Hereditary deafness has been studied for years and today it is a condition which still puzzles medical professionals, as it is passed on from parents to offspring in no general pattern. Hereditary deafness is often detected in early stages of a pup´s life, as he may not respond to calls or warnings from other dogs, and can experience undisturbed sleep. Veterinarians specializing in neuroscience diagnose deafness by conducting a Baer test, which detects hearing responses in the brain from auscultated sounds. There is no cure for deafness and treatment consists of specialized training to aid your dog’s communication.
- Hip Dysplasia
The hip is made up of the socket of the pelvis (acetabulum) and the ball of the femur (femoral head). It’s known as a ball-in-socket joint, allowing for 360 degree rotation movement. Hip dysplasia occurs when the ball (femoral head of the long bone) no longer resides in the socket of the pelvis. This condition prevents the hip from functioning properly, leading to visible ailments of pain, lameness, morphology, and inability to engage in daily activity. Hip dysplasia is commonly seen in large breed dogs and those which carry extra weight. Diagnosis of this condition can be made through X-ray, CAT scan, or exploratory procedures. Treatment of this condition will be determined through veterinary finds and the severity of the disease.
- Cherry Eye
Dogs have an upper, lower and corner eyelid. The third eyelid is known as the nictitating membrane or haw. This special membrane is meant to protect the dog’s eye, but sometimes the tear gland protrudes from behind the third eyelid as a red mass. This condition is called cherry eye and can be caused by orbital pressure due to infection, inflammation, or weakness of the muscles surrounding the eye. Cherry eyes are commonly treated by removing the underlying cause of the protrusion. The condition itself is not painful to the dog, however the exposed gland can become infected. A surgical replacement of the gland may be necessary to correct the problem if the veterinarian can not reposition the gland back into place. Surgery is not painful to the French Bulldog, but could lead to dry eye later in life.
- Brachycephalic Respiratory Syndrome
The word Brachycephalic comes from the Greek roots “Brachy-” meaning short, and “-cephalic,” meaning head. Brachycephalic dogs were purposely bred to have a cosmetically flat or “pushed in” faces. All French Bulldogs along with the Shih Tzu, Standard Bulldog, Boxer, Pekingese, Boston Terrier and Pug all have this genetic disposition. Dogs that suffer from this disposition will have a difficult time breathing, leading to noisy breathing, snoring and snorting. Severely affected dogs may tire easily during exercise, cough, vomit or gag.
- The Respiratory System
Brachycephalic dog breeds, like the French bulldog, are compromised in the way they breath. Brachycephalic respiratory syndrome affects different areas of the respiratory tract. Due to the elongated soft palate, less air is able to enter the lungs causing the dog to be exercise intolerance and breath through their mouths rather than the nose. Luckily, most flat-faced dogs can go through life without having their genetic disposition effect their breathing, but owners should be aware of which aspect of the condition your pet has.
- Stenotic Nares
Stenotic nares is basically a fancy name veterinarians give dogs with narrow nostrils. Every brachycephalic dog is born with a smaller than average snout, and is also predisposed to having very narrow nasal openings. Not surprisingly this makes breathing difficult and can lead to more snorting, more snoring and quicker exhaustion in exercise. If the condition worsens to the point of your French bulldog being unable to do regular activities, surgery may be required to enlarge the nostrils.
- Tracheal Stenosis
Tracheal Stenosis is when the windpipe, also known as the trachea, is dangerously narrowed. A dog with Tracheal Stenosis poses a tremendous risk during anesthetic procedures, such as anesthetic used in common spay/neuter surgery, and should have radiographs (also known as x-rays) of the chest prior to surgical procedure.
