French Bulldog Health
French Bulldogs are known with quite a few health issues. On this page I will attempt to tell more about them. To keep a good overview all diseases are devided in tabs.
Because of this health issues only a small part of French Bulldogs is suitable for breeding. The long list of tabs shows the need for extensive health testing. Health tests is something we highly value.
Unofrtunately a lot of people think breeding is only fun. Without any knowledge they find a male that they think is beautiful to breed their bitch. Both dogs are rarely health tested. Of you look at the list below you can understand that non-health tested French Bulldogs are often not the healthiest among the breed. Of course there are exceptions, or you could get really lucky. When you are searching for a French Bulldog puppy, make sure you are well informed! Ask the breeder about his actions to improve the health of the breed overall. An annual checkup with the vet is nowhere near enough to declare a dog suitable for breeding! A good breeder shows you results of health tests. You will get a clear contract with the puppy that tells you all you want to know. Also, a good breeder will stand by you for as long as the dog shall live. In case there occur any issues he will make sure all is solved properly.
What are we doing to improve the health of French Bulldogs? What health tests we perform and why cou can find on this page.
Allergies express themselves mostly on the skin and they are caused by a complex chain of events in the immune system. Until today, the origin of allergies is not completely clear. Genes seem to play a part in this, and researchers assume that it is at least partially hereditary.
When an allergy presents itself the immune system reacts excessively to certain ‘allergens’ in the surroundings. These allergens can be very diverse, for example different proteins, pollen, plants, insects or nutrition.
Types of allergies
One animal can suffer from multiple allergies at the same time. Generally, we can split the allergies into 4 types:
Also called atopy. Previously we presumed that allergens needed to be in the respiratory system to cause a reaction in the body. Nowadays a lot of dermatologists believe that it is a combination of inhalation and contact with the skin. This is a very frequently occurring problem in French Bulldogs. See the tab ‘Atopic Dermatitis’ for a more in depth explanation.
This is relatively common. The dog is hypersensitive to the bite of a flea. Dogs with flea allergy often bite and lick the back half of their body so much it becomes bald. They have more hotspots and it is hard to catch the flea because the dogs immediate reaction to it: it scratches or bites right after the flea bite. There are good treatments available against flea allergy, of which prevention is the most important. A high percentage of dogs with flea allergy also suffer from other types of allergies.
Also called food intolerance. We do not know how big the percentage of dogs is that suffer from this type of allergy. Multiple conditions exist with the same symptoms. Unfortunately it is hard to tell them apart. Dogs with food allergies can have skin problems, but also problems with the intestines. These dogs usually need an elimination of hypoallergenic diet.
The best way to compare a contact allergy is to think about poison ivy and its effect on humans. When you come in contact with the plant red itchy spots form that can grow out to enormous blisters. Next time that person comes in contact with poison ivy the reaction gets even worse. For a long time researchers believed contact allergies were rare in dogs because of their fur.
Besides from the normal symptoms in a dog with allergies there is often a secund (skin)infection. There seems to be a strong connection between allergies and skin infections. The resistance of the skin is so deminished that infections see a good chance to spread. The infections are ofter re-occurring and can cause problems that are worse then the problems that are linked to the allergy itself. It is important that the infection is well sorted out, so that it can be combated together with the allergy problems. The largest causes of secundary infections are:
This infection is most common in dogs with allergies. The staphylococci can not be transferred to other dogs or humans. Symptoms consist of itch, pimples, hotspots, patchy spots with hair loss with a lot of itchiness. The problem areas are mostly the abdomen and groin area, the bottom of the chest, paws and ears. To set a diagnosis the veterenarian needs a scraping of the skin. There will be antibiotics needed.
This infection is also seen a lot as a secundary infection. The occus in more moist areas. Yeast infections in dogs are different then in humans. Yeasts seem to love the more greasy spots on the skin. Like in the neck and chin area, the lips, the ears and in between the toes. Yeast can cause a lot of itch, even if the infection is not that severe. There are special shampoos available that kill yeat, but antibiotics of ointments are often also needed to kill the yeast.
A combination of both infections is also seen in allergic dogs. It is important to find out wich infection causes the most problems and treat that one first.
Irritatieplekken op de borst
For a long time they thought this was rare, partially because it is hard to set a diagnosis on contact allergy. A lot of dogs chew on their paws, the bottom specifically. This causes redness and even sores. Feet are the parts of the body that have most contact with the allergens. They often have problems on the bottom of the chest and the abdomen. A lot of dogs have a rash on the lips, this is because the allergens are transferred during the licking and chewing of the paws.
One of the reasons a contact allergy is hard to recorgnise due to the testing possibilities. There is no test available that giver 100% certainty. Therapy often exists of elimination of suspicious allergens, such as an animal species in nutrition, or a laundry detergent. The second method is a patch test. Suspicious allergens are placed on a patch on naked skin. The patched must stay on the skin for 48 hours. The dog can not touch the patch. After 48 hours the skin is checked for any reactions to the patches.
Treatment of contact allergy consist of avoiding the responsible allergens. An allergy builds up over time, so every time the dog comes in contact with the allergen it will worsen the reaction against it. A treatment with steroids is sometimes recommended, but this is not a long term solution. The hardest part in contact allergy is the dedication that the owner must have. It is not likely the dog will grow over the allergies, so a life long commitment is needed.
