Study shows there's no cure for the English bulldog blues

August 8, 2016

UC Davis researchers say the lack of genetic diversity in English bulldogs is concerning for the future of the breed.

(Getty Images)They can't fit through their mothers' birth canals. They're plagued by serious respiratory problems because they are brachycephalic. They die at a median age of a little over 8 years of age. Won't someone help the hapless English bulldog?

In a recent study from the University of California, Davis, researchers examined the DNA of 102 registered English bulldogs predominantly from the United States and 37 English bulldogs seen at UC-Davis for various health issues and found there is no going back to a healthier conformation.

“We were taken back by how little ‘wiggle room' still exists in the breed for making additional genetic changes,” says the lead researcher of the study Niels Pedersen, DVM, PhD, of the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health, in a release.

English bulldogs are plagued not only by brachycephalic syndrome, which has been bred into them for five centuries to create their characteristic smushed faces. In addition, English bulldogs are prone to:

  • Flat chests

  • Splayed legs

  • Cleft palates

  • Chondrodysplasia, causing hip and elbow dysplasia and other joint and spinal problems

  • Dental, skin, heart, ocular and immune system problems

Pedersen says that breeders have been trying to alleviate this situation, but the DNA analysis shows that matching an English bulldog with any another English bulldog is likely to result in these same health problems. Possibly the only way to make them healthier is to introduce a different breed to bring in some genetic diversity.

“We definitely would question whether further attempts to physically diversify the English bulldog, for example, by rapidly introducing new, rare coat colors; making the body smaller and more compact; or adding further wrinkles in the coat; are going to improve the already tenuous genetic diversity of the breed,” Pedersen says.