Bulldog breeds include some compact, bold, confident, affectionate and loyal dogs. Bred historically for bull baiting by their Elizabethan owners, the different types of Bulldogs have come a long way. They now make loving, smart and friendly family pets. The American Bulldog, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Catahoula Bulldog and Spanish Bulldog are all members of this group, and many have Mastiff ancestors. But perhaps surprisingly so is the active, energetic Boxer dog. Today we’ll look at which Bulldog breeds make the best pets and companions. And help you to decide which Bulldog breed fits your lifestyle, home, family and kids perfectly.
- What are the Bulldog breeds?
- Bulldog breeds’ history
- Meet the Bulldog breeds
- French Bulldog
- American Bulldog
- English Bulldog
- Boxer Dog
- Catahoula Bulldog
- Spanish Bulldog
- Pure vs mixed Bulldog breeds
- Bulldog breed health
Bulldogs, especially the popular English and French Bulldogs, are endearing and adorable, but are they the right choice for everyone? They are popular lapdogs and apartment pets despite their often larger size. And even steal the hearts of kids, other dogs and strangers alike. But they do come with some health problems too.
What is a Bulldog?
The Bulldog is a type of dog that was originally bred for a blood sport of the Elizabethan era called bull baiting. A similar sport called bear baiting was also very popular. A bull or a bear would be chained to a stake in an arena (or “pit”) and then set upon by a group of large dogs. The battles between the animals would continue, often until the deaths of some of the dogs.
Needless to say, this was an extremely gruesome spectacle. Thankfully, these animal fights were officially banned in England by the early 1800’s. By then, the Bulldog and Mastiff breeds developed for these baiting sports were already long established. How has the Bulldog evolved over the years since it was used as a fighting dog? Here’s a brief overview.
The History of the Bulldog
Dog breed experts say that the first Bulldogs were bred from Mastiffs. Bulldogs were bred for their strong, stocky bodies and large heads and mouths. They were also bred for aggression before bull and bear baiting were banned.
The Bulldog’s temperament became milder in the years after blood sports were outlawed, and the breed was used to work with livestock or as a guardian dog.
The appearance of the original English Bulldog has evolved over time, and the breed has also branched off into other types of Bulldogs like the Boxer and the American Bulldog.
The English Bulldog always had a stocky build and flat muzzle, but over the years its appearance has gotten much more extreme. The exaggerated appearance of today’s English Bulldog has led to some serious health issues.
Here are the most significant health issues facing the English Bulldog in particular, but all types of bulldogs can be impacted to some extent as well.
Learning about the Bulldog Breeds
While dog lovers find these Bulldog breeds appealing, many acquire them without fully understanding the serious health problems associated with those stubby bodies and smushed in faces. Before you decide on a Bulldog as your next pet, it’s important to learn about some of the health issues common to many types of bulldogs. These health issues can lead to a lot of emotional and financial stress for unprepared owners, not to mention physical discomfort for their dogs.
Bulldog Health Issues
Most purebred dogs have some inherited health problems. But in the case of the English Bulldog, the breed’s health issues stem from both a lack of genetic diversity and the inherent physical structure of the dog.
Later in the article you can read a little more about the debate surrounding purebred dogs vs mixed breed dogs. It’s rather more contentious than you might think!
Many of the Bulldog’s health problems are due to the flatness of the dog’s face, a problem shared by other breeds with similar facial features, such as the Pug.
The term for “short head” is “brachycephaly.” There are several health conditions caused by brachycephaly that are grouped under the term “brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.” Let’s take a closer look at BOAS.
Breathing Problems in Bulldog Breeds
Veterinary experts report that brachycephaly leads to impaired breathing, which can cause chronic and debilitating health effects over a dog’s lifetime.
Brachycephalic dogs have restricted airways. However, this is not just a problem in the shortened nose. It also causes trouble in the mouth and throat because soft tissues like the tongue and palate remain large even when the skull is flattened.
Dogs suffering from BOAS experience many problems, including shortness of breath, difficulty exercising, heat stroke, gagging/vomiting, and low blood oxygen levels which can lead to collapse.
Many different dog breeds can show symptoms of BOAS. Albeit breeds with the shortest muzzles and widest necks experience the most severe problems. This means that the different bulldog breeds are prime candidates for these problems.
Studies have shown that the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, and Pug breeds are at the highest risk for BOAS. Breeds with longer muzzles like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier have a lower risk for BOAS.
Dental Problems in Bulldog Breeds
The craniofacial structure of dogs with brachycephaly also causes them to suffer from a wide range of dental problems. Because the upper jaw is shorter than the lower jaw in English Bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds, the upper teeth rub against the lower teeth and bottom of the mouth.
The small, shortened jaw also crowds and impacts the teeth, causing the dog pain and periodontal disease. If an affected dog’s teeth are not removed, it could be facing years of pain and infection.
