Vice President of Media Strategy, NAVC
Research conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) shows that French bulldogs are 15.9 times more likely to suffer from difficult births or dystocia than crossbred female dogs. The results of the research, presented in two papers, were published in the official journal of the British Veterinary Association, Veterinary Record.
The studies also found that among the female dogs that had problems giving birth, French bulldogs were 2.4 times more likely to undergo invasive caesarean sections than crossbred dogs.
This compared to brachycephalic dogs in general, which the RVC researchers found are 1.54 times more likely to need a caesarean compared with their longer-nosed purebreed or crossbred counterparts.
The researchers examined the records of 20,000 female dogs that required emergency treatment at 50 Vets Now veterinary clinics between 2012 and 2014. French bulldogs are among the most popular breeds of dogs in the UK. An earlier study by RVC researchers found that the most common health issues in French bulldogs were ear infections, diarrhea and conjunctivitis. (1)
“This new research is one of over 100 research projects that have evolved from my PhD that ran from 2010 to 2014,” says RVC veterinary epidemiologist and VetCompass researcher Dr. Dan O’Neill. “This PhD developed the VetCompass Program at the Royal Veterinary College in London, which collects electronic patient record data relating to millions of companion animals in the UK. The original PhD aimed to use these data to understand the epidemiology of health and disease in cats and dogs in the UK with a specific focus on breed-associated issues. I set up VetCompass as a legacy program that would live on indefinitely after the original PhD period and this is now leading to a vast array of other studies.”
According to the first paper (2), 3.7% of female dogs suffer from dystocia. In addition to French bulldogs, other pure breeds, such as Boston terriers, chihuahuas and pugs, are also at risk of suffering birthing problems. Compared to crossbred female dogs, Boston terriers are 12.9 times more likely to face birthing issues, pugs 11.3 times more likely, and chihuahuas 10.4 times more likely.
“Dystocia describes an unacceptably difficult birthing process where the bitch is unable to expel the fetus through the birth canal without external assistance,” says Dr. O’Neill. “Prior evidence has suggested that veterinary assistance is required in around 5 percent of all birthings in dogs, so this substantial welfare issue justified selection of dystocia as a focus of our research. The results of our study that led to two peer-reviewed publications in the Vet Record now show that there are well-defined factors that predisposed bitches to dystocia. Understanding the risk factors offers a route to an evidence-based set of actions by breeders, breed clubs, kennel clubs, veterinarians and even prospective owners to reduce this welfare cost.”
The second paper (3) focused on what happens after the female dog has been diagnosed with dystocia. “These results help to establish the welfare cost to bitches from the breeding process,” says Dr. O’Neill. “The results show that 25% of all puppies in dystocic litters do not survive this process while 1.7% of the bitches also died. Of the dystocic cases, 48.6% required surgical delivery of the puppies (caesarean section) with the pain and stress that accompanies this major surgery. Of these surgical cases. 31.1% were also neutered at the same time with the agreement of their owners so that these bitches would not be at risk of the birthing process again in the future. Of the bitches that were already dystocic, 86.7% of bulldogs went on to have caesarean section and this was 7.6 times more likely than for crossbred dogs.”
Bulldogs (also known as British bulldogs), border terriers and golden retrievers were the top three breeds at risk of caesarean section once they have difficulty giving birth. Bulldogs are 7.6 times more likely, border terriers are 4.9 times more likely and golden retrievers are 4.1 times more likely to need the procedure compared with crossbreeds.
“Recent booms in breed popularity of small-sized brachycephalic breeds such as the French bulldog — UK Kennel Club registrations rose almost 30-fold between 2005 and 2014 — and the pug — UK Kennel Club registrations rose fourfold between 2005 and 2014 — mean that the inherent high dystocia risk for these breeds is compounded by the high absolute counts of these breeds such that the welfare issues are exponentially increased,” says Dr. O’Neill.
The American Kennel Club lists French bulldogs among the top 10 most popular dogs in the U.S. In 2017, they were listed as the fourth-most popular breed; in 2013, they were ranked 11th.
“The explosion in demand for puppies with high commercial value of these popular breeds may encourage reductions in breeding standards and breeding by inexperienced breeders just to cash in on the market opportunities,” says Dr. O’Neill. “Perversely, awareness by breeders of a high risk of dystocia combined with the high monetary value of these puppies also means that these breeds are more likely to present to routine day-care veterinary practices for planned elective caesarean than to the out-of-hours emergency-care practices that were included in our studies as dystocia cases. So, despite the high risks shown in our studies, we may still have substantially underreported the true risks to the overall breeds.”
Owners who are considering breeding their female dogs should be aware of these issues and should consider the welfare of their dogs, emphasizes Dr. O’Neill. “These risks are greatly compounded in certain breeds with predisposition to dystocia, and especially in brachycephalic breeds.”
The researchers have a series of other studies underway that will explore breeding issues in dogs from many other perspectives. “VetCompass data benefit from huge breadth in the data fields that are collected as well as the ‘big data’ volumes that are collected over time and location, so we have the power to explore an endless stream of critical questions,” says Dr. O’Neill. “The other key aspect of this work is in the link from scientific discovery to real-world welfare impact. We are working closely with the Brachycephalic Working Group in the UK [a collaborative of academia, breeders and breed clubs, the veterinary profession, The Kennel Club, animal charities and owners] to translate our findings into meaningful and positive change for predisposed breeds. Much of the health issues relating to dog breeds stems less from the dogs themselves and more from the humans associated with these breeds: it is only by joined-up thinking and efforts from all these humans that we can really make the lives of our dogs better.”
- O’Neill, DG., Baral L, Church DB, Brodbelt DC, Packer RMA. Demography and disorders of the French Bulldog population under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2018; 5 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s40575-018-0057-9
- O’Neill, DG., O’Sullivan, AM., Manson, EA., Church, DB., Boag, AK., McGreevy, PD., Brodbelt, DC. (2017) Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency-care veterinary practices: prevalence and risk factors Veterinary Record 181, 88.
- O’Neill, DG., O’Sullivan, AM., Manson, EA., Church, DB., McGreevy, PD., Boag, AK., Brodbelt, DC.(2019) Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency care veterinary practices: clinical management and outcomes Veterinary Record Published Online First:04 February 2019. doi: 10.1136/vr.104944.