The English Bulldog now ranks as the #4 most popular dog breed in America. This statistic has veterinary experts worried, and for good reason. Once considered healthy dogs, 73 percent of Bulldogs now suffer from hip dysplasia, a genetic condition that causes painful limping and arthritis. Their face and jaw are so badly compressed that there isn't enough space to fit all of their teeth, causing crooked teeth and painful overcrowding. Most Bulldogs have elongated soft palates that leave them gasping for breath -- or worse, hospitalized with heat stroke after a few minutes of exercise.
The English Bulldog now suffers from every genetic disease possible and most die an early death. A recent survey by the British Kennel Club revealed the average lifespan of America's favorite mascot is only 8.25 years, almost 30% shorter than all other dog breeds. Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle calls the English Bulldog "the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world."
Originally considered a healthy and athletic breed, Bulldogs have been transformed into a monstrosity of genetic illnesses. With A-list celebs spending as much as $50,000 on a Bulldog puppy, reckless breeders continue to destroy the health of the iconic breed by creating puppies with gigantic heads, heavy wrinkling and short unnatural bodies that are barely functional.
Are We Driving the Bulldog Extinct?
English Bulldogs can no longer breed naturally. The male Bulldog's heavy front and awkward shape make reaching the female all but impossible. For Bulldogs, letting nature take its course can be deadly. Males become exhausted -- and without being supervised, will overheat, vomit and could die due to the strain. Bulldog puppies have heads so large that they can't fit through their mother's birth canal, resulting in 80 percent of Bulldog births being performed via Cesarean section.
The Bulldog's heavy wrinkles and short, stubby body cause delight among admirers but suffering for the beloved breed. Nothing is more evident of this than when a Bulldog is intubated for surgery: they don't spit out the intubation tube upon waking like other breeds because the tube provides better airflow than their natural airway. Muscle and tissue in back of the Bulldog's throat can easily block the entire airway and brachiocephalic (flat-faced) breeds like the Bulldog have the highest risk of death during anesthesia of any breed.
Even something as simple as digesting food is can be very difficult because of the bulldog's peculiar build. When I paid a visit to Lynn and Anthony Greenwald, owners of Tank, a 2-year old English Bulldog, I watched Lynn hand-feeding small pieces of mushed food to the dog. "He gags if he eats on his own and will pass out when the food gets stuck in his throat. I have to feed him every meal by hand with tiny pieces of food so he can swallow the food without gagging it up." Tank has been hospitalized twice for inhaling his vomit while eating -- a serious and deadly condition called aspiration pneumonia that affects many Bulldogs.
English Bulldog: Then vs. Now
Today I'm meeting Dr. Roy Kraemer, a Bulldog specialist on the front line in the battle to save the breed. Dr. Kraemer is devoted to bulldogs and sees the heartbreaking consequences of bad breeding every day in his veterinary clinic in Orange County, CA. As medical director for SoCal Bulldog Rescue (SCBR), Dr Kraemer houses, feeds, and provides medical treatment for up to 25 rescued Bulldogs at any given time. When I enter his waiting room, I'm greeted by one of SCBR's rescued bulldogs, Greta. Greta's owners used her for breeding and abandoned her after her body broke down so badly she could no longer reproduce.
When Greta first arrived at Dr. Kraemer's office, she couldn't walk due to years of being confined to a cage too small to stand or extend her front legs. Greta's condition was so grave it made her ineligible for adoption, so Dr. Kraemer and SCBR raised money for advanced stem cell therapy treatments that eventually allowed her to walk again. She now spends her days greeting visitors at Dr. Kraemer's Bulldog clinic. When she's off the clock, she can be found enjoying a nap in the clinic or soaking up a little sun in the grassy play area outside.
Bulldog Care is Expensive
There is no shortage of Bulldogs requiring medical attention at Dr. Kraemer's. I also had the pleasure of meeting Betty, known around the clinic -- tongue-in-cheek -- as "Betty Boob". Betty came into SCBR's care in an emergency state due to excessive breeding and negligence by her owners. After numerous litters, her breast tissue had become badly deformed by painful scar tissue and her blistered nipples dragged down to the floor, making every movement excruciating.
Her vagina was engorged, irritated, and badly infected by fold dermatitis, a highly treatable condition that went completely ignored by her owners. Betty requires extensive reconstructive surgery, including a radical mastectomy and vulvoplasty to repair her vaginal skin. Dr. Kramer and SCBR are currently trying to raise money for her costly procedure and hope to have it complete in the coming weeks.
Despite the long line of abandoned, rescued, and surrendered bulldogs in need of medical care, Dr. Kraemer is quick to say "English Bulldog owners are fanatic about their dogs. Most are devoted and exceptional owners that will go to every extent to provide quality care for their Bulldog." Skeptically, I ask him if he really believes there are ethical Bulldog breeders. "There really are ethical English Bulldog breeders out there. You may not think so from the stories you hear and what you see here at the clinic, but some breeders care very much about the health of the puppies and caring for the parents," he says. "But, it's imperative that any person wanting to own a Bulldog does their homework: first on the breed itself, then on where the puppy is actually coming from."
Wrapping it Up
The English Bulldog has been so heavily bred that it looks nothing like its early counterpart. This leads dedicated Bulldog parents to go into debt or, regretfully, surrender their beloved pet because the cost is beyond their ability to pay. Maybe someday, the this breed will be bred less for "looks" and more for good health and sturdiness.