Living with a French Bulldog
Text: Diana Andersen, Animalinfo Publications
Photos: Diana Andersen and Dorit Fischler DVM
There are few canine faces with more expression than the French Bulldog. Small dogs with huge personalities, the breed has boomed in popularity in recent years. Featuring on popular television programs, social media and being the breed of choice for many celebrities has seen the breed rocket to the top of breed popularity lists. Unfortunately, choosing a dog based on popularity rather than research is a recipe for problems.
French Bulldogs have more health issues than most, requiring dedication and enlightened, responsible ownership. Owning a French Bulldog can be very rewarding. However, you need to understand the breed, choose a reputable breeder to acquire your puppy from, and understand the responsibilities of owning this charismatic breed.
Despite their small stature, French Bulldogs have a ‘big dog’ mentality. Playful, comical, full of fun, they are inclined to be very boisterous in small doses, restricted only by being a brachycephalic breed with restricted airways. With almost human qualities, owning a French Bulldog can be like having a perpetual toddler, full of mischief and mayhem. They are intelligent, loving and affectionate towards their owners, males often more so than females, making them outstanding companions that love to spend time with their owners.
French Bulldog tug of war.
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On the downside, French Bulldogs can be destructive, inclined to relieve their boredom while their family is out by destroying their toys and other household items and chewing through table and chair legs like a beaver. They are a breed inclined to have gas, often require a clean-up around their bottom, and may snore loudly due to their restricted airways. If any of these things will bother you, then a French Bulldog is not for you. They are a breed that needs to be part of the family, so leaving them outside to avoid these issues is not an option.
Like all dogs, maintaining health and fitness through some form of exercise is important, but they suffer terribly in the heat, so if you think you will be able to go jogging with your French Bulldog, think again! Especially in warmer climates, French Bulldogs are attracted to water and love a trip to the beach. Some French Bulldogs swim well, but others will sink like a stone. Due to their anatomical features, prolonged swimming is impossible, so families with a backyard pool face a real risk of their pet drowning if their pool is not secure.
They are classified as a dwarf breed with limited physical flexibility, making them vulnerable to growth injuries when they are young. Even when they are older, care needs to be taken to avoid injuries to their body frame. Playing boisterous games with bigger dogs and leaping up and down stairs is to be avoided. French Bulldogs are better suited to single-story homes where there is less risk of injury from over-extending themselves.
Almost without exception, French Bulldogs love people, not just their people but everyone, a characteristic that makes them easier to rehome than many other breeds. However, other dogs are another matter. Descended from the ancient Molossus dogs of Greece and Rome used to guard homes and livestock, they have very little fear of anything and can be both possessive and protective of their family. It is not unusual to experience lead aggression when walking towards other dogs from their desire to protect their owners.
Aggression in guarding breeds is often the result of anxiety and watchfulness, so owners must understand this behaviour’s potential resulting from the breed’s original purpose. They require an understanding of dog psychology, training, and socialisation from an early age to discourage aggressive behaviour towards other dogs. Despite being small and compact, they are physically quite strong for their size. Allowing small children to walk them on their own can be risky if they end up in an altercation with another dog. They may be a little too strong for the elderly as well.
They are often wilful and stubborn and can be difficult, but not impossible, to train. Spoiling and treating your puppy like a baby are not recommended for the breed, particularly one with an alpha temperament. Consistency in training will help your puppy learn the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Getting advice from trainers and dog behaviourists when you start your journey with a French Bulldog is highly recommended as wrongly disciplined dogs can become dangerous.
Good breeders have been working on selecting for a combination of health and softer temperament, but it is part of the breed’s history. While there are French Bulldogs that can play well in a social environment, there is always the potential for problems in this area, particularly if they are challenged by another dog or sense a threat to their family.
I recommend that you look for a breeder, happy for you to meet the puppies’ parents and preferably the other siblings. If the breeder used an outside stud, this might not always be possible, but you can at least discuss the father’s temperament with them. If the breeder participates in competitive dog shows, you can attend one, or preferably more, to meet their dogs. Seeing how their dogs behave outside of their typical home environment may help you determine how outgoing and friendly their dogs are.
French Bulldogs playing at the beach.
The Ideal French Bulldog Owner
Due to their inclination to be destructive and their potential to overheat in warmer climates, a situation where owners work from home or someone is at home during the day is ideal, providing a safe and stimulating environment for the dog. French Bulldogs thrive when they are part of the family and should be allowed inside.
In warm climates, the air conditioner needs to keep them cool and be left on while they are home alone. This is an expense that needs to be considered when deciding on a French Bulldog. Bear in mind that power outages can happen, so doggy daycare may be a safer alternative if you are away from home in extreme climates. Due to the potential for health problems, pet insurance is not cheap for this breed and without it, veterinary bills can make owning a French Bulldog very expensive.
