English Bulldogs are wrinkly, adorable dogs full of personality. Their pressed noses make them look eternally grumpy, which only makes them more endearing. Yet, the problem with this distinct look is that it’s the result of selective breeding, which can, unfortunately, put them at risk for serious health complications.
There’s a good chance that if you own an English Bulldog, you’ve heard them gasping, snoring, or panting heavily. Your dog’s health issues may include everything from difficulty breathing to bone defects. It’s essential to be aware of the most common English Bulldog health issues and how to best take care of and prevent them. Your lovable four-legged family member deserves it.
Before diving into common English Bulldog health issues, let’s explore how and why they became a breed in the first place.
Selective breeding is when breeders choose which dogs reproduce based on specific traits. Some select for abilities, others for physical characteristics. Back in the 17th century, bull-baiting, a cruel sport where dogs would be sent in one at a time to take down a bull, was one of the most popular events in Europe. Breeders needed a dog that was low to the ground, could bite with immense force and was stubborn enough never to let go. Thus, breeders selected the Old English Bulldog for this “sport.”
This narrow selective process caused the Old English Bulldog health problems that continue to affect bulldogs today. Breeders have cherished the distinct features that English Bulldogs are known for and emphasized them in excess, unintentionally making them susceptible to illness.
English Bulldog Common Health Problems
The following are 10 English Bulldog common health problems.
#1: Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome
Brachycephalic is Latin for smooshed face, and every English Bulldog has Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS) to some degree. BAS is common in animals that have shortened facial features that give them the pushed-in nose. According to the ACVS, bulldogs “have been bred to have relatively short muzzles and noses and, because of this, the throat and breathing passages in these dogs are frequently undersized or flattened.” Their noses are narrow, and the bones on their face are shorter, which causes an array of health risks:
- Breathing problems and panting
- Chronic discomfort
- Exercise intolerance
- Difficulty eating
The symptoms of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome worsen with obesity, so giving your pup a healthy diet and monitoring their weight can provide them some relief. It’s advised that for Brachycephalic breeds dogs with only mild symptoms, BAS can be managed by avoiding stress and overheating and getting regular exercise.
#2: Difficulty Breathing
When looking at the root cause of health risks in bulldogs, upper airway defects caused by Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome wreak a lot of havoc. No one wants their pooch to struggle to take a breath, but unfortunately, breathing can be a big problem for bulldogs. Genetic abnormalities caused by selective breeding significantly impact your pup’s airways. Here are some of the most common breathing problems issues found in English Bulldogs:
- Elongated soft palate – With Brachycephalic dogs, often the soft palate extends into the airway, making it harder to breathe. Having an elongated soft palate creates more resistance in the airway. And when pressure builds, it can lead to edema, or inflation of the palate, causing the airways to narrow.
- Stenotic Nares – This condition occurs when your pup has pinched or narrow nostrils that struggle to take in air. You know this condition from that signature Bully snore and snort. If it becomes a health hazard, your vet may recommend surgery options to widen the nostrils.
- Pneumonia – Pneumonia happens when the lower respiratory tracts become irritated. This irritation usually occurs when your dog inhales vomit or regurgitation and can cause severe damage to the lungs and surrounding tissue.
#3: Temperature Regulation
Brachycephalic dogs have trouble panting effectively, and panting is what regulates their body heat. You must keep your English Bulldog at a comfortable temperature. Make sure your home is air-conditioned, and avoid going out in hot weather with your pup.
Signs of overheating include:
- Excessive panting
- Heaving while panting
- Discolored, flappy tongue
- Exhaustion while trying to breathe
- Odd throat noises
- Foaming of the mouth
Overheating Prevention and Treatment
To prevent overheating, be sure to have a ventilated place for your pup to sleep and keep a close eye on their behavior in weather above 80 degrees. When you see any symptoms of overheating, here’s what you can do:
- Cooldown – Get your bulldog into a cold-water bath and pour fresh water over their head. If you don’t have access to a tub, use a hose to spray them down and ensure that their paws are thoroughly soaked. Some Bullie owners use cooling vests that you soak in cold or ice water and use on hot days, long walks, or strenuous exercise. When used as directed, these can really help with overheating.
- Get hydrated – Give your pup plenty of cold water to drink.
- Get out of the heat – Bring your dog inside and put them in front of a fan after using water to cool them down.
- Increase airflow – Use your fingers to spread your dog’s fur to open up the coat and increase airflow. Bulldogs’ wrinkled coat works as an insulator, so by moving it around, you decrease the level of insulation.
If your English Bulldog is anxious to get outdoors, sometimes it’s best to let them experience the heat for themselves. Let your pup outside for a minute on those hot days, and they will soon be scratching at the door to come in. Just be sure to keep a watchful eye on them.
#4: Skin Problems
Sadly, the adorable folds bulldog owners know and love have a downside. Some English Bulldog health problems symptoms include skin infections and irritation.
- Eczema, or “canine atopic dermatitis,” is the most common skin issue found in bulldogs. It causes itchy, dried-out skin that can turn into a scaly rash. Allergies, stress, and bug bites are the most common causes.
- Bacterial infections like staph, pyoderma, and dermatitis also can occur. These infections can either be surface level or go deeper underneath the skin.
- Hot spots, or “acute moist dermatitis,” are an allergic reaction to different skin irritants like bug bites and parasites and appear as round sores on the skin. English Bulldogs also can suffer from acne caused by dirty pores.
- Interdigital cysts are also common in bulldogs. Cysts form between the toes, swelling into large bumps. Treat cysts with a simple cleaning, but be careful not to overdo it. Excessive cleaning can worsen the condition.