- Heat Stress
Most canines can cool themselves through the act of panting. A Dolichocephalic (Greyhound, Basset hound, Siberian husky) or Mesocephalic (Beagle, Border collie, Labrador retriever) dog can easily cool themselves through panting because their long faces and broad snouts allow air to flow easily over the tongue. As air is inhaled, it passes over the tongue where saliva evaporates and cools the blood circulating inside the tongue. The cooled blood then circulates to the rest of the body, eventually cooling the dog down. Due to the French bulldog’s faulty upper respiratory system, this Brachycephalic breed has to work twice as hard to pass the same amount of air over their tongue. As the dog forces air into his small mouth, the airways become swollen and inflamed. The result is further obstruction of the dog’s airways, distress and overheating.
- Elongated Soft Palate
The soft palate is the flap of mucosal tissue which prevents food and liquid from entering the lungs during swallowing. In dogs with a normal soft palate, the tissue just slightly touches the thin, elastic-cartilage structure that prevents food from going down the dog’s windpipe (known as the epiglottis). Because of the short mouth of a brachycephalic dog however, the palate tends to greatly overlap the epiglottis. As a result, this tissue that separates the mouth cavity from the nose loosely flaps into the throat creating the sound of snoring. Dog owners can identify the obstruction by sounds of gagging, gurgling, stridor, snoring and/or snorting.
- Laryngeal Collapse
An elongated soft palate can cause secondary health problems such as collapse of the larynx, the muscular structure in the throat that houses your pup’s vocal cords. The elongated soft palate pushes on the inside of the throat, causing the ligaments that support the dog’s voice box to stretch out. Overstretching of these supporting ligaments become weak and are no longer able to keep the throat open. They gradually collapse inward, preventing air to pass through. A dog that has a laryngeal collapse can go into cardiac arrest or acute respiratory insufficiency with a simple change in breathing, like with that of exercise.
Luckily laryngeal collapse can be prevented by a surgical procedure known as a soft palate resection. This procedure shortens the edges of the soft palate that overlap the epiglottis. Have your French bulldog examined by a veterinarian to identify this breed’s abnormality before these serious problems arise.
Hemivertebrae is a congenital (present at birth) defect in which the vertebrae are deformed. In most cases this means vertebrae are an abnormal wedge shaped or that two or more vertebrae have fused, causing the spin to twist. Hemivertebrae is commonly seen in the French bulldog’s “screw tail.” Hemivertebrae in the tail may be cute, but if the condition is also present in the spine it can cause compressions of the spinal cord. When pressure is placed on the spinal cord, the nerves running through the column are unable to receive messages from the brain, causing paralysis. Signs that a dog has Hemivertebrae in the spinal column is weakness to the hind limbs, inability to control the bladder or bowel, and pain.
Most cases of Hemivertebrae do not need to be treated. Pain associated with the condition can be managed through anti-inflammatory medications. However, in the case where the condition is affecting the spinal nerves, a surgical procedure known as hemilaminectomy will be needed.
- Intervertebral Disc Disease
Intervertebral Disc Disease or IVDD, is a condition in which the cartilage cushioning between the vertebrae of the spinal column herniate (burst or bulge). Without the cartilage to cushion in between the vertebrae, the discs weigh down on each other and push on the nerves of the spinal cord causing pain, damage to the nerve or even paralysis.
A dog with IVDD will be reluctant to move, cry out when touched, display an arched back, drag his legs, stumble, tremble, or lose control of bladder and bowel function. IVDD can be diagnosed through a simple x-ray of the spine and treated through management of the dog’s current state, or surgery in some cases.
- Patellar Luxation
Patellar Luxation refers to the condition in which the patellar (kneecap) does not remain in its proper place. A dog with patellar luxation will have uncontrollable popping in and out of the knee cap. The knee cap may also slide from side to side, making proper use of the knee near impossible. A dog with this medical condition may limp, stagger or fall suddenly without reasoning. The main treatment option for those with a patellar luxation is usually management. Management of weight, pain and stress all aid in a more comfortable lifestyle for the canine. In cases which have prolonged in severity, the dog must undergo surgery.
