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Research into French Bulldog Health Problems

If you are a Frenchie owner, or a Wanna Be Frenchie owner, you will no doubt have heard they can be prone to many health issues including ocular, respiratory, neurological and dermatological problems and it is always a good idea to get good pet insurance asap!

But what exactly should you be looking out for, either by asking the breeder before you buy your pup or afterwards to make sure you pup gets the best care possible?

This is my sweetie, Whisky, just 8 weeks old in this photo - I hope he doesn't suffer with any of these issues, but we will be watching him closely and he has top pet insurance with RSPCA.

French Bulldog’s are reportedly affected health problems associated with their conformation, including their short muzzles and wide, prominent eyes. Their predispositions include brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), dystocia, corneal ulceration, patellar luxation and a range of spinal diseases including type I intervertebral disk herniation, spinal disease associated with vertebral malformations and spinal arachnoid diverticulum.

Many of these predispositions increase in prevalence with age - so when considering studies of younger dogs (which the one I am about to share is) keep in mind that prevalence of some disorders may appear reduced compared with more mature populations of Frenchies.

The Royal Veterinary Collage in the UK published findings on 4th May 2018 using clinical data collected by VetCompass which examined records for 2,228 French Bulldogs from 2013. The study aimed to characterise the demography and common disorders of the general population of French Bulldogs under veterinary care in the UK with an exploratory comparative focus on differences between males and females.

“The study found that French Bulldogs are predisposed to a range of health conditions, including breathing problems, skin fold dermatitis, cherry eye, eye ulcers, patellar luxation and demodectic mange. Male French Bulldogs also appeared to be less healthy than females. The research documents the meteoric rise in popularity of the French Bulldog over the past decade and predicts they will soon become the most popular breed in the UK. This research provides a framework to identify the most important health priorities for French Bulldogs and will enhance the health and welfare of the breed.”

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (

O’Neill, D.G., Baral, L., Church, D.B. et al. Demography and disorders of the French Bulldog population under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013. Canine Genet Epidemiol 5, 3 (2018).

The results show how many Frenchies had issues in their first few years of life. Of the 2228 French Bulldogs under veterinary care during 2013, 1612 (72.4%) had at least one disorder recorded. The most common were Dermatological disorders (skin problems) (17.9%),

The most prevalent fine-level precision disorders recorded were otitis externa (middle ear infections)(14.0%), diarrhoea (7.5%), conjunctivitis (3.2%), nails overlong (3.1%) and skin fold dermatitis (3.0%). The most prevalent disorder groups were cutaneous (17.9%) enteropathy (16.7%), aural (16.3%, 95%), upper respiratory tract (12.7%,) and ophthalmological (10.5%).

“One of the interesting findings from our research is that male French Bulldogs appear to be less healthy than females. Males were more likely to get 8 of the 26 most common health problems while there were no issues that females were more likely to get than males.”

The study also concluded that animals from commercial “puppy farms” were more likely to have difficulties which supports obtaining your dog from a reputable and ethical breeder

Information from Table 3 (Prevalence of the most Common Disorders in French Bulldogs) including the number of animals and the percentage of the study.

1. Otitis externa (inflammation of the middle ear) – 312 or 14%

Very common due to low resistance to allergens and narrow ear canals. It can also be due to hormonal imbalance. The ear glands swell up and produce more wax that normal and infection can set in. In severe cases the ear drum itself can rupture. Look out for heat shaking, ear scratching, redness, swelling or pain.

2. Diarrhoea – 167 or 7.5%

Very Common, especially in puppies under 12 months. It can be as simple as a change of diet or water but can be something serious:

  • Parvovirus.

  • Distemper virus.

  • Whipworms.

  • Hookworms.

  • Salmonella.

  • E Coli.

If your Frenchie has consistent bouts of diarrhoea, consult your Vet. Signs to look for are wet, runny or tar-like stools. Foul smelling stools. Blood in the stool, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting or fever.

3. Conjunctivitis – 71 or 3.2%

High risk due to being a brachycephalic breed. Occurs due to Bactria, Virus, Foreign Bodies in the eye or Allergic reactions.It can also occur due to a blocked duct, tumours or cancers which require surgery and sometimes removal of the eye ball itself.

Watch for any squinting or blinking more than normal. Redness or pinkness around the eyes. A mucus or pus discharge or swollen eyes.

4. Nails overlong and claw injuries – 69 or 3.1%

Can lead to serious problems - cutting them too sort, walking on them too long, trauma or bacterial infection.