A stable home with an income is important for this breed. Families that include children are fine provided the children are not below school age. They need to be old enough to understand the responsibilities of owning and caring for a French Bulldog. Being a brachycephalic breed, their airways and throat are smaller, so excessively rough play and inappropriate dog chews and toys can result in choking. It is unlikely that very small children will grasp the importance of these issues.
Although they have a very short, easy-care coat, they still drop hair, so those that are allergic to dog hair will still have a problem with this breed. Apartment living is fine, provided you can devote time to walking your dog. As a breed with bouts of energy and playfulness, a small garden or grass area is advantageous so they can burn off their excess energy, helping them maintain a healthy weight through exercise.
Training needs to consistent and should involve the whole family. Many good breeders will commence toilet training before you collect your puppy using various methods, including taking them outside as soon as they are old enough, teaching them to use litter trays, fake grass or doggy toilets. Following the training advice of the breeder is highly recommended.
French Bulldog Health
Many purebred dogs suffer from genetic health disorders, and French Bulldogs are no exception. Often these disorders will affect crossbreed dogs as well. For instance, the genes for some skin disorders are the same in all dogs, so a cross will not eliminate the problem. However, there is now a range of DNA tests and other forms of health testing that reputable purebred breeders use to reduce the incidence of these disorders in their breeding dogs.
Choosing a puppy from a good breeder that participates in health screening is highly recommended for this breed. Health screening is expensive, so it is unlikely that someone with a couple of French Bulldogs of unknown parentage will spend the money to get the screening done before having a litter leaving you at risk of purchasing a puppy with health issues. If the puppy comes from a pet shop, it may also have been bred in a puppy mill where many dogs are kept in poor conditions. Being a selective purchaser is the best way to discourage the breeding activities of unethical breeders.
There are many breeders of French Bulldogs that do extensive testing. With some research, you should locate a good breeder that can provide a puppy from tested parents. Still, it is important to do some personal research on the health disorders the breed suffers from and what the results of testing mean before looking for a puppy.
The high dollar value of French Bulldog puppies has attracted many less than genuine, money orientated breeders who may advertise that the parents have been health tested but fail to mention that they have not had passing scores that make them suitable for breeding. Breeders that do not discuss French Bulldog health are either ignorant of the problems or are avoiding the discussion. Both are reasons to avoid the breeder and continue looking. Puppies are hard to resist, so it is better to ask these questions before viewing with a litter of adorable French Bulldog puppies.
French Bulldog puppies are hard to resist
The major health concerns in the breed relate to their spine, their breathing, their eyes and skin allergies. As a short compact breed with a screw tail, they tend to suffer from hemivertebrae. These are congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae. Depending on where they are located along the spine, these abnormalities can result in mobility problems as your puppy develops, particularly if they are located along the lumbar area. Responsible breeders follow the recommendations of the major breed organizations, which include puppies being x-rayed before sale to identify any lateral and horizontal deviations and vertebral fusions.
The breed can also suffer from hip dysplasia, so responsible breeders will repeat x-rays of breeding dogs at 12months looking for abnormalities of the spine and hips, removing affected dogs from their breeding programs. There are nationally recognised screening organizations that assess the x-rays and provide the scores and breeding recommendations. Some breeders also DNA test for IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease), a degenerative condition resulting in herniated discs that may affect older dogs.
French Bulldogs are a brachycephalic breed which means that they have a shortened head. The short nose and flat face results in them having the potential for upper airway obstruction. This condition is referred to as BOAS (brachycephalic obstructed airway syndrome). It results from a combination of a long soft palate, narrow nostrils, everted laryngeal saccules and a narrowing or underdevelopment of the trachea.
All brachycephalic dogs have the potential to suffer from obstructed airways if they begin to pant excessively as a result of heat, humidity, excessive exercise or excitement, among other things. They are also at greater risk when undergoing general anaesthetic. While you can manage the condition in moderately affected dogs, severely affected dogs may require surgery to open nostrils or remove part of the soft palate to open the airways. It is strongly recommended by breed organizations that severely affected dogs be removed from breeding programs.
Being a brachycephalic breed also impacts their digestion which contributes to the breed having gas and other digestive issues common in bull breeds. A smaller throat and a large tongue make it difficult for a French Bulldog to grab food efficiently, and the resulting turbulence and air ingestion will affect the rest of the digestive process. Providing a simple diet with foods that facilitate the digestive process, such as moderate fat and protein, to spare the liver and kidneys with the addition of a probiotic can be helpful.