An Entropion is characterized by an inversion of the eyelids. As the eyelids rotate, eyelashes scratch at the eye’s orbit, causing pain, inflammation and overall discomfort. A dog with an Entropion will continuously rub his eyes, have difficulties seeing and have an increase in tear production. Recurrent Entropion must be treated surgically to prevent corneal scratches, lesions and conjunctivitis. Treatment options for an Entropion include removal of excessive eyelid tissues or securing the tissues in place.
Distichiasis is defined as abnormal hair growth upon the eyelids. The hairs grow from the eyelid’s oil glands, in spots where eyelashes are not normally found, like on the inside the eyelid.The condition of a Distichiasis is not only abnormal in appearance but will cause abnormal symptoms. Distichiasis will cause symptoms such as conjunctivitis, redness to the eye’s orbit, blepharospasm, excessive blinking and large tear production.
A dog with a Distichiasis will be extremely uncomfortable and should be treated as soon as possible. Treatment of Distichiasis is necessary as this condition can lead to secondary blindness or slow-healing irritation to the eye’s cornea known as corneal ulceration. A procedure called cryoepilation has proven to be a highly effective treatment for this condition (though I have to admit, it sounds a bit gruesome!). This treatment involves freezing the outgrowing hairs with liquid nitrogen, then individually removing the extended hairs.
Cataracts are defined as an opacity on the lens portion of the eye. The lens of the eye is like the lens on a camera: the device requires light and should be free of obstructions. A cataract is like an obstruction on the camera lens, and your Frenchie will not be able to see past this obstruction. Cataracts in their beginning stages will often not affect the dog’s vision, but after time the dog will become blind.
Cataracts occur due to trauma to the eye, old age or disease. A dog owner can identify a cataract as a light blue ball on the external portion of the eye’s orbit. If you notice a cataract on your dog’s eye, contact your veterinarian to discuss treatment options. Veterinarians may choose to leave the cataract for some time if it is not affect the dog’s sight, but will require surgical removal over time.
- Von Willebrand’s Disease (VWD)
Von Willebrand’s Disease (VWD) is a blood sickness created by a low amount of specific protein—the von Willebrand factor—in the blood. The function of these proteins is to make blood clot. Just like with hemophilia in people, this condition can cause open wounds to bleed uncontrollably, because a clot can not form. A dog with VWD will display symptoms of anemia, prolonged surgical bleeding, skin bruising, vaginal bleeding, gum bleeding, presence of blood within the urine, presence of blood within the feces and nosebleeds. Treatment involves a transfusion of fresh whole blood, fresh plasma, fresh frozen plasma, and cryoprecipitate.
Healthiest of all the Bull Breeds
In spite of all 17 health conditions, French Bulldogs are still considered to be the healthiest of the Bull Breeds. When selecting a French bulldog for the first time, always ask the breeder to produce certification that the pup’s parents have been screened for these common hereditary health problems. Anyone can check the health of their French bulldog’s parents on the CHIC or Canine Health Information Center health registry.
All dogs on the Canine Health Information Center are required by the FBDCA to have a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, a thyroid exam, OFA heart exam, OFA knee evaluation, PennHIP or Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) evaluation and an evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
The breeder must agree to all test results published on the site be it positive or negative.
There is no guarantee that the French bulldog you purchase is 100% free of hereditary health issues, but through a responsible purchase and annual visits to the veterinary clinic they certainly can be avoided.
French Bulldogs are Great Pets!
You love your French bulldog and want him to live a happy, healthy life—we get that! And, though we can’t promise it’ll happen, we can warn you of the risks. Catching any of these 17 health issues early will lengthen your dog’s life and ensure he does not suffer from hereditary health problems.
About the Author
Mary Beth Miller is a registered veterinary technician from southeast Iowa. She works in a large/small animal veterinary clinic and also volunteers at the local Humane Society, Emergency Animal Care Center, as well as the Iowa Parrot Rescue. Her passion lies in helping save the lives of animals. MaryBeth has three dogs, a Siberian husky named Rocky and two rescue dogs named Sambita and Nina.