The worst experience for a conscientious breeder is producing a sick puppy. Even when health issues are minor, common and to be expected with the breed, it is still heartbreaking to know that one of your beloved pups may not be 100% healthy.
If a breeder knows from birth, or prior to placing, that a puppy is sick, it is grossly unethical to sell the puppy without disclosing all health information to the new owner. As a buyer, you must absolutely be certain that you are receiving your puppy with documented veterinary health clearance, vaccinations, and a clear fecal exam. The puppy should see the vet within days of release to your care, and then again between 24-72 hours after being placed in your care. Yes, this protects you and the breeder - but more importantly, it protects the puppy.
However, many of the most common traits known to the French Bulldog breed are not readily apparent in the first few months of birth. In this case, buyers must research this breed thoroughly and know what to expect before making the Frenchie parent commitment. Many breeders offer guidance for the life of the puppy, this is one of the qualities that I personally look for when buying from other breeders.
FactsVery rarely do breeders admit to producing a sick puppy of any kind. Even the mention of non-life threatening and easily treatable problems such as cherry eye or demodex is met with adamant denial. In fact, if you have ever had the misfortune of reading the social media posts on Facebook "help" groups and pages for Frenchies, you have seen that help is limited, many of the posters are judgmental, the majority of breeders claim to have never had a sick pup of any kind, and anyone who has is accused of being a bad breeder. Well, this could not be further from the truth and this mentality is not conducive to bettering the breed. If we cannot honestly tackle the real issues, how can they be fixed?
Here are the facts, void of ego, void of judgments - just the facts.
First, understand clearly that there is little to no comparison between the advancements made in human genetic testing and canine genetic testing. Somehow, many people are under the impression that there are an abundance of canine genetic disease-causing mutations that can be tested for, predicted, and prevented. In actuality, according to Genome News Network (GNN), the scientific effort to map canine genetics is minuscule, with limited funding available to researchers, in comparison to the human genome project (Guynup, n.d.).
Experts estimate that as many as one quarter of the approximately 20 million purebred dogs living in US households have or carry serious genetic disease. In humans, a one-percent disease rate is considered high, in purebred dogs living in the US, we have a 25% disease rate (Guynup, n.d.).
Unfortunately, dogs are plagued by the greatest number of documented, naturally occurring genetic disorders of any non-human species (Guynup, n.d.).
American Veterinarian (www.americanveterinarian.com) published an article in May 2018 regarding the health issues common to French Bulldogs. The article cites a study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College in London which revealed that 72.4% of their 2228 French Bulldog participants had at least one recorded disorder. These disorders included ear infections, conjunctivitis, skinfold dermatitis, cherry eye, and brachycephalic airway syndrome (which encompasses stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, hypoplastic trachea, and everted laryngeal saccules). To date, none of the most common disorders, as outlined in the study, can be prevented with genetic testing (The, n.d.).
French Bulldog Genetic TestingThe good news is that advancements in the genetic testing of canines are ongoing and we currently have some valuable resources available to us as breeders and owners.
Animal Genetics (www.animalgenetics.us) offers a variety of canine genetic testing services including DNA profile testing, color and trait testing, parentage testing, and 60 canine genetic diseases that can be tested for, depending on your breed of dog.
Of the 60 canine genetic diseases that Animal Genetics offers, only 4 are commonly tested for in French Bulldogs, and only 4 are offered as a package for French Bulldog owners and breeders.
When breeders advertise their dog as "four panel clear", they are referring to the tests listed below, essentially the only tests readily and affordably offered for our breed through Animal Genetics.
CMR1 - Canine Multifocal Retinopathy Type 1
An autosomal recessive eye disorder known to affect Great Pyrenees, English Mastiffs, Bullmastiffs, Australian Shepherds, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Bulldogs, AMerican Bulldogs, Coton de Tulears, Perro de Presa Canario, and Cane Corsos. The mutation causes raised lesions to form on the retina which alter the appearance of the eye but do not usually affect sight. The lesions may disappear, or may result in minor retinal folding. Symptoms of the mutation usually appear when a puppy is only a few months old, and do not worsen over time.
