English bulldogs should be bred to have less extreme body features – or risk being banned on welfare grounds, experts have warned.
A new study has found that English bulldogs are much less healthy than other dogs, and that many of the conditions they suffer from are linked to the traits they have been bred for.
Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College compared the risks of common disorders using records from veterinary practices across the UK of 2,662 English bulldogs and 22,039 animals from other breeds.
Their research, published in the journal Canine Medicine and Genetics, found that the breed is twice as likely to be diagnosed with at least one other disorder than other dogs.
They showed predispositions for more 24 out of 43 specific disorders, and were many times more at risk of breathing, eye and skin conditions than other dogs, the study found.
Only 9.7% of English bulldogs in the study were more than eight years old, compared with 25.4% of other breeds, supporting the view that a shorter lifespan of the dogs is linked to their overall poorer health, the authors said.
English bulldogs were originally developed as a muscular and athletic dog for bull-fighting but were later bred as show animals and pets, with exaggerated features including a short skull, a protruding lower jaw, skin folds and a squat, heavy build.
The breed has risen sharply in popularity over the past decade in the UK, and remains extremely popular despite the dogs’ physical features making them prone to serious health conditions.
But other countries such as the Netherlands and Norway have restricted the breeding of the dog in recent years.
The experts behind the study called for English bulldog breed standards to be redefined towards more moderate characteristics, to enable the UK to avoid following the lead of other countries in banning the breed on welfare grounds.
Study author Dan O’Neill said: “These findings suggest that the overall health of the English bulldog is much lower than that of other dogs.
“However, what is most concerning is that so many of the health conditions that English bulldogs suffer from, such as skin fold dermatitis and breathing problems, are directly linked to the extreme structure of their bodies that has been selectively bred for.
“Given the continued popularity of the breed, the body shape of the typical pet English bulldogs should be redefined towards more moderate physical characteristics.
“Doing so will not only improve the dogs’ health, but could also enable the UK to avoid following other countries in banning the English Bulldog on welfare grounds.”