For the Love of a Bulldog

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An article in the New York Times Magazine describes how bulldogs — the 6th most popular dog breed in the United States — suffer from severe health problems due to the “extreme traits” they are bred to have and that owners find so lovable.

Bulldogs’ wrinkly, flat faces and tiny nostrils make it hard for them to breathe, and their short legs and heavy bodies make it difficult to walk, the Times reported. A 2008 British documentary, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” and three independent reports published since then have all drawn attention to the health risks faced by the breed, and some critics claim the bulldog can only survive if breeding practices change.

“They aren’t athletic or especially healthy,” Diane Judy, a former bulldog breeder told the Times. “Most can’t breed without help — they’re too short and stocky. Most can’t give birth on their own — their heads are too big. A breed that has trouble doing those two things is, by definition, in trouble.”

Bulldogs haven’t always faced this problem. The name “bulldog” derives from the dogs’ participation in bull-baiting, a popular sport in England in the early 19th century. Bulldogs in a bull-bait would throw themselves at a bull and try to hold on to its nose; the sport was so violent that it was banned in England in 1835.


In that era bulldogs had smaller heads, longer muzzles, leaner bodies and a long tail, the Times reported, and were described in an 1845 book as being “fitted for nothing but ferocity and combat.” That all changed in the mid-19th century, when bulldogs began to be bred as household pets. Their faces were shortened and flattened, their legs got shorter, and rather than being fit and ready to fight, they are now much more likely than other breeds to encounter health difficulties, from ear and eye problems to skin infections and respiratory illnesses.

“We’ve shortened the face of this breed so much that there’s just not enough space for everything to fit,” Dr. William Rosenblad, a canine-tooth expert, told the Times. “The tongue, the palate, it’s all compressed…. The end result of all the compression is that many bulldogs can barely breathe.”

Not only does this lead to respiratory problems, but it also puts bulldogs at risk when they exercise or even just sit in the sun for a long time, since they cannot breathe well enough to cool themselves easily. Even eating is difficult. The average bulldog lives only slightly longer than six years.

In the United States, some veterinarians, breeders and animal-welfare experts are beginning to wonder…. The Humane Society organized its first conference on the topic of purebred-dog health and welfare, last spring. HSUS chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, said the conference signaled the beginning of a new era for the HSUS, which until recently has been focused on what he calls “more obvious” forms of animal cruelty. “Inbreeding and other reckless breeding practices may not be as bloody as dogfighting or as painful to look at as puppy mills, but they may ultimately cause even more harm to the well-being of dogs,” he said.

Though a number of breeds were discussed at the conference (including the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which is beset with severe heart and neurological diseases), the bulldog stole the show. “It is the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world that results in congenital and hereditary problems,” Pacelle said.”

So what’s the solution? Some critics of current bulldog breeding practices believe the standard for the breed should be changed, essentially redefining what characteristics should be valued in a bulldog. The British Kennel Club revised its bulldog standard in 2009, but the American Kennel Club has not followed suit. It is time that we expect more of our breeders! To contact the AKC with your concerns, email them here!

I think that it will only help if people learn to adopt and not shop. There are so many breed specific rescues, especially for bulldogs, that are trying to place them into loving homes!  The question is…. Can the bulldog be saved?

If you are looking into getting a bulldog, PLEASE contact the Illinois English Bulldog Rescue. Even if they don’t have what you are looking for, they will help you find the perfect dog!  


“Adopt, Don’t Shop”