The problem is briefly discussed here, not every allergy is extensively discussed. Although new antihistamines are developed for humans, animal medicine is not yet to that point. The histamines that work on humans unfortunately do not work on dogs. But is promising that research keeps improving in humans. Perhaps animal medicine can benefit from this in treating allergies in dogs
Atopic dermatitis is an allergy of the skin. It is caused by a hypersensitive immune system to very common substances, for example dust mites. It is common in Fench Bulldogs. Under the tab ‘Allergies’ is more information about allergies in general.
The immune system of a dog creates receptors and antiboedies for every substance that is not of its own body. Every antibody is specifically made for that substance. There are different types of antibodies. IgG for example is involved in the protection against viruses, and IgE is involved in the protection against parasites. IgE is the type of antibody that infuences atopic dermatitis. IgE are specialized cells in the skin that wait for contact with certain a type of protein. When that protein is spotted, perhaps a dust mite, the cell releases chemicals that try to destroy the intruder. In atopic animals this system is hypersensitive and the chemicals do not work properly. The cells react too sensitive to any foreign substance such as pollen, fungus and dust mites.
For an allergy to express itself, the dog must first be ‘allergic’ and then exposed to the substance that the abnormal reaction comes from. The number one reason mostly is dust mite. These little animals live in our homes, carpets, beds an any soft fabrics. They feed themselves with dead skin cells that we, humans and animals, shed everywhere. The feces of the mite is what contains most allergens. Dogs also van be allergic to pollen of funges, but they are usually less exposed to that so that allergies are less common.
Another known factor in atopy are certain infections that you may have suffered as a baby or toddler. In children researchers have show that kids with a lot of airway infections at a young age will show less allergy problems. This effect is not know yet in dogs.
Atopic dermatitis often comes to the surface before the age of 2. Owners may notice the dog licking or biting its paws, abdomen and anus. The ears can be red and warm to the touch without any visible damage. Often these dogs show subtle signs of the disease before the age of 1,5. The skin looks normal but skin and ear infections are seen, as well as itch. There problems do not all express themselves at the same time, so linking them is not easy. Only when the problems reoccur or get worse we see that the itch also becomes a lot more severe. Anti-itching therepy becomes a neccesity, the itch dominates the dogs life. Other problems that come with itch are baldness, redness and thickening of the skin. Secundary infections are inevitable.
A lot of dogs are punished for scratching. Without knowing, the owner teaches the dog to lick and bite in secret. Fortunately, there are signs to look out for. Saliva discoloring is one of these signs. A reddish brown discoloring of light hairs is often seen in the armpits of in between the toes. In long term saliva discoloring the skinn will also transform. Instead of pink you will see a black glow, called hyperpigmentation, this develops slowly over time.
At this point there is no test available that will give a 100% certain result about atopic dermatitis. Veterenarians can only suspect the didiease after everyting else is ruled out. Other causes can be fleas, infections or other types of allergies. Every dog will get bitten by a flea at least once in its life but dogs with atopic dermatitis often also have flea allergy.
Food allergy can also be a cause for bad skin. Food allergy can also be seen in dogs with atopic dermatitis as well as with flea allergy.
Bacterial infections can cause even more trouble and a dog with atopic dermatitis is more prone to getting skin infections. The skin has no resilience so an infection is easily developed.
Yeast infections (mostly Malessezia) will cause redness, greasiness and a smell on the skin.
Sometimes a skintest is performed. Suspicious allergens are injected into the skin and after 20 minutes the skin is inspected for any visible reactions.
In atopic dogs it is important to look at the whole picture because a lot of secundary problems can occur. Infections must be prevented as much as possible. This can be done with special shampoos of antibiotics. Corticosteroids (Prednisone) is often given long-term to fight infections and deminisch complaints. Sometimes a dog will be desensitized if the allergies can be proven. Dogs that suffer from a lot of itch can even get depressed.
Avoidance of allergens is one of the most important treatments.
Studies show that when at least one of the parents is atopic, about 60% of their offspring will show signs of atopic dermatitis. When 2 healthy parents are combined, that chance is reduced to 10%. Atopic dermatitis could be almost completely deminished by good selection of parents. Despite that is is hard to diagnose a mild case, it must be taken into account when considering to breed with that animal.
BOAS – Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome
French Bulldogs belong to the brachycephalic breeds. Brachycephalic means short in skull.
In brachycephalic dogs extreme and wrong selection has led to an extremely short muzzly that is almost non-existent.
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome means that the dog has trouble breathing.
A lot of owners do not realise how much their dog is suffering. It may not be that medicine becomes an essential part in the life of a dog.
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome is a complex condition on the upper airways. All at once can occur in the same animal but it is not always the case, at least not in the extent that they cause problems. The anatomy abnormalities that lead to trouble in breathing are:
• Narrow nostrils
• Long and/or thick soft palate
• Enlarged tonsils
• Abnormal structure of the larynx
• Too narrow trachea (trachea hypoplasia)
Unfortunately these dogs suffer from the syndrome thanks to humans. By breeding towards a muzzle that is as short as possible we keep up these anatomic characters and also the consequences of it. It is a hereditary problem.
Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the problems, but most brachycephalic breeds snore more or less. However, by humans this is often seen as ‘cute’, these dogs do suffer when breathing!! Other symptoms are:
• Gurgling breathing
• Choking in excercising and excitement
• Chances for overheating in hot weather, sometimes combined with excercise.
• Severe loss of breath, even loss of consiousness and death as a result. Although a lot of dogs can live without too much problems, the abnormalities will increase over time!
Dangers for dogs with BOAS
Overheating: Panting in hot weather is a normal mechanism for dogs to cool off. But in dogs with BOAS a lot of panting can lead to extra swelling in the upper airways that causes more trouble breathing. Excitement, excercise and heat, especially combined, can lead to severy lack of oxygen and overheating. When this occurs it is an absolute emergency situation.
Risk in anesthesia: Brachycephalic dogs have a higher risk in anesthesia. With exta precautions around the anesthesia and a good guard system odds on complications are small. Important is to always intubate a brachycephalic dogs when anesthatized.
How to diagnose BOAS?
With the respiratoy problems and an physical exam a lot can be seen. In dogs with a clearly detectable sound when breathing your vet can offer to look in to it himself.
When complaints occus such as gagging and severe choking it is neccesary to get the dog under anesthesia for a thorought throat inspection. The length and thickness of the palate can be jugded, the tonsils and the larynx can be inspected. A narrow trachea can only be judged by x-raying the dog.
For mild cases: As stated before, a lot of brachycephalic dogs snore. People think it is normal or even ‘funny’. Still, these dogs have a troubled breathing and a higher risk in excersice, stress and heat. In mild cases with a small surgical procedure de nostrils are enlarged, this often lead to a lot of improvement.
Severe cases: In more severe and regular cases of fainting, coughing and gagging treatment depends on the severity of the abnormalities. The nostrils can be enlarged an the soft palate can be reduced sugically. Usually this leads to dramatic improvement. A narrow trachea can not be treated unfortunately.
Emergency situations: In patiens with acute stress oxygen therapy, corticosteroids and maybe cooling are important elements in treatment. After stabilizing the patient surgery on the nostrils and palate are indicated.
Below you can see a video that shows a BOAS surgery and the dramatic difference in the palate of the dog.
Preventing BOAS problems
Extra caution is advised in extreme excercise, heat and stress. A brachycephalic dog excercising on a hot summer day is asking for trouble. Obesity should be avoided at all cost bacause it obstructs the airways even more.
Dogs that have needed of need surgical procedures must be excluded fram any breeding program and should be neutralized!
Adaptation of the breed standard of wich a short muzzle is now very desirable is neccesary to create a structural solution to this problem!
A healthy dog starts with the selection of the parents. A natural breeding, good pregnancy and a natural birth should be te goal for any breeder. A difficult birth or even a c-section should be an exception, not a standard as is case in many French Bulldog breeders today unfortunately.
French (and English) Bulldogs are know for have troubles giving birth. That is due to a small pelvis in the mother and large heads in the puppies. The ability to self whelp must be high on the priority list in any breeding program. This can only be archieved by minimalizing extreme appearances.
It is absolutely neccesary that breeders do not select their breeding animals solely on looks, but also on instinct and an adequate pelvic passage.
Studies show that the average pelvis passage in a French Bulldog is between 28,8 and 43,6 millimeter. The heads of the newborn puppies measure between 30,3 and 38.6 millimeter. With this numbers it is obvious that problems during birth are inevitable. Unfortunately a lot of French Bulldog breeders and clubs think that the difficulties in labour are completely normal, while more than 80% of births end in a (scheduled) c-section. In some countries a c-section will be performed under local anesthesia only, which is pure cruelty to the mother! This has nothing to do with dog breeding anymore.
It is usual that a bitch that had 2 c-sections is excluded from a breeding program. A bitch that can give birth naturally can get up to 5 litters. This is because a c-section is an enormous attack on the body of the mother! We think c-sections must be officially registered with the pedigrees of the parents. Now we can only hope the breeder tells the truth.. If the c-section had to be performed because of the weak contractions of the mother this must be registered. Weak contractions can be hereditary.
Most of the French Bulldogs are selected for their extreme breed characteristics. The short, broad and compact Bulldogs are often highly rated and desirable in shows. But these extreme characteristics can lead to severe malformations in the spine and also the pelvis. Problems giving birth are inevitable and that is why it should be taken into consideration when selecting an animal for breeding. Short and compast Bulldogs are nice to look at, but ofter those are the ones that are having trouble giving birth. She body posture that is desired, is a wide chest, large head and narrow behind. That is not an ideal body posture to give birth, you do not have to be a doctor to understand why.
When the dog becomes shorter and wider, the higher the change it will get movement difficulties because of the short compressed spine. The shorter the French Bulldog mother, the less space the puppies have inside her. By lack of space the litters will be smaller, but the individual puppies will grow larger. A small amount of puppies that are of a significant size will give a troubled labour.