Ingestible toys and treats can result in irritation of the digestive tract. Speaking to your breeder and vet on a suitable diet is a good place to start. Further reading on basic digestion in bull breeds by Dorit Fischler DVM is provided at the end of this article.
French Bulldogs may suffer from hereditary cataracts. DNA testing for the condition in breeding animals and an examination of the puppies by a registered canine ophthalmologist before collection is also recommended. As they have quite large eyes that are easily damaged due to the shortness of the face, they are also at risk of corneal ulcers. The eye conditions pannus and cherry eye also occur to a lesser extent in the breed.
Some French Bulldogs can suffer from skin allergies that are often strongly inherited from an affected parent. Many are inclined to chew their feet, but this is potentially a behavioural issue. Other congenital defects that may affect puppies include cleft palate and hare lips. Other known conditions that occur to a lesser extent include luxating patellas, heart conditions, thyroid problems, and cystinuria. The extent to which breeders may test for these conditions may vary depending on what is prevalent in their country and their lines.
It is worth mentioning that the high price of French Bulldog puppies has seen less scrupulous breeders introducing the merle gene into French Bulldog lines to increase the price even further. This has most likely come about by introducing merle Chihuahuas as the long coat gene has also suddenly appeared. The merle gene is well established in other breeds and is associated with hearing and sight defects. Merle to merle mating in any breed dramatically increases the risk of blind, deaf and deformed puppies. Eye defects that have been recorded in merle French Bulldog puppies since they suddenly appeared include iris hypoplasia, iris coloboma, eccentric pupils and starburst pupils.
As a result, no reputable kennel club will register the pedigrees of these puppies. These puppies tend to be far more expensive than well-bred puppies from reputable breeders. Some health issues may not become apparent until a puppy is older, so purchasing a puppy from a breeder that will provide support should an issue arise is highly recommended.
Locating a Reputable Breeder
The importance of sourcing a puppy from a reputable breeder of French Bulldogs can’t be overstated, but how do you recognise a good breeder? Obviously, breeders that participate in health testing are a good place to start, but there are other things to consider. Good breeders want the best for their puppies, so most will offer, or even require, a puppy to be returned to them if it isn’t a good fit for your family. They will do their best to make sure this situation doesn’t eventuate by ensuring that their puppy buyers are well suited to owning a French Bulldog, have researched the breed, and understand the commitment required.
They may want references or records from your veterinarian and will often require a questionnaire to be completed to help them assess your suitability. This process is aimed at helping you to avoid making a mistake by bringing a French Bulldog into your life and should be viewed as a service rather than a burden. Re-homing a puppy can be an upsetting experience for your family, so it is in your best interest to answer the breeder’s questions as honestly as you can.
The best breeders tend to breed rarely, so they may have a waiting list for their puppies. For them, it is more about improving the breed and finding good homes for their pups than breeding large numbers of puppies. It is worth the wait for a puppy from this type of breeder. A good breeder should allow you to meet their breeding dogs and provide you with as much information on the breed as they can. Meeting the breeder in person, if possible, assists them in assessing you as a potential owner and helps them determine which puppy may be suited to your family. Temperaments vary within a litter, so following a breeder’s recommendations is advisable.
Once puppies are born, breeders should keep you updated on their progress. Some will use social media to connect with their puppy buyers, keeping them updated with photos and progress reports. They may provide links or breed club info to help you do your homework on the breed while waiting to collect your puppy.
On collection, you should receive a puppy pack that includes your sales agreement, registration and pedigree papers, microchip records, copies of the parent’s health certificates, and results of any health tests and x-ray screens performed on the puppy. The puppy should have been vaccinated, so the breeder should include the certificate and information on the future schedule for vaccinations, and worming should also be supplied. Some breeders also include several weeks of pet health insurance to allow time for you to arrange your own insurance. It often includes information on training, diet, and some food to take home with you to avoid sudden changes in diet that might result in diarrhoea.
Your puppy pack may also include toys, a blanket with the mother to reduce initial stress, and other bonus items you may need. By far, the most valuable thing that you will receive is the support of a breeder that cares about the welfare of their puppies, who will be there to help you for the lifetime of your French Bulldog. It can make the difference between having to re-home a dog that has become part of the family or experiencing devastating health or behavioural issues that make you regret bringing this charismatic breed into your life.
For those that want the statistics…
Colours: Brindles which range from almost solid black (a trace of brindle will be evident) to light brindle. Fawn with or without a black mask. Pied (white with brindle or fawn patches).
Weight: Male: 12.5 kgs (28 lbs) Female: 11 kgs (24 lbs).
Height: Male: 27-35 cm, Female: 24-32 cm
Life Expectancy: 11-13 years
French Bulldog Digestion, Dorit Fischler DVM
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