Watch for excessive paw licking, difficulty with mobility or walkin, obvious pain or discomfort in their paws, redness or swelling around their nails or abnormal nail colour.

5. Skin fold dermatitis – 66 or 3.0%

Common in the folded skin around their muzzle and nose, sometimes in the armpit and neck and vaginal area in females. Prevent it by keeping skin folds dry and clean daily with unscented baby wipes. .

Watch for excessive itching and scratching, biting or rubbing, redness, crust, sores and welts underneath the skin.

6. Anal sac impaction – 64 or 2.9%.

Blocked anal glands happen with the fluids start to dry up leading to discomfort and pain. Signs include “scooting” their bum across the floor, excessively nibbling or licking the area, a very nasty smell or signs of constipation when having a bowl movement. The glands need to be expressed, you can do it yourself but I prefer to have my vet do it if required.

7. Upper respiratory tract (URT) infection – 61 or 2.7%

Very predisposed being a brachycephalic breed. URTs can affect the nose, sinuses, pharynx, or larynx. This commonly includes nasal obstruction, sore throat, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, sinusitis and otitis media (areas above the voice box). Similar to our common cold. Symptoms include runny noses, sore throats and coughs. Sometimes the Lower Respiratory Tract (LRT) such as the bronchi can also become involved if the infection carries down into the lungs further causing asthma, bronchitis or pneumonia.

Watch for nasal congestion/discharge, coughing and hacking, itchy nose, runny or watery eyes, sneezing, loss of appetite, lethargy. Antibiotics may be required if there is a secondary infection (bacterial or fungal) on top on a viral infection.

8. Pyoderma (bacterial skin infection) – 60 or 2.7%

Common but easily treated. A bacterial or fungal skin infection when the dog gets a cut, graze or scratch. Watch for itchiness around any wound, red or angry looking skin, puss, crusty skin, loss of hair around the wound. Be vigilant especially around skin folds.

9. Prolapsed nictitans gland (cherry eye) – 57 or 2.6%

The third eyelid falls out of place. It appress as a red and obvious looking bulge in one corner of the eye. Watch for pawing and scratching at the affected eye, red and dry looking eye, excessive squinting or blinking and a red bulge covering a portion of the cornea of the eye. It is very painful and may require surgical treatment.

10. Pododermatitis – 55 or 2.5%

A serious paw allergy. Can be due to an allergic reaction to food, an infection, malnutrition, obesity or burnt skin from walking on hot footpaths. Check for excessive paw licking, pus nodules on the paw, swollen or red paws, hair loss around the paws. Can also become infected so needs vet attention.

  • Excessive licking of the paw.

  • Pus nodules on the paw.

  • Swollen red paws.

  • Hair loss around the paws.

11. Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) – 54 or 2.4%

High risk due to being a brachycephalic breed. Can lead to

  • Breathing problems and shortness of breath.

  • Eye problems such as corneal ulcers.

  • Skin problems including skin fold infections.

  • Spinal problems such as abnormally shaped vertebrae.

  • Birthing problems due to smaller pelvic structures.

Watch for signs of excessive respiratory noise, tonsils of the nostrils, gastrointestinal problems, obstructive sleep apnea, heat intolerance, exercise intolerance, cyanosis and collapse

12. Colitis – 53 or 2.4%

Inflammation of the colon or large intestine. Look for blood or mucus in stools, straining and constipation, no stool produced whilst trying to pass a bowl motion, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethary.

Other conditions call also exhibit these signs such as:

  • Parasites in the intestinal system.

  • Negative reactions to a medication.

  • Stress and worry.

  • Pancreatitis.

  • Allergies or dietary intolerances.

  • Eating grass or human food.

  • Bacterial and viral infections.

  • Swallowing of foreign bodies.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • Bowel cancer (increase risk with age).

13. Aggression – 51 or 2.3%

Unusual but not unheard of in the breed, more common in males. It is instinctive when a dog feels threatened, jealous or provoked. Generally dogs will give a warning such as growl, bark or nip. But signs of aggressions should not be taken likely as no one wants anyone to get hurt. Ensure males are neutered and puppies are properly socialised to avoid any issues.

14. Heart murmur – 49 or 2.2%

An abnormal heart sound is not necessarily a problem as often is is just a flow murmur. Frenchies generally have sound hearts. However, it should always be investigated to rule out any serious issue which can lead to a reduced life expectancy such as

  • Weakened heart muscle walls (dilated cardiomyopathy).

  • Heart wall defects.

  • Blockages in the heart’s valves.