The risk of large puppies will get smaller when the uterus of the mother provides space for 4 to 6 puppies, a normal average litter size in French Bulldogs. An extreme French Bulldog can not deliver all this mass without damage to other organs. Some breeders even think it is normal that the mother can not eat solid food anymore up to 2 weeks before birth. They simply do not have enough space in the abdomen for a full stomach..
Through a thorough selection in parents, a bitch that anatomically has more chance to self whelp, a lot of suffering can be prevented in the future. Let is be clear that a bitch that not breeds with another male or that does not get pregnant, should NEVER be artificially impregnated. Instinct, and also the urge to reproduce, is hereditary!
Below are the most common eye abnormalities explained.
Hereditary Cataract distinguishes itself from senile cataract by the age of the dog that developed it. An eye with cataract has a cloudy appearance inside the lens of the eye. The function of that lens is to distinguish light and form an image on the retina. When the lens becomes cloudy less light can enter the eye and this decreases vision.
This type of cataract is early onset and usually is hereditary. Hereditary Cataract can occur in one eye only or in both, and it can play up at different moments. There is no evidence that suggests eye colour has a role. A lot of dogs with hereditary Cataract can have a normal life, when they become older the cataract will dramatically decrease vision. Unfortunately the cataract can be so severe that the dog will become blind at young age. Luckily for French Bulldogs a DNA test is available. It is the HSF-4 test, a simple test performed on a cheek swab. There is no treatment known for cataract yet.
Progressive Retina Atropy
Progressive Retina Atropy is also called PRA. It is a hereditary condition that makes the dog go blind. The DNA markers of PRA are known and there are DNA tests available.
PRA is a disorder that affects the retina. The tissue of the retina consist of special cells called photoreceptors. These absorb the licht that comes in. These cells transfer the information to nerve signals. These signals are sent from the retina to the eye nerve an from there the go to the brain. The brain processes this information to what we can see. The receptors in the retina consist of bars and cones. The bars take care of the sight when it is dark and the cones take care of daylight and color perception. PRA is know to affect the bars first, and in a later stage also the cones. Early on in the disease the animals become blind at night, the can not adapt their vision in the dark. Later on the vision during tha day is also affected. If the surroundings stay the same, the dog can adjust very well.
In the meantime the pupils will enlarge in an attempt to catch more light into the eye. This causes a ‘glow’ in the eyes and the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, this means cataract is also developing.
The diagnosis of PRA mostly made by eye specialists. It is visible with an instrument called an indirect ophthalmoscope. During the examination it is neccesary that the dogs pupils are fully dilated. The dog will get specials drops in his eye for that. The eye specialist can quickly see if PRA is present in the eye, the optic nerve will shrink and the blood vessels of the retina degenerate. These changes are visible in every form of PRA. When these abnormalities are shown the dog has advanced PRA. There is no treatment yet for PRA.
In the eyelids of dogs hairs can grow in abnormal places. These hairs are called distichia. Distichiasis can be irritating when the hairs grow towards the eye. Ectopic cilia also are called distichiasis, but these hairs grow from the inside of the eyelid and are very painful. Dogs with normal distichiasis do not have to show symptoms of pain or discomfort. Symptoms that can occur are pinching with the eye or rubbing in the eye.
Dogs with ectopic cilia always have discomfort or pain of it.
The third eyelid will be red and swollen, and visible in the inner corner of the eye. The Cherry eye can be so large it can cover up a portion of the eye or it can be small and temporarily. Any sign of Cherry Eye should be seen by a veterinarian.
Normally the gland in the third eyelid is anchored to the edge of the lower eyelid with a small ligament. In certain breeds that ligament can be weak and the gland pops out. It is more common in brachycephalic breeds.
Often surgery is needed to cure the Cherry Eye. It is important to treat a cherry eye as soon as possible. So that any collateral damage is limited. The gland produces more than 50% of the tears for the eye, so it must not be damaged. Without tears the dog will get dry eyes.
Several skeletal abnormalities and deformities occur in French Bulldogs. On the tabs below this one there are examples shown from several of these conditions.
Anatomy of the Vertebrae
The vertebrae are an important part of the stability throughout the entire spine. In French Bulldogs spine deformities are sadly very common. This is why I would like to show you an overview of abnormalities that can occur in the vertebrae.
First we must understand de dividing of vertebrae in the spine. The vertebral column can roughly be divided in 3 sections. The cervical vertebrae, thoracic vertebrae and lumbar vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae consist of 7 vertebrae, these are also calles the neck vertebrae. The thoracic vertebrae count 13 vertebrae, which form the rib cage and chest. The lumbar vertebrae are consisting of 7 vertebrae. After these 7 there are 3 sacrum vertebrae. These 3 grow together and form the sacrum in the pelvis. A dog with a normal tail has between 20 and 23 caudal vertebrae in it. This are the vertebrae that give shape tot the tail. In an ideal world a French Bulldog will have 5 caudal vertebrae.
For dogs it is important to keep stability in the spine, with as little abnormalities as possible. That is why we x-ray our dogs before we decide to breed them. Due to the compact anatomy of a French Bulldog it is nearly impossible to get a spine without any abnormalities. Luckily we can get a really good view of the spine through x-ray images.
I would like to explain how to recognize abnormalities so anyone without a study can look at a x-ray from a breeder and know a bit more about the health of that dog. Abnormalities are mostly easily spotted, but you must know where to look.
