BVA urges new bulldog breed standards

English bulldogs may have reached a genetic “tipping point”

DNA research suggests the English bulldog may have reached the tipping point genetically and that reversing the breed’s inherited health issues will be difficult.

After digesting the findings by three University of California, Davis, researchers, British Veterinary Association President Sean Wensley recommended that breed standards be revised “to include evidence-based limits on physical features such as muzzle shortness and full consideration of other approaches such as outcrossing” to ensure the breed does not “continue to suffer unnecessarily.”

The study’s lead author, Niels Pedersen, DVM, Ph.D., a professor in the UC Davis veterinary school, wondered whether breeders had gone too far.

“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,” he said.

Dr. Pedersen and his fellow researchers showed that 400 years of breeding to alter the appearance of mastiff-type bull baiting dogs has rewired large chunks of its genome, leaving “little wiggle room … for making additional genetic changes,” he said.

While generations of inbreeding have produced the bulldog’s comical good looks and easygoing disposition, numerous problems arose:

  • High rates of congenital diseases and related deaths among puppies.
  • Flat chests, splayed legs and cleft palates.
  • Breathing problems due to brachycephalic.
  • Hip, joint and spinal problems associated with chondrodysplasia.
  • Teeth, skin, heart, eye and immune system issues.
  • Need for Cesarean births.

It all adds up to an average lifespan of a little more than eight years.

The British Veterinary Association “will continue to work with all stakeholders who can positively influence and improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic breeds,” Wensley said.

“Veterinary practices are ideally placed” to advise prospective owners of the underlying health issues of brachycephalic breeds and to suggest healthier alternatives, Wensley added.

The study appeared in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology and was funded by the Merial Veterinary Scholars Program and the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health and Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

Originally published in the September 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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