DM - Degenerative Myelopathy
A progressive neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord of dogs. Dogs that have inherited 2 defective copies will experience a breakdown of the cells responsible for sending and receiving signals from the brain, resulting in neurological symptoms. The disease often begins with an unsteady gait, and the dog may wobble when they attempt to walk. As the disease progresses, the dog's hind legs will weaken and eventually the dog will be unable to walk at all. Degenerative Myelopathy moves up the body, so if the disease is allowed to progress, the dog will eventually be unable to hold his bladder and will lose normal function in its front legs. Fortunately, there is no direct pain associated with Degenerative Myelopathy. Onset of DM generally occurs later in life starting at an average of about 10 years. A percentage of dogs that have inherited two copies of the mutation will not experience symptoms at all. Thus, this disease is not completely penetrant, meaning that while a dog with the mutation is likely to develop Degenerative Myelopathy, the disease does not affect every dog that has the genotype.
HUU - Hyperuricosuria
Dogs with this genetic mutation metabolize waste products as uric acid in their urine. The uric acid forms into hard stones in the bladder, causing pain and inflammation as the stone moves through the urinary tract. A dog that has difficulty urinating or appears to have an inflamed bladder may have HUU. Other signs can include blood in the urine and frequent urination. If the dog is unable to pass the urate stones without medical intervention, surgery may be required to remove them. And if the urinary tract is blocked, the condition can be life threatening. Even in the best case scenario, HUU is uncomfortable and painful for the dog. The mutation is autosomal recessive. Both parents will need to be carriers of the mutation to pass it on to their offspring. Carriers will not show any symptoms of HUU and even affected dogs may not show any signs, so it is important to test dogs for HUU prior to breeding.
JHC - Juvenile Hereditary Cataracts
JHC causes a clouding of the lens of the eye due to a breakdown of tissue in the eye. The condition results in an inability to see clearly and can cause total blindness. In canines, cataracts are often familiar but there are also cataracts caused by a mutation in the HSF4 gene. One HSF4 mutation causes the recessive form of JHC in French Bulldogs. Because it is recessive, a dog must have two copies of this mutation to experience this form of cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by old age or injury and these types of cataracts are not attributed to this gene mutation.
Final Thoughts So, where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us somewhat in the dark when it comes to the most common health concerns for our breed, doesn't it? In fact, the most common issues we have to deal with are not yet genetically testable and, unless you are God, there is no 100% method of prevention at this time. The only thing a breeder can effectively do is know as much as possible about the history of their breeding pair, and even then, these undesirable traits can arise randomly from as many as five generations back. With the stigma surrounding unhealthy puppies, breeders are often not forthright about these issues in their lines, making it truly a guessing game as to whether or not we are making the best choices for our program.
It is not in my scope to advise other breeders of what they should or should not do, this blog is meant to educate Frenchie owners or those who are searching for a French Bulldog. So, I can only speak for myself when I say that the most ethical thing that I can do, as a breeder, to maintain the quality of health in our line is to be forthright and honest about health issues (especially involving our publicly offered studs), retire breeding stock that we know to produce puppies that are genetically flawed, and do our due diligence in helping to educate our clients and offer resources should issues arise.
The most responsible thing that you can do when buying a pup is to research this breed and realize that, regardless of genetic testing and the dedication of the breeder, issues may arise that will require additional efforts and financial commitment on your part, as the owner. Request a full veterinary clearance by a board certified veterinarian, up to date vaccinations, and fecal testing for parasites prior to receiving your puppy. Find a breeder that will go the extra mile with you, and not turn their back on their pup, if issues arise.
It takes a village to raise French Bulldogs, but the additional efforts employed to protect and enhance the health of the breed is worth it.
"Anybody can be a parent, but it takes someone special to be a French Bulldog parent"
Animal Genetics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.animalgenetics.us/
Guynup, S. (n.d.). Genetic Testing for Dogs. Retrieved from http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/07_00/genetic_testing_dogs.shtml
The Most Common Health Problems in French Bulldogs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.americanveterinarian.com/news/the-most-common-health-problems-in-french-bulldogs