Simply said: a healthy vertebrae has the shape of a rectangle. An abnormal vertebrae has the shape of a trapezium to a triangle. These vertebrae are causing the spine not to go in a straight line anymore. Because of this the abnormal vertebrae and the surrounding vertebrae miss the support of each other. Sometimes this can affect the intervertebral discs als well, and the edges of vertebrae next to it.
These abnormal vertebrae luckily have little consequence in the thoracic region. The chest is well supported by the muscles and the shoulders. Deformities in the transition area from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae have more consequences. Abnormalities in the lumbar area must be absolutely avoided, these give most of the problems. A dog naturally moves more with that area, so other forces are put on that vertebrae than on the thoracic vertebrae. Depending of the severity of the abnormality any deformity in a vertebrae can lead to problems like hernia, back pain, neurological problems and senseless legs.
On the x-ray below you can see a nice spine with good vertebrae and a straight line. This is a healthy vertebral column, as should be normal and achievable for a French Bulldog with normal body proportions. This is not achievable in an extremely typical French Bulldog!
The spinal column looks stable and uniform, the vertebrae are easily distinguished. The spacing on the bottom of the vertebrae is ‘open’, there is no indication for spondylosis (Also see the tab ‘Spondylosis’). The spacing in between the vertebrae is nice and dark, this is an indication that the interverbral discs are okay and not calcified. This dog also has a beautiful, straight tail.
Below another x-ray. Here you can already see visible deformities in the vertebrae, but for a French Bulldog this spine is very good. This dog is 6 years old and has no problems. His spine is flexible and his muscles are soft without excess tension.
And below yet another x-ray to compare with the2 shown above. Below you see compressed vertebrae especially in the thoracic area, and a lot of these are hemivertebrae. It is herder to separate the individual vertebrae. On top of the thoracic vertebrae you see the ‘spikes’. Every thoracic vertebra has one of these. In this picture 2 of them are stuck together. This is called ‘Kissing Spine’.
It gets more severe when the hemivertebrae are in the transition area from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae or even further down the lumbar. Complications later in life are almost inevitable. In these spots ostheoarthritis or damage to the nerves can form.
A stabile spine of a French Bulldog shoul not show any sign of sponylosis. Even large changes in the transition from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae and in the lumber vertebrae itself should not occur ideally.
Even without deformities in the vertebrae a French Bulldog can suffer pain if the interverbral discs are calcified. This calcified interverbral discs can cause problems in the spine, and they can be very painful. They are visible on an x-ray, as you can see below.
If a French Bulldog is not too short in body and if it is well-bred it has a good balance and can move very well thanks to the flexible spine.
Chondrodystrophia is also called dwarfism. French Bulldogs are a dwarf breed. A consequence of dwarfism can be that the interverbral discs calcify sooner and it also influences the abrasion of the skeleton.
Loss in stability and flexibility is a consequence of this. Side effects are hernia’s and stiff spines. If these are discovered too late is can have big impact.
Calcification of the interverbral discs often occurs in relatively young dogs. There is also a connection found with Hyp Dysplasia. The weight of the dog is constantly shifted from the middle of the spine to the front region. This enlarges problems. Of the thoracic vertebrae are already slightly compressed the spine will lose stability. Calcification in the transistional region from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae makes the spine even more stiff. Because of the porous interverbral discs is the spine very weakened. It is a vicious cycle and a ticking time bomb in too many French Bulldogs!
These phenomena are visible on an x-ray at the age of 12-15 months already. Unfortunately x-ray imaging is not mandatory in breeding French Bulldogs and sometimes the animals are even bred before reching this age (!). Regrettably they often have offspring when the condition shows. The advice therefore is to wait breeding a dog until it is close to 2 years of age.
Even a French Bulldog without hemivertebrae can have calcified interverbral discs and pass it on to its puppies!
The bones of researched French Bulldogs show a significant increase in density. In a dog that is 14 kilo we do not need the bone density of a German Shepherd. It makes no sense and in nature these dogs will be selected out of breeding.
Below you can see a comparison.
Left is a 2 year old male, pedigree, HD A.
Right a 11 month old bitch, FCI pedigree, HD D.
This problem is often ignored by breeders, but is is overtypical and it should be avoided!
A French Bulldog with a lighter skeleton is more agile. A dog should be able to reach his head towards his pelvis. If everything is compressed he will not succeed.
In the last couple of years the French Bulldog has mutated into a miniature Mastiff. You can not recognize the terrier anchestors in it. Without health considerations we could be discussing what type is the prettiest. But a dog that suffers from his own body, that can not express itzelf, can not move freely is something nobody should want. Enthusiasts should strive for a healthier type of French Bulldog without any discussion. Nobody wants a dog that is unhappy in his own body, right..?!
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a fatal neurological disorder in the spinal cord of dogs. It is comparable to ALS in humans. The disease has a treacherous start and usually shows itself from the age of 6 years. From the first sign of the disease untill the end lies usually between 6 to 18 months.
A gene linked to DM is found in 2008 in 43 dog breeds. Unfortunatly also in the French Bulldog. A DNA test is available throug a cheek swab.