Bulldog Breeds’ Curly Tails
Hemivertebrae is a spinal abnormality seen in dog breeds with flat faces and screw tails. This condition is especially common in the French Bulldog.
Dogs with hemivertebrae have malformed spinal bones, which can cause spinal deformity, pain, loss of function in the hind legs, and incontinence.
Dogs that inherit a coiled tail also inherit the spinal deformities that go along with it. Serious cases require major spinal surgery, which is not always successful, and affected dogs can become permanently paralyzed.
Because puppies are born with this condition, the symptoms can appear early, often as young as 7 months of age. Symptoms can appear suddenly, often in just a few hours.
Euthanasia may be recommended for severe cases.
Eye Issues in Bulldog Breeds
Dogs with large eyes and brachycephaly can be prone to corneal ulcers. Veterinary experts report that brachycephalic facial and eyelid structure can lead to eye trauma, ulcers, and possibly blindness. Risk factors for corneal ulcers include prominent eyes, visible white of the eye, and folds of skin over the nose.
All these physical features combine to make eye injury and ulcers more likely in Bulldogs and other breeds such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Pekingese. Potential owners of all Bulldog breeds should be aware of the health problems associated with brachycephaly. This is particularly true in the case of English and French Bulldogs.
Are there different bulldog breeds that are a healthier choice for owners concerned about health problems? Let’s look at the types of Bulldog breeds so you can make the best decision about your next pet.
Not all Bulldog breeds are officially recognized by dog breed organizations like the American Kennel Club. Some are recognized by alternative dog breed groups and some are mixed breed Bulldog crosses.
Potential owners seeking Bulldogs with fewer health problems than the English or French breeds should be sure to check out all the options, especially dogs with longer muzzles, before making a final decision. Here is an overview of both popular and less well-known Bulldog breeds.
English Bulldog Breed
The English Bulldog is what most people visualize when they think of Bulldogs. The modern English Bulldog combines that iconic physical appearance with a famously friendly, docile, and loyal temperament. Let’s find out if it’s one of the best Bulldog breeds.
While it’s hard to find fault with the endearing personality of this dog, its health problems (associated with both its physical structure and lack of genetic diversity) are often more than an unprepared owner can handle.
The time and money you will likely spend caring for an English Bulldog should be a primary concern in your decision-making process. The UK Kennel Club has ranked the English Bulldog a 3 out of 3 in its Breed Watch program. This means that the breed has “visible conditions or exaggerations that can cause pain or discomfort.”
Remember that the more extreme a Bulldog’s appearance is, the more likely it is to suffer from the effects of brachycephaly and other health conditions.
American Bulldog Breed
Have your heart set on a “traditional” Bulldog? The American Bulldog just might be the best Bulldog breed for you. Do you wonder what English Bulldogs looked like before they were bred for that extreme physical appearance? Many dog experts say that the American Bulldog is as close as you’re likely to get to the original English Bulldog.
The old-style English Bulldog was brought to the American colonies in the 17th century. It has retained its original appearance, living and working alongside farmers, ranchers, and hunters in the rural South. There are two types of American Bulldogs, the Johnson type and the Scott type. The Johnson is called the Bully or Classic type. The Scott is referred to as the Standard or Performance type.
The Bully is heavier and stockier than the Standard. The head shape of the Bully is large and round, with an undershot jaw. The Standard’s head is sleeker, with a boxy or wedge shape, and a less undershot jaw.
Potential owners concerned about the health effects of brachycephaly should consider the Scott type American Bulldog, with its longer muzzle.
Like many other dog breeds, the American Bulldog can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, so be sure to choose a reputable breeder who health tests their dogs.
French Bulldog Breed
The cute French Bulldog breed (often called a Frenchie) has its origins in a toy version of the English Bulldog popular in the 1800’s. The breed made its way from England to France, where it was crossed with other small dogs like the Pug. It became a popular companion animal for city dwellers in France, and eventually in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
The French Bulldog is known for its compact body and large head, topped by wide “bat” ears. The physical structure of the Frenchie makes natural reproduction and birth difficult. A large number are artificially inseminated and delivered via Cesarean section.
The French Bulldog is a brachycephalic breed prone to respiratory problems and is also prone to the spinal deformity called hemivertebrae. Additionally, because the Frenchie is also a dwarf (chondrodystrophic) toy breed, it can suffer from health problems related to its short, curved legs and back.
While adorable, the Frenchie can require a significant amount of costly veterinary care because of the many health problems associated with the breed. Potential owners are urged to resist purchasing them on impulse and to thoroughly understand the special needs of this breed before deciding on a Frenchie.
Boxer Dog Breed
The Boxer is descended from an ancient type of dog known as the Bullenbeisser (“bull biter”), which was crossed with the older style English Bulldog to create the Boxer dog breed. While the Boxer doesn’t have the word Bulldog in its name, its founding breeds were Bulldogs, and the Boxer certainly deserves to be on any Bulldog breeds list.
