The bulldog is a beloved British icon, according to a new study – one that’s in pretty bad shape.
A recent study by the UK’s Royal Veterinary College (RVC) compared the veterinary records of more than 2,000 English Bulldogs with 22,000 dogs of other breeds and found that English Bulldogs were twice as likely as other dogs to have at least one disorder. during 2016. also more likely than other races to suffer from more than half of the 43 disorders studied.
Bulldogs suffer from many health problems because their physical characteristics have been exaggerated by breeding. Especially high levels have been seen in skin, eye and respiratory problems, as well as protruding lower jaws. Bulldogs were 38 times more likely to suffer from skinfold dermatitis compared to the general dog population.
The life expectancy of British Bulldogs is just 7.2 years. The average dog is expected to live 12 years.
It’s been more than ten years since the BBC stopped airing the Crufts dog show after a documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, highlighted welfare issues associated with dog breeding. Breeding dogs for extreme physical characteristics such as long backs and flat faces is detrimental to their health. And breeding within a small gene pool has led to high levels of hereditary disease in some breeds.
Many scientific studies have shown the devastating problems caused by breeding pedigreed dogs.
Given these facts, is it ethical to breed bulldogs? The UK’s Animal Welfare Act states that pet owners have a duty to meet the welfare needs of the animals in their care. These include the need to be protected from pain, injury and illness.
There is ample evidence that many bulldogs experience pain and illness because of the traits they are bred to show. The RVC study focused on physical health, but anatomy also affects an animal’s behavior. Many bulldogs cannot mate or give birth without the help of humans and even playing and exercising can cause discomfort. This goes against another of the dog’s welfare needs – being able to behave normally.
Therefore, in its current form, breeding bulldogs is unethical. Race needs to change radically. This can only be achieved if breeders purposely avoid breeding harmful traits, even if it means losing or tempering the breed’s distinctive appearance. A modified bulldog, bred for health and wellness, would make a better national mascot. If this cannot happen quickly, there is a strong case for restricting reproduction. The Netherlands and Norway have already done so.
The problems, of course, are not restricted to English Bulldogs. Other breeds with shortened skull shapes (brachycephalic), such as pugs and French bulldogs, have difficulty breathing. The shorter the snout, the greater the problems they have with breathing.
However, while studies prove the risks, these breeds have become more popular without any improvement in the health of most dogs. Either the public is still unaware of the danger to these dogs’ health, or they believe their cute appeal trumps concerns for their well-being.
Flat-nosed dog owners often think of hereditary disorders, such as difficulty breathing, as normal for the breed. Some may even enjoy taking care of a disadvantaged animal. This notion is wrong. Owners who buy dogs with exaggerated physical characteristics drive a market for traits that reduce the length and quality of a dog’s life.
All breeds are at risk for hereditary diseases as they are bred within a closed gene pool. But for some breeds, these disorders are more common or more severe, and for many breeds that also exhibit exaggerated traits, the problems are exacerbated.
Animal charities encourage people looking to buy a dog to research the breed. There are resources available to help and guides on how to choose the healthiest animals within a breed. However, to really drive positive change, we may need to stop buying some races altogether.
When I first reviewed pedigree dog breeding in 2009, my co-authors and I described actions that could improve the situation. Actions included collecting health and mortality data from all dogs, revising kennel club registration rules to prevent mating between related dogs, and opening stud books to allow crossbreeding with other breeds. None of them have been reached yet.
But there has been some progress. For example, many descriptions of kennel club breeds have been subtly altered to encourage less exaggerated traits. There are more DNA tests available to help breeders select the healthiest parents, and researchers, including RVC, have stepped up their data collection. But the sheer number of dogs that still suffer and the popularity of these breeds suggest that not enough has been done. There needs to be a change in what the public thinks. We should look for pets that have a genetic makeup and upbringing that makes them likely to lead happy, long, pain-free lives.
Animal care, marketing and research professionals all have vital roles to play in protecting dogs. But so are we. The images we share of dogs and the choices we make when we adopt or buy a pet can help spread the message that beautiful dogs are those that are healthy, happy, and able to run and play.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Nicola Rooney has already received funding from the RSPCA