medical woes.