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Wrinkled Wonder—The French Bulldog’s Most Common Health Conditions

Dr. Treat’s breed-specific consultations and comprehensive examination can determine if your French bulldog is at risk for life-altering conditions, and recommend appropriate care to ensure they have a long and healthy life.

Dr Treat
Wrinkled Wonder—The French Bulldog’s Most Common Health Conditions

Key takeaway

The French bulldog’s bat ears, round eyes, and balanced disposition have rocketed this loveable breed to a top-three spot in the American Kennel Club rankings, and the number-one place in our hearts. But the breed’s unique conformation and flat face make it vulnerable to life-limiting genetic conditions that can diminish their quality of life.

T
he French bulldog’s bat ears, round eyes, and balanced disposition have rocketed this loveable breed to a top-three spot in the American Kennel Club rankings, and the number-one place in our hearts.

But the breed’s unique conformation and flat face make it vulnerable to life-limiting genetic conditions that can diminish their quality of life.

Brachycephalic dog breeds

French bulldogs (i.e., Frenchies) are a brachycephalic breed, having unusual-shaped skulls. Characterized by their broad forehead and a short—sometimes almost nonexistent—muzzle, the Frenchie, in addition to other brachycephalic dog breeds, such as the English bulldog, boxer, pug, Pekingese, and shih tzu, have a flat-faced appearance. Unfortunately, these endearing characteristics come at a cost. Brachycephalic breeds’ exaggerated features often cause health issues, including respiratory, orthopedic, neurologic, and eye-related disorders.

French bulldog origins

The French bulldog descends from the English bulldog. During the late 19th century, English lace makers began selectively breeding smaller bulldogs to create a lap dog-sized companion. When the Industrial Revolution forced English workers to migrate to northern France, their small bulldogs accompanied them—and the breed found their champion. French breeders went on to establish the French bulldog’s characteristic traits—including their straight legs, compact body, and moderate jaw. From France, the French bulldog made its way west alongside wealthy Americans, and the Frenchie as we know them —including those erect bat ears—became iconic.

Historic photogrpah between 1875 and 1917
“Brachycephalic breeds’ exaggerated features often cause health issues, including respiratory, orthopedic, neurologic, and eye-related disorders.”

French bulldog health problems

With their square and muscular build, French bulldogs appear to be ready for anything—but numerous genetic and acquired health conditions plague the breed. To limit devastating inherited conditions, reputable French bulldog breeders test their breeding stock, but the results are not always dependable—plus, the family tree of many French bulldogs is unknown.


At Dr. Treat, we have the ability to perform breed-specific genetic testing through which we screen pets for specific inherited condition and disease biomarkers. While genetic test results do not guarantee your French bulldog’s health, they guide us as we customize their veterinary care, ensuring we make wise decisions about your pet’s care so they have the longest and healthiest life possible. Learn about the most common French bulldog conditions that our Dr. Treat team may identify during your pet’s physical examination or through genetic testing:

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)

The French bulldog’s structural malformations—their short muzzle, unique head shape, and body conformation—negatively affect their breathing ability.  BOAS problems include:

Narrow nostrils (i.e., stenotic nares)


Compressed slit-like nostrils and a small nasal cavity restrict normal air flow and reduce air cooling. In severe cases, a Frenchie’s nostrils may completely close or collapse during inhalation.

Elongated soft palate


Excessive soft tissue over your French bulldog’s trachea disrupts normal air movement, and can block the airway. Dogs with this condition breathe noisily, and often snort or snore.

Hypoplastic trachea


Brachycephalic breeds often have a small and narrow trachea, increasing air-flow resistance to and from the lungs.

Everted saccules


With each inhalation, small tissue structures (i.e., everted saccules) on either side of the trachea above the vocal cords are pulled into the airway.