  • Heartworm disease.

  • Infection in the heart valves (endocarditis).

  • Tumours.

Investigation with an ECG and Ultrasound is required, often by a specialist cardiologist.

15. Vomiting – 48 or 2.2%

Very Common but usually not serious. Can be due to food allergies, swallowing a foreign body, eating and drinking too quickly (prevent with slow feeders) or oesophageal issues and disorders. If frequent or the dog I in pain go immediately to the vet.

16. Infectious canine tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) – 47 or 2.1%

A highly contagious infection of the windpipe and bronchial tubes resulting in a hacking cough. Often a mild illness treated and cured in under a month with the use of antibiotics or prevented with a vaccination.

17. Upper Respiratory Tract (URT) Disorder – 47 or 2.1%

Very common due to being a brachiocephalic breed. Upper respiratory tract (URT) disorders include stenotic nares, enlarged tonsils, elongated soft palate, everted lateral saccules of the larynx, narrowed rima glottides, collapse of the larynx and tracheal hypoplasia. Individual dogs may have one, or a combination of these and they can combine to describe an overall Brachyocephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). Treatment may include surgery where the condition is severe enough.

18. Patellar luxation (dislocated kneecap) – 46 or 2.1%

A high risk due to Frenchies love of running and jumping. The patella (kneecap) becomes dislocated from the groove in the femur (thigh bone) and is very painful. Risk is further increased if they have a genetic malformation, degenerative arthritis, or suffer a traumatic injury to the knee. Once it has happened it frequently reoccurs.

19. Ulcerative keratitis (eye ulcer) – 46 or 2.1%

An ulcer that affects the cornea (the transparent part) of the eye. It can be the result of

  • Injury to the eye.

  • Eye diseases.

  • Eye infections.

  • Foreign body.

  • Burns from a corrosive liquid.

  • Facial paralysis.

Treatment is with antibiotics or if severe surgery. with some eye ulcers clearing up inside of 7 days after treatment. Watch for watery eyes, squinting, light sensitivity, pawing at the eyes, closing eyes, a translucent film over the eye.

20. Claw injury – 44 or 2.0%

The dew claws (further up the front leg) which are more loosely attached are the most susceptible to tearing and breaking. They may sometime need surgical removal. Long nails are more likely to break or crack when a dog is walking or running on asphalt, concrete, or similar hard surfaces. Poor nail clipping technique can also damage nails. Symptoms includeL

  • Favouring a paw (holding it up)

  • Limping

  • Avoiding weight baring

  • Blood on dog bedding

  • Constantly licking the paw

  • Swollen paw or nail

  • Resistance to let you look at

  • Nail at odd angle

Treatment should be by a vet as this is very painful and sometimes the dog may need sedating to attend to the injury.

21. Atopic dermatitis – 44 or 2.0%

Common allergy, often develops between 3 - 6 years old. The skin becomes sensitive to allergens such as pollen, weeds, grass, dust mites etc. It can also cause hay fever like symptoms, asthma, irritable skin and itchy rashes. Areas that might exhibit atopic dermatitis include:

  • Ears.

  • Feet / paws.

  • Groin.

  • Nose.

  • Stomach.

Treatment involves antihistamine, topical steroid creams and sometimes oral steroids. Avoidance of any known allergens is recommended to reduce symptoms.

22. Gastroenteritis – 43 or 1.9%

Usually the result of a viral infection causing vomiting and diarrhoea. It can pass on it’s own and settle with increased water and small meals of chicken and boiled rice to rest the gut. But if symptoms persist or are severe there is a risk of dehydration so visit the vet asap. More serious cases can be due to dietary indiscretion, ingesting toxins, tumours, bacterial infection, parasites, abdominal disorders, systemic infection (egUTI, Meningitis, Pneumonia), Thyroid disease.

Watch for

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea.

  • Dehydration

  • Blood in vomit or poop.

  • Nausea.

  • Depression.

  • Lethargy.

  • Loss of appetite.

23. Ear discharge – 42 or 1.9%

May be the result of an ear infection or ear mites.

  • Ear mites: scratching of the ears and a dry(ish) brown discharge.

  • Outer ear infection (otitis externa): waxy yellowish-brown discharge.

  • Inner ear infection (otitis interna): waxy yellowish-brown discharge.

Treatment includes topical or oral antibiotics and/or anti parasitic lotions. A regular ear cleaning solution may also be required.

24. Alopecia – 41 or 1.8%

Different to normal hair shedding. This results in patches of hair loss rather than a uniform shedding of the coat.