There are 3 possible outcomes:
Many carriers and clear dogs will not develop the condition, affected dogs can develop it. Dogs that are carrier or even affected can be bred, as long as the partner is clear. This is how you make sure no afftected dogs will be born. As a breeder you can already test your puppies when they are only several days old.
Degenerative Myelopathy starts with weakness and loss of coordination in the lower limbs. It first starts in one leg and later affects the other leg. The dog will drag and wobble with the back legs and it will trip. The nails ravel out and damage of the leg can follow, after that there can be risk of potential infections. Later, when the paralysis gets worse the dog will fall down, especially on slippery surfaces. Walking gets harder. A dog that is in good condition can still run, though. As long as the second leg is viable. Incontinence usually means the last phase of the disease. In th end vital organs will deteriorate. The course of the disease is dependant on the health of the dog and of its surroundings.
The nerves run through the spinal cord, and those control the muscles. The nerves are grouped in bundles in the so called ‘white matter’. This white matter is affected, the isolation (myelin) of the nerves disappears and the nerves die. That causes the control over the muscles to become less and less. This is caused by a mutation in a gene and the presence of a certain allele.
Diagnosis happens through elimination. Multiple diseases can cause DM-like problems, among them are hernia’s, spondylosis, tumours, cystes, infections or a heart attack. A CT and/or MRI can be made. It this inconclusive and the if the DNA test for DM is positive the diagnosis of DM is set. A definitive diagnosis is only possible through autopsy
There is no treatment to stop DM. However, sometimes it is possible to slow the disease. Different treatments that wander online are without any scientific proof. Training improves muscle mass of the muscles that are still viable, wich keep the dog more mobile for a longer period ot time. Training is recommended, like walking and swimming.
Below you can see a video of a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy, this dog is 7 years old.
Unfortunately we still do not know exactly how hemivertebrae are inherited. It is a fact though that they are hereditary. Breeders sometimes use the argument: ‘From a good spine can also come bad spines’. As if this will justify to not take care of healthy spines when breeding.
A healthy back length reduces the risk at defomities in the spine enormously. The difference in back length in these 2 dogs is obvious. They are of the same age.
Hemivertebrae is Latin for ‘changed vertebrae’.
A hemivertebrae is a deformity in a vertebrae. They consist of deformities such as uneven ‘flattening’ of the vertebrae, which makes them triangular shaped. A normal vertebrae is rectangular, with the longer side horizontally.
For reference purposes the first letter of the vertebrae is for what region they are located, followed by a number. In the example below you see thoracic vertebrae, these begin with the letter T. T8 is the 8th thoracic vertebrae. The lumbar vertebrae start with the letter L.
I think it also is important to show x-ray images of a healthy spine for reference.
Below is a series of x-ray images of French Bulldogs with a better spine. Unfortunately within the breed we see a lot of abnormal vertebrae and not completely developed vertebrae in the tail. Though a proper breeding selection I hope these abnormalities will become significantly less. Also we should keep in mind that every dog of every breed has an abnormality of some sort. The perfect spine, or perfect dog, does not exist.
Are you looking for a French Bulldog puppy, compare the x-ray images of the parents to those that I showcase here. When a breeder says its dogs are x-rayed it does not automatically mean the outcome of the x-ray images was good!
I have seen a lot of x-ray images from dogs whose owner states the dog is ‘clear’ from abnormalities. Often abnormalities are still present. Some breeders will assume the images are good, but they themselves do not know how an abnormal vertebrae looks like. This is why I would like to show these images to those that are willing to fight these spinal abnormalities. This way you can make your own judgement and you are not dependant on others anymore!
And below you can see an x-ray image of a dog that was not so lucky.
To compare this x-ray to the images I showed above of French Bulldogs with healthier spines. Below you see a bitch that has a lot of abnormalities in the thoracic vertebrae. The abnormalities are also seen in the transition area from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae. Kissing Spines can be seen (see also the tab ‘Kissing Spines’) and a lot more. The chest is bred so short and wide that the individual vertebrae are almost impossible to distinguish. There is no surgery for this, but probably this bitch is in pain.
Below you can see a dog with a stable spine that shows minor abnormalities.
Hemivertebrae are abnormalities that are hereditary. They are not caused by bad or excessive excercise as a puppy. It is the number one abnormality in French Bulldogs.
Hemivertebrae can occur in a singe vertebra, but often multiple hemivertebrae are seen next to each other. They are mostly seen in the middle of the thoracic vertebrae (T7-T9), and then in the end of the thoracic vertebrae (T10-T13). Unfortunately no extensive research is performed on this subject in French Bulldogs.
Most dogs with hemivertebrae have no problems, however, several neurological symptoms are known. (hernias)
You can rcorgnize these if the dog shows pain or discomfort, bad movement in te back legs, unsteady walking, and even paralysis. Sometimes the paralysis even affects the bladder and the anus and the dog will be incontinent. These symptoms can occur as early as 6 months of age, mostly the problems get worse over time.
Important: Dogs that show signs of paralysis should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible! The longer the paralysis takes the bigger the cance gets that it becomes irreversible.