The best way to prevent your pup from scratching is to get ahead of it. Wash your English Bulldog regularly and consider medicated shampoos and lotions designed for bulldogs. You might even want to try some stress-reducing and immunity-building supplements for a more holistic approach.
#5: Bone and Joint Disease
The reason that English Bulldogs have such a unique build is because of a structural defect called chondrodysplasia. Chondrodysplasia is an abnormal growth in cartilage, which increases your dog’s likelihood of having bone and joint problems.
- Canine Hip Dysplasia – Dysplasia happens when bones don’t fit snugly into their joints, and it’s most commonly found in the hips. It causes pain, exercise intolerance, lameness, and even difficulty getting up. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, English Bulldogs have the highest incidence of hip dysplasia of all dogs—71% of them are dysplastic.
- Joint and Ligament Injuries – English Bulldogs’ build makes them more susceptible to joint and ligament injury. If your bully over-exercises or gets injured, especially as a puppy, it could lead to long-term issues like osteoarthritis. The best way to prevent this is to keep your dog’s diet healthy and engage in a consistent exercise routine.
- Arthritis – Like in humans, canine arthritis is when cartilage in the joints becomes worn down or injured, and the bone loses its protection. The exposed bone starts rubbing against each other and causes severe discomfort.
Most joint and bone issues in bulldogs can be prevented by getting your pup to a healthy weight. Dogs will often hide their pain, so with English Bulldogs, it’s crucial to look out for signs like disinterest in playing and slow movements.
#6: Eye Problems
If your bully is getting to that ripe ol’ age, know that old English Bulldog health problems include vision issues.
- Cherry Eye – The Cherry Eye is the most common vision problem in English Bulldogs. The Nest describes Cherry eye as “a relatively minor complaint caused by an enlargement and resultant prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid.” In layman’s terms: It looks like a bulging red bump at the corner of the eye.
- Brachycephalic ocular disease – English Bulldogs’ facial deformity also impacts their eyes. Bulldogs suffer from an array of ocular diseases because their shallow eye pockets let in dust and debris.
- Dry eye – Dry eye occurs in bulldogs because of a decrease in aqueous fluid, a key component of tears. Crying clears away contaminants from the eyes, and the inability to produce tears causes irritation and can lead to more severe eye problems.
Daily care of your bully’s eyes can go a long way in preventing ocular disease. Most problems occur when their shallow eyes let in debris, so regularly clean your pup’s eyes with vision medication designed for bulldogs. Be vigilant of eye disease symptoms like runny eyes and discharge.
#7: Head shakes
If you’ve seen head shakes firsthand, you know how scary the condition can be. You’re hanging out with your furry friend, when suddenly their head starts vibrating uncontrollably—sometimes violently enough to be mistaken for a canine seizure.
If this happens, take your precious pup to the vet right away to get checked out. This condition usually results from low blood sugar and stress, but sometimes there can be more pressing medical issues that require immediate attention. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to looking out for your bully.
Bulldogs have the most allergies of any breed due to their genetic makeup abnormalities.
- Food allergies – Food is a sensitive point for bulldogs. Generic food brands with low-quality ingredients often trigger allergies in English Bulldogs. Symptoms include itchy skin, fecal issues, excessive shedding, and ear infections. Avoid wheat, corn, soy, and artificial ingredients whenever possible, and talk to your vet about which food brands are the best for preventing bulldog allergies. English Bulldogs are prone to be gassy, so choosing the right food is important. Lucy Pet offers limited ingredient dog food options that have the precise balance of essential nutrients and are perfect for sensitive stomachs.
- Skin allergies – One cause of skin infection in English Bulldogs is allergic dermatitis. Your pooch may be sensitive to flea bites or environmental allergens like pollen and mold. When skin allergy symptoms arise, dogs will scratch and potentially make matters worse by tearing the skin, leading to further infection. It’s best to treat skin irritation as quickly as possible.
#9: Thyroid and Heart Disease
Health issues from selective breeding have also caused problems in the internal organs.
- Thyroid – Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid slows down, which causes decreased production of thyroxine, the hormone responsible for regulating the metabolism.
- Heart – Pulmonary Stenosis is a heart deformity most often found in English Bulldogs. According to UFAW, Pulmonary Stenosis is a “congenital narrowness or constriction of the outflow from the right side of the heart.” It blocks blood flow and can lead to heart failure or even death. You can catch this disease early with regular heart assessments at checkups.
Hyperthyroidism can be treated effectively with medications that maintain hormone levels. As for the heart, it’s possible to surgically treat Pulmonary Stenosis by placing a balloon in the narrow area to increase blood flow. Your vet will evaluate how to best deal with your bully.
Bulldogs are especially susceptible to cancers like lymphoma and mast cell tumors.
- According to PetMD, Lymphoma is a “blood-borne cancer of lymphocytes, which are a specific type of white blood cell.” Knowing that your puppy is susceptible to Lymphoma means that you can take steps to get ahead of it and detect it early. Pet your bully often around the lymph nodes to monitor any possible swelling. Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in dogs, but luckily, it is also very treatable.
- Mast cell tumors, or MCT, are involved in your dog’s response to allergens and inflammation. It makes sense that bulldogs suffer from MCT when considering their sensitivity to other allergens. Mast cell tumors vary in appearance and can show up as raised bumps, redness, or swelling.
Health Management and Early Detection
It can be overwhelming to see all of the health risks that come along with the English Bulldog breed, but knowing this information gives you the ability to do something. These common health concerns can be managed and treated with preventative care, early detection, and veterinary expertise.