Bulldogs have grown tremendously in popularity in the United States over the past decade — rising from the 21st most popular breed in 2000 to the sixth most popular in 2010, according to the American Kennel Club — but the very same qualities that make them attractive to owners also threaten the health of the breed, an expansive report from the New York Times Magazine finds.
For decades, bulldogs have been bred to accentuate facial and body characteristics that make them appear more like human children. They have shorter faces, big eyes, short legs, and big heads with huge smiles. But these physical traits also leave bulldogs prone to breathing problems, difficulty walking, and an inability to give birth without surgery.
"It is the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world that results in congenital and hereditary problems," Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle told the magazine.
Other bulldog health problems caused by indiscriminate breeding include "ear and eye problems, skin infections, respiratory issues, immunological and neurological problems," as well as the highest level of hip dysplasia of all dog breeds, according to the magazine.
All of this leads journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis to ask if it is "ethically defensible to continue breeding [bulldogs] at all."
The British Kennel Club has already responded to the crisis by revising the standard by which it judges the bulldog breed. The new standard now calls for a slightly smaller and wider head than in the past, along with a lesser degree of facial wrinkles. The Bulldog Club of America, which sets the standard in the U.S., told the magazine they have no plans to change their standard.
Tragically, these health problems are nothing new. In 1994, Time magazine ran a cover story on bulldogs, blaming the American Kennel Club, legitimate breeders, puppy mills and the demanding public for the breed's health problems. (The online version of the article is dated 2001.)
The website Bulldogs World also blames what it calls "backyard breeders" for the fate of the breed, saying "It can take many years for responsible breeders to correct the damage done by a few backyard breeders." The site cautions that breeding of bulldogs should only be done out of love, and that responsible breeders will not find any profit in raising the animals. Even with responsible breeding, the site says that most bulldogs now require artificial insemination to achieve pregnancy and as many as 95 percent of bulldog births are achieved through C-sections.
The Bulldog Club of America Rescue Network offers several tips on adopting bulldogs, including making sure that your local veterinarian understands the health needs of the breed. The site suggests making sure that 24-hour emergency veterinary care is available, keeping bulldogs out of hot areas since they are susceptible to heat exhaustion, and preventing the animals from over-exerting themselves.