As French Bulldogs surge in popularity, so too are the number of pooches being re-homed. It’s a heartbreaking state of affairs that animal welfare charity Mayhew has received seven French Bulldogs that are no longer wanted within the space of a month.
The dogs are just some of many brachycephalic (flat-faced) pets, such as pugs and English Bulldogs, that are left in the charity’s care due to ill health or being bred to sell. The shelter received more than five times as many brachycephalic breeds in 2017 compared to the previous year.
The French Bulldog was named as London’s favourite breed of dog in 2017 by The Kennel Club. However experts say its rise in popularity is fuelling a surge in the number of unhealthy dogs being bred.
The plight of French Bulldogs
Over time, French Bulldogs have been bred for their skull to become flatter. In the process, their internal air passages have become squashed and twisted, resulting in a lifetime of breathing difficulties.
Sean Wensley, PDSA senior vet, says around 90% of French Bulldogs are unable to breathe properly. He likens the way they breathe to the equivalent of “a human having to spend their life breathing through a drinking straw”.
“Very few owners perceive a problem with their dogs,” he explains. “Snuffling, snorting and snoring are often seen as quirky, but they’re actually a clinical sign that something is wrong.
“Starting from a very young age they’re struggling to get enough air into their lungs with every breath. Some are so badly affected they can’t sleep properly.”
These breathing problems inevitably mean owners will need to take their pet(s) to the vet - possibly even multiple times throughout their lives.
For a number of these dogs, the best way to improve their quality of life is through surgery to widen their nostrils. Wensley explains: “Depending on what surgery is, and where in their airways it’s being done, price varies. You could be spending hundreds on treatment.” Insurance costs can also be higher.
Head vet at Mayhew, Dr Ursula Goetz, says French Bulldogs are also susceptible to other health problems throughout their lives including eye problems, skin diseases, neurological and dental problems.
“They have exposed eyes that are prone to injury, skin folds on their face that can become inflamed, infected and sometimes cause trauma to their eyes,” she says. “These animals can also have a variety of breathing problems such as narrow nostrils and relatively large tongues.”
Should you buy one?
Wensley advises people not to buy French Bulldogs as, in doing so, you’ll only be fuelling demand and encouraging breeders to keep breeding unhealthy dogs. However if you’re seriously committed to giving a Frenchie a home, you need to be aware of the risks.
Both Wensley and Goetz agree that research is key before buying one. A growing number of breeders are health-testing parents before mating them, which means their pups should (theoretically) be healthy too. As such, you should check that the breeder has health-tested the parents before buying a puppy.
“Separately, another big problem is that because of spike in demand, we’re seeing an increase in French Bulldogs being puppy-farmed,” Wensley explains. “A number of those are illegally smuggled into the country.”
To avoid buying one, he advises to ensure you see the puppy with their mum, and most importantly interacting with their mum, before buying.
“The reason for that is because puppy smuggling is a highly organised criminal activity,” he says. “The criminals know people are being told to check the puppies are still with their mothers, so they put a pretend mum with the puppy.”
But if the puppy and ‘mum’ don’t interact, there’s a high chance they’re not related and the puppy in question has been separated from its mother far too young. There’s also a good chance its parents won’t have been health-tested.
Another helpful tip is that prospective pet owners can obtain a free-to-download Puppy Contract, which acts as a contract of sale which the breeder can sign.
“If they’re reluctant to sign, it should ring alarm bells,” says Wensley. “The puppy information pack that comes with it walks you through all the important questions you should ask.”
Lisa Hens, RSPCA dog welfare expert, adds: “We remain concerned that many dogs are still suffering because they’re bred and judged primarily for how they look rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind.
“For help when choosing a dog, please use the RSPCA/AWF Puppy Contract and if you’re worried about the health of a particular puppy, contact a vet for advice.”