Treatment depends on the findings during the physical exam. If there are not that many problems medication can help a lot. When no improvement is seen or the symptoms worsen surgery becomes neccesary. The type of sugery depends on the amount of damage to the spinal cord.
Prognosis varies, depending on the severity of the problems and how long they have been present.
For the health of the breed and the well being of the dogs it is neccesary to select parents wisely. We must try to prevent these abnormalities as much as possible. We can do this by x-raying every dog that we intend to breed with, before they are bred. Breeders and breed clubs are the ones to be expected to have the best intentions for the breed and its health and this is how they should act!
Hip Dysplasia (HD) is one of the most common skeletal disorders in dogs. Every dog can suffer from it. When a dog suffers from HD his Hip joints and/or sockets are abnormal. When the hips are under a lot of pressure the condition will worsen. It is irreversible. The inheritance of HD is not simple, many factors are also playing its part, also in surroundings, weight of the dog, slippery floors or exaggerated excercise. No DNA test is available, so any dog with perfect hips can carry HD. This makes it tricky to avoid this disease.
HD occurs in French Bulldogs quite regularly. Because of the size of the dogs and their strong muscles the condition is not always visible. Only when HD becomes very severe the symptoms can not be ignored anymore. With a stable spina and average HD a French Bulldog often does not show any problems. This is because the dog weight mostly focuses on his front legs
Of course ignoring HD is unacceptable, even if the dog compensates with large muscle mass.
In combination with a weak spine HD can have serious consequences. Both amplify each other because when one of them is weak it looks for support in the other.
Most French Bulldog breed clubs do not require official HD examinations, so it is hard to find a breed average. Some publications are made on HD in French Bulldogs. These show that a ‘HD Clear’ result is very rare. The average lies in HD B, transitional form of minor HD (HD C)
In Europe HD classifies in these categories:
HD A (=negative/clear): The dog is based on the x-ray declared clear of HD. This may not mean that the dog is no carrier is the disease.
HD B (=transition): On the images there are small changes visible that are the result of hip dysplasia.
HD C (=mild positive) or HD D (=positive): The dog clearly shows deformations suiting hip dysplasia.
HD E (=positive in optima forma): The hip joints are severely deformed.
A healthy hip consists of round hip joints which fit firmly inside the hip sockets. The femur is straight and not too thick.
Below you see an x-ray image of average HD in a French Bulldog. The hip joints are flattened, not round and not clearly distinguished. The joints are also very loose in the socket, this means that with exaggeration in excercise ostheoarthritis will form.
In French Bulldogs you can also find tragic cases of severe HD. The dog below has luxating hips, in the sockets you can see a whiter edge, this is otheoarthritis. This dogs also shows abnormalities when walking. The dog is 2 years old on this x-ray.
For improving HD problems we need a lot of long-term monitoring, together with the wise use of dogs without and with HD. When selecting parents BOAS needs to be avoided at all costs and also avoidance of spine deformities is very important to improve the breed.
Animals that have the whole package, healthy breathing, healthy spine and healthy hips are very rare. It is important to consider every abnormality, because we can not exclude too many dogs from the breeding stock. Then the genetic diversity will become dramatic. The goals always should be breeding a healthy French Bulldog.
Unfortunately, interest in this is shockingly low in many breeders and breed clubs. Health checks performed on the offspring are also very important to improve abnormalities. If there are any health tests conducted, experience shows that often bad outcomes of it are ignored by breeders.
Acceptation and denial for the presence of abnormalities is one of the worst thing that a breed can come across!
A short figure of a Finnish database shows how little French Bulldogs are officially health tested before breeding. We also see a lot of HD B and HD C results, against very little HD A results.
Below you see an x-ray image of a French Bulldog that had hip surgery at a very young age. This dogs hips are severely deformed.
The OFA (American registration for health test results) has evaluated almost all dog breeds and put then in a ranking list. The breed on the first place has the most HD, the breed on the lowest position has the leat HD. The list consists of 173 breeds and the French Bulldog is ranked 21st place!
The FCI breed standard says the following about the tail of the French Bulldog:
TAIL: Naturally short, ideally long enough to cover the anus, set low, rather straight, thick at the base and tapering at the tip. A kinked, knotted, broken or relatively long tail that does not reach beyond the point of the hocks, is admitted. It is carried low. Even in action, the tail must not rise above the horizontal.
The breed standard tolerated a tail that reaches the hock. That is often an exception. A lot of corkscrew tails are visible and if the dog is lucky is does not pierce in to the buttocks of the dog.
Lately the breed standard has been changed. An ingrown tail is now seen as a reason to discualify a dog on a show. It is a step in the good direction! Unfortunately in French Bulldogs we still se a lot of ingrown tails, where the breed standard asks for a broken, knotted of kinked tail.
You can not always see the pain of an ingrown tail from the outside. Below you see an image that shows a lot.
For owners it is not always obvious that the dog is suffering. Only when big problems occur it is noticed. Veterinarians can clearly see a difference in anal glans problems and parasites that like to hide in the small space underneath an ingrown tail.
A lot of times I have seen French Bulldogs with open wounds and big infections, well hidden under a static tail that can not move. Sometimes there are even maggots hiding!
A breeder should want to avoid these problems. This is possibe by selecting French Bulldogs with a tail they can move, like the dog on the picture below. In any case the tail should ideally not be smushed against the buttocks.