The Boxer is a good option for potential owners seeking a Bulldog-type dog that has a lower risk for health problems associated with brachycephaly. The Boxer’s muzzle is blunt and broad, but not as flat as other Bulldog breeds. The lower jaw is undershot but not as extreme as an English Bulldog’s.
The Boxer is classified as a brachycephalic dog, so potential owners should be aware that there is some risk for breathing difficulties, even though the head shape is less extreme than other brachycephalic breeds. In addition to BOAS, Boxers can be prone to other health problems like heart disease, cancer, and hip dysplasia.
Spanish Bulldog Breed
One of the less well-known Bulldog breeds is the Spanish Bulldog, also known as the Alano Español. Fans of big Bulldog breeds will appreciate this majestic dog, as it has been called the largest Bulldog breed.
This breed is a native Spanish Molosser-type dog. Bulldogs are classified as Molossers, as are many other breeds like Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Great Danes, and Anatolian Shepherds. The Alano Español was used in bull baiting, as well as for hunting, guarding, and livestock management.
Males can stand as tall as 24 or 25 inches at the shoulder. They can weigh as much as 88 pounds when full grown. This uncommon dog is not for inexperienced owners, as it is known for its strong bite and bold personality. Good training and socialization are a must for this breed.
Catahoula Bulldog Breed
The Catahoula Bulldog is a cross between the American Bulldog and the Catahoula Leopard Dog. This all-American mixed breed is not recognized by the major dog breed organizations but can be a great option for Bulldog lovers seeking a healthy and less brachycephalic Bulldog-type pet.
The breed originated in Louisiana from an exotic mixture of Native American dogs, dogs brought to America by early Spanish explorers, and the hounds of French settlers.
While less intimidating looking than the Spanish Bulldog, the Catahoula Bulldog is also one of the big Bulldog breeds, with males standing as tall as 26 inches at the shoulder and weighing as much as 100 pounds.
The Catahoula Bulldog has been used for herding, hog catching, and hunting. It is known as a working cross breed, created for utilitarian purposes rather than fashion. As a mixed breed, it may be less prone to issues related to brachycephaly, depending on the physical characteristics inherited from its Bulldog ancestors.
The Purebred vs Mixed Breed Debate
There is quite a lot of division amongst dog lovers about the health and wellbeing of different kinds of dogs. On one side, you have fans of the purebred dogs. In this article we’ve mentioned a few purebred Bulldogs. The English Bulldog is a prime example of a purebred dog.
On the other side there are proponents of ‘hybrid vigor’. These are the people who claim that mixing dog breeds produces the strongest genetic makeup, and therefore the healthiest dogs.
Purebred breeders and fans say that hybrid vigor is a myth, and that their dogs are healthier. However, we only need to look at the many kinds of purebred Bulldogs to know that being pure bred doesn’t mean being healthy.
Which Bulldog Breed is Right for Me?
What’s the best Bulldog breed? That all depends on what you are looking for in a companion animal. Sadly, two of the most popular Bulldog breeds, the French and English, suffer from the most health problems and can require considerable (and expensive) veterinary care. Looking at a healthier version like the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog can be a better choice.
You may have your heart set on one of these breeds, but it’s important to consider whether you have the time, patience, and finances to properly care for your Bulldog over the course of its lifetime.
A healthier option for Bulldog fans can be a Bulldog breed that was not bred for extremes of appearance. Longer muzzles are always healthier than shorter ones, and a straight tail is healthier than a screw tail.
You might have better luck with one of the many different bulldog breeds aside from the ones you had in mind first.
Whichever type of Bulldog you choose, make sure to work with a reputable breeder who health tests their breeding stock. Any breeder you visit should be happy to field any questions that you might have. He also should be comfortable showing you where the litter live as well as where mom and dad live.
If you aren’t happy with any aspect of the breeder’s credentials or facilities then you are well within your rights to walk away. It’s important that breeders are held to high standards.
Find Out More About The Different Bulldog Breeds
Have Your Say
We would love to know your opinion about all things Bulldog.
Already have a Bulldog? We’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your Bulldog in the comments below! Otherwise, good luck in your search for your new best friend!
References and Further Reading
- Pedersen et al. A Genetic Assessment of the English Bulldog. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2016.
- Packer et al. Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. PLoS ONE, 2015.
- Hale, F. Stop Brachycephalism, Now! Canadian Veterinary Journal, 2013.
- French Bulldog Hemivertebrae. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 2011.
- Packer, R.M.A., Hendricks, A., Burn, C.C. Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Corneal Ulceration. PLos ONE, 2015.
- Rusbridge, C. Canine Chondrodystrophic Intervertebral Disc Disease (Hansen Type I Disc Disease). BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 2015.