The puppy in the picture was so cute. I called my daughter over to the computer, to take a look.
His soft tan and white wrinkled body was propped into a child’s plastic swing, and his pushed-in face gave him somewhat of a baby-like appearance.
“Aw, look at that,” she said. “That’s a bulldog. Their average lifespan is only about six years.”
“How can that be?,” I asked, my curiosity peaked. Although I love dogs, I had never heard about this peculiar fact. But just a little research proved her point. English bulldogs often don’t live long. There’s even a raging controversy over whether this breed, in its current form, should even exist.
Compared to other breeds, these dogs seem to suffer from a disproportionate number of health problems. Breathing is an issue. That’s because, through the centuries, these dogs have been designed to not have the characteristic dog snout, but, rather, a flat nose that gives their face that pushed-against–glass look we find so endearing.
Also, these dogs have excessively large heads. This makes the birth process extremely treacherous. So the vast majority of English Bulldog pups are born by C-section, a procedure that puts their Moms at risk.
Even more alarming is the fact that these dogs are generally not conceived the usual way. That’s partly because the top-heavy male dogs, with weak hind legs, need a bit of help.
So, now, we’re dealing with a breed that couldn’t survive without a great deal of human assistance. It also appears as if these dogs are not well-equipped to live in the world, once they’re born.
Given all these complications, it’s no wonder these dogs, on average, have relatively short life spans. Perhaps the bigger question, though, is just what quality of life they do have.
English Bulldog Health Problems
Bulldogs also seem to have corned the market on canine health problems. Because of their cute, but misshapen faces, the simple act of breathing is a chore. Many bulldogs need corrective surgery, just to allow them to breathe with less obstruction.
These dogs gasp and snort. In the heat, they’re at great risk for overheating, because of their inability to cool themselves by breathing, as do other dogs. In fact, warm weather and bulldogs simply don’t mix. When the temperature spikes, owners must find ways to keep their pets cool, such as constantly running an air conditioner or bathing their dogs in a kiddie pool.
On a hot day, long walks are out of the question. But so is any vigorous exercise, under any weather conditions, for that matter, as an English Bulldog is not equipped to run.
Given all these factors, a growing number of people are wondering if the very act of bringing bulldogs into the world is a cruel thing to do. After all, they never would have arrived here on their own.
Bulldog Genetic Defects
Bulldogs, by the very nature of their breed, are subject to a myriad of other conditions. The common wisdom is that if you plan to own one of these dogs, be prepared for expensive vet bills.
In fact, prospective owners are often advised to find a vet with special training in bulldog health problems, and make sure he or she has experience with putting dogs of this breed under anesthesia, in case an operation is needed.
Your dog could have heart problems and hip issues, even at a relatively young age. Bulldogs also tend to have skin conditions that may require medical care. They are notorious for developing ingrown tails, and odorous infections around the “tail pocket.” This is an area they can’t reach to clean themselves, so the task will fall upon the owner.
Actually, there’s a lot of things these dogs don’t do on their own, as other breeds will do naturally. One is caring for their pups. In addition to possibly being indifferent to her young, a bulldog mother may inadvertently step on her offspring and crush them to death. The common rule of thumb is that she has close contact with her pups only when nursing. Even then, she must be supervised.
How Long Does a Bulldog Live?
It is very extremely difficult to get accurate data on the lifespan of the average bulldog. Perhaps this is because the sites devoted to this breed don’t like to play up the fact that it can be relatively short. What’s often given are examples of individual dogs who’ve beaten the odds. One breed-specific site stated, “We know some bulldogs that have made it to 12!” This particular site claimed the average lifespan is 8 to 10 years.
The same stats for life expectancy are also cited by the UK Bulldog Breed Council. However, a separate investigation in England, by the United Kingdom Kennel Club, showed the beloved pets departing this earth a couple of years earlier. In a survey of nearly 200 dogs, the median age of death was a little over six years.
Yes, some do beat the odds. But this means a significant percentage also don’t live to see their sixth birthday.
An article in the New York Times Magazine, titled, Can the Bulldog Be Saved?, underscored the fact that fans tend to overlook the fact that these dogs have been bred in a manner not conducive to good health. The article ended with the sad tale of Uga, the English bulldog mascot for the University of Georgia.
Actually, this was UGA VII, a dog that had replaced previous mascots of the same name. However, UGA VIII was later replaced by UGA VIII, who died at the age of two from lymphoma.
Canine cancer is common among all breeds. It is very often seen in older dogs. Some forms of malignancy, such as lymphomas and mast cell tumors, hit bulldogs especially hard.
Should Bulldogs Be Bred?
Not surprisingly, given the inherent health problems in a breed that could not exist without humans, the question of whether bulldogs should be bred at all is one that’s frequently raised.
There is a push to breed out the extreme characteristics that define this breed, such as the narrow hips, weak hind legs and over-sized head. However, this runs up against the argument that the very traits that make this breed so popular will slowly fade into oblivion.
Bulldogs are now the fifth most popular breed in the United States. One of the “advantages” of ownership is your pet does not require a lot of exercise. This is a plus for people of limited mobility, or for busy city dwellers, or for anyone whom doesn’t feel inclined to take their dog on a daily trek around the neighborhood.
Despite the drawbacks of bulldog ownership, it’s clear this breed is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. For better or for worse, these dogs have become a status symbol in many circles. They are among the most expensive dogs to acquire and to maintain. High vet bills are legendary. In fact, the New York Times Magazine article quoted a veterinarian whom always told new bulldog owners to invest in pet health insurance.
Unfortunately, the downside of owning one of these physically fragile dogs is that you may not be able to afford your pet. Despite what I’m sure are the best of intentions, by people whom were unprepared for such high maintenance, these dogs are frequently turned over to the many rescue operations that have sprung up all over the United States.
It is impossible to come by statistics of just how many bulldogs are surrendered each year. But a widely reported figure showed that in the year 2013, more than 300 dogs of this breed wound up in a shelter. A quick glance at the websites of various rescue groups revealed that plenty of these former pets were now up for adoption.
My daughter has strong opinions on the issue. She believes the genetic defects of this breed should be corrected. I’m not sure where I stand on the issue, except that I hope prospective owners fully understand all of the issues surrounding these designer dogs.
Nearly everyone agrees, though, that bulldogs are unusually endearing.