Could the English bulldog be on the brink of extinction?
Researchers say the lack of genetic diversity in the popular breed is putting it at risk of ever improving the overall health of English bulldogs.
In a study published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, veterinary researchers from the University of California, Davis concluded that extreme inbreeding of English bulldogs to favour physical features that humans find cute resulted in making them “one of the most popular and unhealthiest dog breeds.”
“We were taken back by how little ‘wiggle room’ still exists in the breed for making additional genetic changes,” the study’s lead author Niels Pedersen said in a press release.
The researchers found that 93 per cent of the 103 dogs they studied came from one paternal line.
Genetic diversity is necessary to correct any health problems that a species might face. In this case, English bulldogs suffer from breathing problems due to bracycephaly (also known as “flat head syndrome”) and hip problems due to chondrodysplasia (a hereditary skeletal disorder).
“Changes in their skeletal structures and their breathing problems have made it difficult for them to breed normally and give birth normally,” Pedersen told CBS News. “You start to see the whole viability of the breed to collapse.”
The study pegs the median lifespan of an English bulldog at around eight-and-a-half years, but noted that puppies that need more veterinary care rarely live beyond six years.
Pedersen believes that changes need to be made in order for the breed to return to health.
“Just because they’re great apartment dogs – affectionate, and some think they’re cute and baby-like – you can’t just breed them because they’re popular,” he said. “That’s no excuse for allowing them to be unhealthy, and that’s where it is right now.”