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English Bulldogs: Medical Problems You Should Know About

English Bulldog sprawled out in humorous fashion

The English or British Bulldog is an old breed of dog originally developed on the British Isles. Ancient Mastiffs from Asia are believed to have been used to establish the core of the breed.  The early Mastiffs were known for their ferocity and their ability to bring down aggressive prey.  The first English Bulldogs were bred in the 13th century for “Bull baiting” and dog fighting.  The goal was to develop a breed that was nearly insensitive to pain.  With their short muzzle and wide lower jaw, bulldogs were able to clamp down on a bull’s nose like a vise thereby incapacitating their victim.  When dog fighting was banned in England in 1835, a group of breed fanciers banded together and reinvented the breed by eliminating the aggressive nature from the early English bulldogs.  The bulldog was tamed by adding Pug traits to the breed thereby transforming the bulldog from a bull fighter to a family oriented pet with a laid back personality.

The English bulldog is now one of the top 10 most popular breeds in the United States since 2007.  In fact numerous College and Universities make use of the English bulldog as their official mascots.  The English bulldog is a medium sized dog ranging in size from 40 to 50 pounds and stands 12 to 14 inches in height.  The AKC has recognized the English bulldog in the non-sporting group since 1886.  This breed is not a good choice for obedience training since they reportedly scored low on the intelligence scale.   Some claim that the low rating in intelligence is actually due to a stubborn streak.   As a breed, the English bulldog is highly food motivated. This breed is a loyal family pet that requires little mantance and as an adult often prefers to be the perfect couch potato and bed buddy if you can overlook the snoring and drooling.

Are you ready to adopt that cute pudgy puppy with the flat face and characteristic shuffling gait?  There are a few medical issues you may need to be aware of.  The English bulldog is reported to have an average life expectancy of 6.5 to 12 years.  This breed is easily stressed from heat or overexertion resulting in hyperthermia (elevated or high body temperatures) or over-heating.  Temperatures of 85°F can cause hyperthermia presenting in cyanosis, and collapse and when left untreated may result in the death of the pet.

The English bulldog is not a good swimmer.  Short legs and a heavy frame are not great attributes for good swimmers.  It is best to directly supervise this breed when around water.  A life jacket may prove to be a good investment when the family enjoys being around water.

This breed is predisposed to a variety of respiratory problems termed “Brachycephalic Airway Obstructive Syndrome” or BAOSBrachycephalic breeds (flat-faced breeds) of dogs have a shortened skull which results in a compressed nasal passage and altered pharyngeal anatomy (area between the mouth, nose and the esophagus).  The primary defects with BAOS include: stenotic nares (nostrils), elongated soft palate and a hypoplastic (small) trachea.  These anatomical changes in turn lead to negative pressure within the pet’s airway requiring increased respiratory effort which in turn causes a variety of secondary changes.  **Secondary changes include everted laryngeal saccules, laryngeal collapse **(upper part of the windpipe) and everted tonsils.**

Initially the clinical signs of BAOS may be limited to stertorous breathing, loud snoring during sleep, coughing and mild exercise intolerance.  Later gastrointestinal clinical signs such as vomiting, retching, gagging, and regurgitation may also develop.  Affected dogs may have difficulty eating and uncoordinated swallowing which in turn may result in aspiration pneumonia (pneumonia resulting as a consequence of swallowing wrong) and aerophagia (swallowing of air).  Patients whose primary complaint may be vomiting and diarrhea may often relate back to BAOS and may occur with or without hyperthermia and aerophagia.    

Digestive anomalies that will often occur concurrently with elongated soft palates include:  cardial atony, gastroesophageal reflux, gastric retention, pyloric stenosis, pyloric atony, duodenitis, and gastroduodenal reflux.

A 2010 study found that 77% of Brachycephalic dogs have stenotic nares, 94% have elongated soft palates, 66% have everted laryngeal saccules, 31% have laryngeal collapse, 39% hypoplastic (smaller than normal) tracheas and 56% have everted laryngeal tonsils.

The English bulldog often requires assistance in breeding and is commonly affected by dystocia (problems with delivery of puppies).   Cesarean Section is characteristically preformed as an elective procedure thereby preventing complications at delivery.

Orthopedic problems that commonly affect the English bulldog include hip dysplasia and patellar luxation (knee cap that moves to the side).

The English bulldog is one of the 10 most commonly affected breeds affected by juvenile-onset generalized demodicosis as a consequence of infection with a mite D canis. 

The English bulldog is predisposed to a heritable form of Cherry eye or prolapse of the glands of the third eyelid.  Other possible eye problems include entropion (a rolling of the eyelid toward the eye), ectropion (a droopy eyelid), districhiasis (more than one hair in an eyelash follicle), dry eye, and ectopic cilia (eyelashes in abnormal positions). These conditions are suspected to be inherited but do not represent potential compromise of vision or other ocular function. 

This breed is predisposed for the development of intracranial arachnoid cyst (IAC).  This is an infrequently reported developmental disorder seen primarily in small-breed dogs especially males.  This syndrome is most commonly seen clinically with the pet presenting with generalized seizures and/or cerebellovestibular dysfunction (balance problems).   English bulldog puppies are more commonly affected with congenital hydrocephalus.  These puppies may appear mentally dull and have behavioral problems.  More severely affected puppies may develop neurologic symptoms of head pressing, pacing, circling and seizures.

This breed has a greater frequency of cancer.  One of the most common cancers is the formation of mast cell tumors.  The most commonly affected age group is those from 8.5 to 9.5 years of age.  Reportedly spayed females are affected 30% of the time and intact males 30% of cases.

English Bulldogs may be sensitive to anesthesia.  This sensitivity may be secondary to BAOS or a consequence that anesthetics may concentrate in the fat tissue of an individual.  It is best to choose a veterinarian that is familiar with the breed to avoid complications.


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