Date Published: June 12, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Dan G. O’Neill, Alison M. Skipper, Jade Kadhim, David B. Church, Dave C. Brodbelt, Rowena M. A. Packer, Simon Russell Clegg.
The Bulldog is a popular companion breed in the UK despite widely reported disease predispositions. This study aimed to characterise the demography, mortality and common disorders of Bulldogs under veterinary care in the UK during 2013. VetCompass collates anonymised clinical data from UK primary-care veterinary practices for epidemiological research. The clinical records of all Bulldogs available in the VetCompass study dataset were reviewed manually in detail to extract the most definitive diagnoses recorded for all disorders that existed during 2013 and for all deaths. Bulldogs comprised 1621 (0.36%) of 445,557 study dogs. Bulldogs increased from 0.35% of the 2009 birth cohort to 0.60% in 2013. Median longevity was 7.2 years, which was lower in males (6.7 years) than females (7.9 years) (P = 0.021). The most prevalent fine-level precision disorders recorded were otitis externa (n = 206, prevalence 12.7%, 95% CI: 11.1–14.4), pyoderma (142, 8.8%, 95% CI: 7.4–10.2) and overweight/obesity (141, 8.7%, 95% CI: 7.4–10.2). The most prevalent disorder groups were cutaneous (n = 463, prevalence: 28.6%, 95% CI: 26.4–30.8), ophthalmological (292, 18.0%, 95% CI: 16.2–20.0), aural (211, 13.0%, 95% CI: 11.4–14.8), enteropathy (188, 11.6%, 95% CI: 10.1–13.3) and upper respiratory tract (171, 10.5%, 95% CI: 9.1–12.1). Provision of an evidence base on the most common disorders and causes of mortality within breeds can support owners, breeders and the veterinary profession to improve health and welfare within these breed.
Arguably the most iconic of British dog breeds, the Bulldog (British Bulldog) descends from dogs originally used for blood sports in the 16th century . These early bulldogs were small, thick-set dogs with powerful jaws that were used for bull-baiting . After bull baiting was banned in 1835, the bulldog sank into obscurity, regarded as ‘a relic of a barbarous and bygone age’ [2, 3]. However, when the Kennel Club was founded in 1873, the rehabilitated Bulldog was among the first breeds it recognised . The show Bulldog was selectively bred to resemble an idealised physical ‘breed standard’, in which various features, such as a head ‘the larger the better’ and a protruding lower jaw, were intended to define a dog suitably shaped for bull-baiting, despite the sport’s abolition . Various subsequent changes, both in the breed standard and in its interpretation by breeders, have since further modified the shape of the Bulldog; the short ‘screw’ tail often seen today, for example, was a controversial novelty in the 1890s . In recent years, the UK Kennel Club breed standard has been reworded to discourage extreme conformation .
The study population included all dogs under primary veterinary care at clinics participating in the VetCompass Programme during 2013. Dogs under veterinary care were defined as those with either a) at least one electronic patient record (EPR) (VeNom diagnosis term, free-text clinical note, treatment or bodyweight) recorded during 2013 or b) at least one EPR recorded both before and after 2013. VetCompass collates de-identified EPR data from primary-care veterinary practices in the UK for epidemiological research . Data fields available to VetCompass researchers include a unique animal identifier along with species, breed, date of birth, colour, sex, neuter status and bodyweight, and also clinical information from free-form text clinical notes, summary diagnosis terms  and treatment with relevant dates.
This study of over one thousand six hundred animals is the largest analysis to date in the UK of breed health in Bulldogs based on primary-care veterinary records. The results highlight a gradual rise in Bulldog ownership in the UK. Bulldogs comprised over 0.6% of all dogs born in 2013 attending the participating veterinary practices, although some of these dogs may have been born outside the UK. Given that the longevity data presented in this paper shows a relative short median longevity for Bulldogs of 7.2 years, it is possible that their rising ownership may be exaggerated as an artefact of their short lifespan that promotes left truncation of the data [47, 48]. However, annual registration data from the UK Kennel Club similarly depicts a two-fold increase in registrations over the past ten years, so the popularity of Bulldogs, along with other small-medium sized, flat-faced breeds, appears to be truly rising. This may be because potential owners consider them physically appealing but this increasing popularity is concerning because several of the most common disorders in Bulldogs are linked with their physical conformation .
This study of over sixteen hundred Bulldogs documents rising ownership of this breed in the UK and provides important disorder prioritisation based on the general population of Bulldogs. The most common disorders in Bulldogs were otitis externa, pyoderma and overweight/obesity. The skin was the most affected body region, with pyoderma, skin fold dermatitis and pododermatitis among the top ten most common disorders of Bulldogs. Many common disorders of Bulldogs are linked with their appearance, including skin fold disease, BOAS and corneal ulceration. By contextualising these data within a longer historical timeframe, this paper observes that the high frequency of conformation-related disease in Bulldogs is a long-standing problem that also led breeders themselves to question conformational breeding goals over a century ago. These results provide a framework of health priorities for Bulldogs and therefore can contribute positively to improved health and welfare within the breed.