English bulldogs are renowned for their poor health – in fact, they’re known as one of the world’s unhealthiest dog breeds. And we’re afraid that things aren’t going to get much better for the breed, as scientists have said there might not be any way to improve its health because years of inbreeding has limited its gene pool.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, said many large regions of the dog’s genome have been altered for appearance purposes, with detrimental effects on the breed’s health. In response to the research, the RSPCA said more needs to be done to protect the dogs’ health in the future.
A spokesperson told The Huffington Post UK: “The RSPCA believes that all those who breed dogs should prioritise health, welfare and temperament over appearance when choosing which animals to breed, in order to protect the welfare of both the parents and offspring.” English bulldogs are known to suffer from a wide range of health issues, resulting in a much shorter life expectancy.
“Pet insurance statistics show just how short a bulldog’s life expectancy is, typically not much more than seven years,” Dr Bruce Fogle from the London Vet Clinic told HuffPost UK. “Poodles and dachshunds live twice as long.” Dr Fogle explained that some dogs might suffer from chronic skin and eye diseases, which can prove distressing for the pet and costly for owners.
“But breathing and heart problems are the killers,” he added. According to the RSPCA, dogs with short, flat faces often have narrow nostrils and “abnormally developed windpipes”, which can cause severe breathing difficulties. Researchers wanted to find out whether there was still enough genetic diversity existing within the breed’s gene pool, which could be used to improve these health issues.
They examined 102 English bulldogs, 87 dogs from the US and 15 dogs from other countries. These were genetically compared with 37 English bulldogs presented to the US Davis Veterinary Clinical Services, to determine that the genetic problems of the English bulldogs were not the fault of commercial breeders or puppy mills. Researchers concluded that the English bulldog has reached a point where popularity “can no longer excuse the health problems that it endures”.
Lead author, Niels Pedersen from Center for Companion Animal Health, University of California, Davis, said: “More people seemed to be enamoured with its appearance than concerned about its health. Improving health through genetic manipulations presumes that enough diversity still exists to improve the breed from within, and if not, to add diversity by outcrossing to other breeds. “We found that little genetic ‘wiggle room’ still exists in the breed to make additional genetic changes.”
Pedersen added: “These changes have occurred over hundreds of years but have become particularly rapid over the last few decades. “Breeders are managing the little diversity that still exists in the best possible manner, but there are still many individuals sired from highly inbred parents. “Unfortunately eliminating all the mutations may not solve the problem as this would further reduce genetic diversity. We would also question whether further modifications, such as rapidly introducing new rare coat colours, making the body smaller and more compact and adding more wrinkles in the coat, could improve the bulldog’s already fragile genetic diversity.”
In response to the findings, Dr Bruce Fogle said bulldogs should be bred with healthier dogs, to “introduce new and better genetic material”. The RSPCA said more needs to be done to protect dogs. “It is recommended that registration rules are revised to put a limit on the number of offspring that can be fathered by any one sire (stud dog),” explained a spokesperson for the charity. “Using the same dog for many matings increases the level of inbreeding and the risk of inherited disease.”