Kissing Spines is a condition that occurs regularly in French Bulldogs.
We often see Kissing Spines in the last half of the thoracic vertebrae. They are mostly coincidental findings in a x-ray. Kissing Spines often is a process that can be worsened by infections. Because of the infection the spikes grot even further together. We see that most French Bulldogs do not show pain from Kissing Spines. But this does not mean it does not hurt! The pain is comparible to the pain a dog with sponylosis feels. French Bulldogs are real actors when it comes to hiding physical discomfort.
Kissing Spines are hereditary!
If a dog shows any signs of discomfort you should make an x-ray of the spine. The spikes can be removed surgically. If the condition stays untreated it can cause paralysis.
The patella, or kneecap, normally lies in a groove on the end of the femur. Luxation means ‘not in place’ or ‘dislocated’. Patellar Luxation means a kneecap that is not in place. Often the patella shoots back in to the groove when the dog moves its leg.
Most people have seen it: a little dog that sometimes ‘hips’ with one of his back legs. It can look funny sometimes, but it is mostly painful. That limp is typical for Patellar Luxation.
The patella is meant to slide in a groove (the Trochlear Groove on the images) on th end of the femur. The patella works like a pulley when the dog is walking. The patella creates a leverage.
If the patella is not properly functioning the dog will develop problems. The knee gets thick and the dog walks on 3 legs for a while, until the patella shoots back into the groove. This can take 1 second, but sometimes it never gets back.
On top of the patella is a ligament attached. This ligament holds the patella in place and attached to the big thigh muscles. On the bottom also is a ligament, this is connected to the tibia. These 2 ligaments help to keep the patella inside the groove.
The patella can luxate in 2 ways, toward the inside or towards the outside of the knee. In smaller dogs luxation to the inside is most common, the patella luxates towards the other leg. The knee itself turns away from the body slightly.
About half of the dogs that suffer from Patellar Luxation have the condition in both knees. If kept untreated this can lead to a lot of pain.
The dog usually put a lot of weight on the leg. Because of the pain the dog unburdens the les. This causes the entire balance to be disrupted, the hips, spine and other leg must carry more weight. This can lead to ostheoarthritis.
4 degrees of Patellar Luxation exist. A veterinarian can distinguish the degree very well.
Clear: The kneecap shows a completely normal moveability.
Grade 1: This is a patella that can be luxated. This means that by manipulating the patella and/or turning the femur the patella can be pressed out of the groove of dislocate spontaneously. When the leg is in normal position the patella shoots back into normal position. Those dogs will never suffer from this condition in the future.
Grade 2: During standing, walking or playing the patella incidentally or spontaneous shoot out of the groove and make the dog limp. This is a mild case of Patellar Luxation. Some dogs put the kneecap back in its normal position by stretching their leg backwards. Because of the regular luxating movement ostheoarthritis, cartilage deformities and flattening of the Thochlear Groove will arise.
Grade 3 and 4: Here the patella is luxated permanently and the Throchlear Groove is flattened. This is very important to document in the breed for health reasons!
Operated: Animals tht suffered from Patellar Luxation grade 2, 3 or 4 that have had surgery. It is also important to document this data.
If the Patellar Luxation stays untreated the patella and the Trochlear Groove will get infected. The groove will flatten and the patella can luxate even more easy. The ligaments are also stretched and ostheoarthritis foms.
What causes Patellar Luxation?
Genes play a big part in the origin of Patellar Luxation. It is important that the parents are tested for this. Smaller breeds also are more sensitive to it. Patellar Luxation can also originate from a trauma.
The abnormalities that cause Patellar Luxation: First and most common is a weak or stretched out ligament. The dog is born with this. Often Patellar Luxation is present in both knees.
Secondly, the groove is too shallow. To make sure the patella stays in the groove it must be deep enough for the patella not to shoot out. Some dogs are born with an abnormally shallow groove.
The third cause can be that the lower ligament is attached on the tibia in the wrong position, too far inwards. This cause is usually seen in dogs with extremely short legs, such as Dachshunds. Sometimes this can correct itself in growing up.
French Bulldogs are no softies, they do not show any pain. Unfortunately a luxating patella is hard to hide. The limp in one back leg and sometimes scream a little when running. Sometimes you can even hear plopping noises in the knee area. If you recorgnize these symptoms, go to a veterinarian. In a normal consult he can tell you if the dog suffers from Patellar Luxation. Normally the veterinarian takes a few x-ray images to see if any damage is done,
Patellar Luxation needs surgery. It is the only way to cure this condition. Not every grade Patellar Luxation needs surgery, in grade 1 and 2 animals can live fine without surgery. They will have the limp sometimes in walking.
For every dog with Patellar Luxation it is very important not to get obese. Extra weight on the hips and knees causes a great burden.
Spondylosis is a degenerative condition to the spine. Spondylosis are ‘bridges’ in between vertebrae. These can form on the bottom or on top of the vertebrae. In time the entire spine stiffens and becomes solid. Spondylosis is hereditary!
A big thank you goes out to Claudia Fuhrmann of gesunde-bulldoggen.de for providing many of the information and pictures on this page!