Credit: Diffomédia-Masure/Royal Canin
Examples of BOAS malformation

French bulldogs may have one or more BOAS malformations that cause respiratory compromise, which contributes significantly to your pet’s quality of life. Dogs with BOAS malformations are at risk for developing life-threatening conditions, including respiratory distress, overexertion, exercise-induced collapse, and heatstroke. Persistently increased respiratory effort can lead to complications such as lethargy and weight gain, which exacerbates BOAS.

Your pet’s breed is a key factor in our Dr. Treat customized treatment approach. Our team assesses every French bulldog for BOAS signs, and recommends necessary action (e.g., surgical correction, weight loss, low-impact exercise) to reduce your pet’s struggle, and enhance their quality of life.

Orthopedic disorders

The French bulldog is at risk for many developmental orthopedic conditions, including hip and elbow dysplasia and luxating patellas (i.e., floating knee caps). The breed’s straight legs and compact—but heavy—build further increase their risk for acquired injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture and elbow fracture.

Source: Walkingpets.org

French bulldogs who have orthopedic disorders may display lameness or an abnormal gait that includes bunny hopping, swaying hips, or skipping steps. Treatment for orthopedic disorders may include pain management, weight loss, physical rehabilitation, or surgery.

Neurologic conditions

The French bulldog is predisposed to several conditions that affect the central nervous system. Your Frenchie has a high risk for the following neurologic conditions:

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)


Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between your dog’s vertebrae. Degenerating discs can herniate or bulge and create pressure on the spinal cord, leading to pain, weakness, and paralysis. Depending on IVDD’s severity, we can manage your Frenchie’s pain by prescribing medication and recommending rest, but if your pet becomes paralyzed, surgical decompression will be necessary.

Degenerative myelopathy (DM)


Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between your dog’s vertebrae. Degenerating discs can herniate or bulge and create pressure on the spinal cord, leading to pain, weakness, and paralysis. Depending on IVDD’s severity, we can manage your Frenchie’s pain by prescribing medication and recommending rest, but if your pet becomes paralyzed, surgical decompression will be necessary.

Source: sevneurology.com
Degenerative myelopathy (DM)


Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between your dog’s vertebrae. Degenerating discs can herniate or bulge and create pressure on the spinal cord, leading to pain, weakness, and paralysis. Depending on IVDD’s severity, we can manage your Frenchie’s pain by prescribing medication and recommending rest, but if your pet becomes paralyzed, surgical decompression will be necessary.

Hemivertebrae


Hemivertebrae is a spinal deformity in which the vertebrae are misshapen and do not appropriately align. While some dogs are unaffected, others may experience pain, spinal instability, compression, and paralysis. Because of their body structure, all French bulldogs are predisposed to hemivertebrae.

Although degenerative conditions are incurable, supportive care and symptom management can help dogs maintain comfortable mobility for as long as possible.

Eye disorders

Many inherited conditions may lie behind your French bulldog’s prominent and soulful eyes, which may surface unexpectedly. Frenchie eye disorders include:

Cataracts


Cataracts are an opacity of the lens that blocks light and leads to blindness. Surgical removal is required to restore your pet’s vision.

Cataract in a Frenchie
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)


PRA (i.e., retinal dysplasia) is a deterioration of the retina’s photoreceptors, which results in blindness. PRA may have a juvenile onset (i.e., 2 to 3 months of age) or may occur during adulthood (i.e., 3 to 9 years of age).

Distichiasis 


This condition causes your Frenchie’s eyelashes to grow inside their eyelid, leading to chronic irritation and—in severe cases—corneal ulceration.

Final Notes

French bulldogs’ health risks are outweighed by their capacity for love. Recognizing your dog’s breed-specific requirements and risks is essential to ensuring their lifelong health, comfort, and happiness. Our Dr. Treat team delivers customized care that suits your dog’s unique needs. Visit our membership page to discover the additional priceless benefits you and your Frenchie will receive by becoming a Dr. Treat One member.

Written by:

Dr Treat

A veterinary practice that is reimagining the approach to the health and wellbeing of companion animals.

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