French Bulldogs are everywhere. If you haven’t seen one of these adorable goblins walking down the street, strutting alongside an Instagram influencer, then you’ve probably seen images of their scrunched faces stamped onto tote bags or glazed onto a succulent pot. They are the fourth most popular dog in the United States and the second most commonly registered pedigree breed in the United Kingdom. Their rapid rise in popularity seemingly has no end — that is, unless the genetics we force on them become too unwieldy, said scientists in a paper published Wednesday.
There’s a real risk that we’ll doom the breed with our insatiable need for cuteness, say researchers from the United Kingdom’s Royal Veterinary College explained in a new Canine Genetics and Epidemiology paper. They explain that French Bulldogs are already predisposed towards a heap of medical maladies and that the characteristics that make them aesthetically desirable drive some of those health risks. Short muzzles and prominent eyes may make them look like fuzzy, big-eared babies, but those looks make for an unhealthy dog.
“There is worry that increased demand for the French Bulldog is damaging to these dogs’ welfare because of the health risks associated with their extreme physical features,” lead author Dan O’Neill, Ph.D., explained in a statement released Wednesday. He says that he hopes that this study, the first on French Bulldogs living in the United Kingdom, will help owners understand what issues they should expect and “may also help potential new owners decide if a French Bulldog really is for them.”
Prior to this study, scientists had already learned that the dogs were “predisposed to several disorders including ocular, respiratory, neurological, and dermatological problems.” These include brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, corneal ulcerations, and spinal disease — conditions that increase in prevalence as the dogs age. These symptoms manifest as heavy breathing, excessively protruding eyes, hair loss, and signs of dermatitis in the French Bulldog’s signature facial skin folds.
In this new study, the scientists analyzed data collected on 2,228 French Bulldogs who received veterinary care in the United Kingdom in 2013, finding that these dogs commonly experienced ear infections, diarrhea, and conjunctivitis. Skin problems, likely linked to their abundance of skin folds, were the most common issue. Approximately 12.7 percent of the dogs in the study sample had severe breathing issues, which is also connected to the breed’s short noses and flat faces.
Male French Bull dogs were also found to be generally less healthy than the females, with males more likely to be diagnosed with eight of the 26 most common health problems experienced by the breed. There “were no issues that females were more likely to get than males,” said O’Neil.
Of course, this study only counted the number of French bulldogs whose humans actually brought them to the vet, so the actual number of sick pups might be a lot higher. Ultimately, selective breeding is to blame for their ill health. Over the centuries, humans have mated dogs to magnify particular characteristics in their offspring, creating a population of domesticated dogs that look almost unrecognizable to their wolf forebears. In fact, the dogs of today even look vastly different to those that lived 100 years ago, as they’ve been bred to exaggerate features that meet Disney standards of cute, regardless of their series serious medical cost to health.
The English bulldog is the most public — and smooshed-up — face of this problem. In 2016, scientists announced in the same journal that it would be very difficult to improve its health because its gene pool is basically beyond repair. “The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime,” study lead and University of California, Davis veterinarian Niels Pederson, Ph.D., said at the time. “More people seemed to be enamored with its appearance than concerned about its health.”
Whether or not it’s too late to help the gene pool of French Bulldogs remain to be seen. In the meantime, if you have a Frenchie, make sure to clean out those face-flaps.