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Demography and disorders of the French Bulldog population under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013



    Despite its Gallic name, the French Bulldog is a breed of both British and French origin that was first recognised by The Kennel Club in 1906. The French Bulldog has demonstrated recent rapid rises in Kennel Club registrations and is now (2017) the second most commonly registered pedigree breed in the UK. However, the breed has been reported to be predisposed to several disorders including ocular, respiratory, neurological and dermatological problems. The VetCompass™ Programme collates de-identified clinical data from primary-care veterinary practices in the UK for epidemiological research. Using VetCompass™ clinical data, this study aimed to characterise the demography and common disorders of the general population of French Bulldogs under veterinary care in the UK.


    French Bulldogs comprised 2228 (0.49%) of 445,557 study dogs under veterinary care during 2013. Annual proportional birth rates showed that the proportional ownership of French Bulldog puppies rose steeply from 0.02% of the annual birth cohort attending VetCompass™ practices in 2003 to 1.46% in 2013. The median age of the French Bulldogs overall was 1.3 years (IQR 0.6–2.5, range 0.0–13.0). The most common colours of French Bulldogs were brindle (solid or main) (32.36%) and fawn (solid or main) (29.9%). Of the 2228 French Bulldogs under veterinary care during 2013, 1612 (72.4%) had at least one disorder recorded. The most prevalent fine-level precision disorders recorded were otitis externa (14.0%, 95% CI: 12.6–15.5), diarrhoea (7.5%, 95% CI: 6.4–8.7), conjunctivitis (3.2%, 95% CI: 2.5–4.0), nails overlong (3.1%, 95% CI% 2.4–3.9) and skin fold dermatitis (3.0%, 95% CI% 2.3–3.8). The most prevalent disorder groups were cutaneous (17.9%, 95% CI: 16.3–19.6), enteropathy (16.7%, 95% CI: 15.2–18.3), aural (16.3%, 95% CI: 14.8–17.9), upper respiratory tract (12.7%, 95% CI: 11.3–14.1) and ophthalmological (10.5%, 95% CI: 9.3–11.9).


    Ownership of French Bulldogs in the UK is rising steeply. This means that the disorder profiles reported in this study reflect a current young UK population and are likely to shift as this cohort ages. Otitis externa, diarrhoea and conjunctivitis were the most common disorders in French Bulldogs. Identification of health priorities based on VetCompass™ data can support evidence–based reforms to improve health and welfare within the breed.




    URT disorders were the fourth most common grouped-level disorder, reported in 12.7% of French Bulldogs. The most commonly recorded fine level disorders within the URT group included brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) (2.4%), URT disorder (2.1%), and stenotic nares (1.7%). BOAS encompasses a range of primary or secondary disorders that may include stenotic nares, enlarged tonsils, elongated soft palate, everted lateral saccules of the larynx, narrowed rima glottides, collapse of the larynx and tracheal hypoplasia [33, 34]. BOAS is considered a major animal welfare concern, with the lives of affected animals negatively impacted both while awake and asleep by clinical signs including chronic breathlessness, exercise intolerance, eating difficulties and disrupted sleeping including periods of apnoea [35]. The relatively low prevalence of recorded diagnoses of BOAS and other respiratory problems in the current primary-care population using a retrospective observational study design is in sharp contrast with the findings from some other prospective clinical studies. A prospective study of BOAS in the UK reported that 70% of French Bulldogs attending a referral veterinary hospital and 75% of a general population of French Bulldogs had BOAS based on clinical history, owner questionnaire and clinical examination [7]. A UK clinical study using whole-body barometric plethysmography reported that 89.9% of French Bulldogs tested were affected by BOAS to some extent, with 53.9% exhibiting clinically relevant disease [9]. These latter data suggest that many truly BOAS-affected French Bulldogs may be accepted as ‘normal for breed’ by owner and the veterinary profession because the pervasively high true prevalence of the disorder may conflate perceptions of ‘typically expected’ and ‘desirably expected’. The authors would strongly encourage veterinarians, breeders and owners to avoid the use of the word ‘normal’ with its inference of acceptability in relation to breed-related health features and move instead to alternative terms such as ‘typical’ or ‘commonplace’. Indeed, only 42% of owners of dogs affected by BOAS perceive that their dog has a breathing problem; as such, it is possible that only the most severely affected cases may receive a formal BOAS diagnosis in the primary-care setting [36]. Psychological desensitisation in veterinarians to URT in brachycephalic dogs may result from chronic exposure to common clinical signs of BOAS (e.g. increased and/or abnormal respiratory noise) in brachycephalic breeds such as the French Bulldog that potentially leads to underreporting in clinical notes. Unfortunately, this may also contribute to the sub-optimal clinical management of individual affected dogs if the condition is under-recognised and not discussed with clients. An earlier VetCompass™ study reported that 20% of French Bulldogs had least one URT disorder recorded over a 4.5 year study period, compared to the one year period of the current study, so it is possible that more French Bulldogs in the current population would go on to be diagnosed with URT disorders with a longer study period [34]. The current study reports that older dogs are significantly more likely to have a diagnosis of BOAs than younger dogs and suggests that the UK population of French Bulldogs are likely to show substantially higher levels of BOAS as the current cohort of dogs ages.

    Publications referenced in quoted material shown above...

    7. Packer RMA, Hendricks A, Tivers MS, Burn CC. Impact of facial conformation on canine health: brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. PLoS One. 2015;10(10):e0137496.

    9. Liu N-C, Sargan DR, Adams VJ, Ladlow JF. Characterisation of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome in French bulldogs using whole-body barometric Plethysmography. PLoS One. 2015;10(6):e0130741.

    33. Koch DA, Arnold S, Hubler M, Montavon P. Brachycephalic syndrome in dogs. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet - North Am Edition. 2003;25.

                            (Internal) Koch_et_al_Brachycephalic_syndrome_Compendium_2003.pdf

    34. O'Neill DG, Jackson C, Guy JH, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, et al. Epidemiological associations between brachycephaly and upper respiratory tract disorders in dogs attending veterinary practices in England. Canine Genet and Epidemiol. 2015;2(1):10.

    35. Beausoleil NJ, Mellor DJ. Introducing breathlessness as a significant animal welfare issue. N Z Vet J. 2015;63(1):44–51.



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