It can be caused by:

  • Dermatitis.

  • Acral lick dermatitis.

  • Allergies.

  • Mange.

  • Hormone problems.

  • Abnormal organ function.

  • Poor blood circulation.

  • Parasite-induced alopecia.

  • Poor nutrition.

  • Treatment-induced hair loss.

  • Genetic predisposition.

Treatments vary depending on the causal factor.

25. Demodicosis (parasitic mites) – 37 or 1.7%

Normal flora to some extent on most dogs, but when numbers get out of control it causes problems.

Signs and symptoms of demodicosis include:

  • Thinning hair.

  • Scaly skin.

  • Itchy skin.

  • Reddish-brown coloured skin.

  • Lethargy.

  • Loss of appetite.

Skin scrapings provide diagnosis and prescription of antibiotics and toptical creams.

26. Stenotic nares (difficulty breathing) – 37 or 1.7%

High risk due to being a brachycephalic breed. The nostrils are so narrow they can’t breath properly, causing the dog to snore and snort a lot. In more pronounced cases can lead to health complications such as noisy breathing, gagging, retching, vomiting, heat intolerance, exercise intolerance and mouth breathing.

In severe cases it can lead to a higher mortality rate, and complex health problems. Surgical procedures to help widen the nares include:

  • Alar wing amputation (Trader’s technique).

  • Punch resection.

  • Vertical wedge.

  • Horizontal wedge.

  • Alapexy (two small incisions).

  • Laser ablation.

Interestingly there was no mention I could find in the UK research about two of the major things widely known to afflict Frenchies - Hip Dysplasia and Separation Anxiety.

Hip Dysplasia

When the hip and thigh joints become displaced and cause extreme pain. Symptoms of hip dysplasia in French Bulldog include:

  • Decreased activity compared to usual.

  • Decreased range of motion and movement.

  • Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing up the stairs

  • Lameness in their hind end.

  • Looseness in their joints.

  • Narrower stance than usual.

  • When walking you will notice a swaying, “bunny hopping” gait.

  • Grating in the joint when they move about.

  • Reduced muscle mass in the thigh area.

  • Noticeably larger shoulder muscles which develop as they compensate for the hind end not being as mobile.

  • Pain and discomfort.

  • Stiffness in the joints.

Treatment depends on severity. Weigh loss is recommended, restrict exercise especially on hard unforgiving surface, Physio, Joint fluid modifiers and Anti-inflamitory drugs (NSAIDS, Asprin, Corticosteroids). In severe cases surgery may be required such as

double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO), femoral head ostectomy (FHO), or a total hip replacement (THR).

Separation Anxiety

Being bred as a companion dog, Frenchies imprint strongly on their humans and can suffer badly from separation anxiety when they are left alone. Many breeders won’t sell their pups to someone who works full time or has to be out of the home for long periods of time for this very reason, it is too traumatic for the dog who needs that social contact. Sometimes having two dogs can solve the problem to some extent, but the breed is one that requires lots of love, attention and companionship.

The study found the main reasons for mortality in the 85 Frenchies who died (Cause, no of animals, %, median age):

Brain disorder (10, 11.9%, 2.1),

Spinal cord disorder (8, 9.5%, 4.0),

Lower respiratory tract (LRT) disorder (6, 7.1%, 0.9),

Mass lesion (6, 7.1%, 7.0),

Upper respiratory tract (URT) disorder (6, 7.1%, 2.5),

Undesirable behaviour disorder, Traumatic injury (5, 6.0%, 2.1),

Traumatic injury (5, 6.0%, 2.6),

Vertebral spinal disorder (5, 6.0%, 5.3),

Complication with clinical care procedure (4, 4.8%, 2.4),

Enteropahy (4, 4.8%, 0.8),

Other (25, 29.8%, no record)

The median age for the overall French Bulldog population was 1.3 years. The median age of the dogs who died was 3.6

Given the findings from the UK study what health tests should you consider for your Frenchie, or before buying a Frenchie (or any other Brachycephalic dog)?

  • BOAS respiration: tested at rest and after exercise, including grading of the nostrils.

  • Eye testing.

  • Hereditary Eye cataracts.

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Cardiology - ECG and Echo Cardiogram

  • Dental - check for overcrowding

  • DNA testing: to rule out genetic issues

  • Spinal X-ray

Your vet will be able to advise you, but please ensure they are familiar with Brachycephalic breeds - especially if any anaesthetic is ever required for your Frenchie!

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