Health Issues in French Bulldogs
Frenchies are a Brachycephalic breed – a fancy word which basically means dogs with short muzzles, flat faces and condensed breathing systems.
This is what’s responsible for the adorable snorting and snuffling sounds your Frenchie makes – but it’s also a serious matter for your dog’s health. They also combine to make anesthetic a serious matter for the breed. Anesthetic should only ever be administered for the most critical of procedures – no ‘putting under’ for simple nail clippings, please. Isoflourine is the most popular type of anesthesia, for various reasons, but this is a topic best discussed with your Veterinarian.
The shorter breathing system of the French Bulldog is also what puts them at such very strong risk for heat stroke. Shorter airways means less possibility of cooling the air which the dogs draws into its body.
Never, EVER underestimate your dog’s susceptibility
to heat stroke. Limit their exposure to temperatures
which you might personally find only mildly hot,
be conscious of your dog’s proximity to
hot pavement, NEVER leave your Frenchie in a
locked car in even warm weather, and always
allow them lots of access to fresh water, shade,
and cool areas to escape from heat. Be alert,
and be prepared with the things you need to save
your dog’s life.
Elongated Soft Palate
One of the the most common forms of airway obstruction in Brachycephalic breeds is due to an elongated soft palate. The soft palate is an extension of the hard palate which forms the roof of the mouth. The purpose of the soft palate is to serve as a mobile flap preventing food and water from entering the nasal passages during swallowing. A soft palate that is elongated will either hang in front of the airway or will fall into the larynx during inhalation.
Dogs affected by chronic airway obstruction (CAO) tend to breathe rather noisily when excited. Mouth breathing, snoring and snorting are characteristics of this condition. These characteristics become even more pronounced when the dog is hot or during periods of exercise. The dogs frequently gag in an attempt to clear their airway and occasionally bring up foam and saliva while eating or drinking. The harder the dog breathes, the greater the swelling and elongation of the soft palate. Most often an elongated soft palate is difficult to positively confirm other than while the dog is under general anesthesia, surgical correction is usually done at the same time.
Tracheal collapse is the name given to a syndrome in which the rigid structure of the trachea becomes weakened. This weakened area collapses due to external and/or internal pressure created during activity, thus interfering with normal respiration. The weakened area becomes irritated. Since coughing and respiratory exertion can cause further irritation, clinical signs will worsen and the condition can become self perpetuating. Tracheal collapse may occur alone or in association with another airway disorder (most often chronic bronchitis).
A chronic “honking” cough can be an indication of this condition. In some cases the cough can become so severe that the animal behaves as though there is something caught in its throat. Other indications of this disorder include; breathing difficulty, tiring easily and exercise intolerance.
Mild cases often respond well to cough suppressants and stress reduction (reduce intense exercise and excitement). These dogs can live long and healthy lives. In more advanced cases surgical correction may be necessary. In cases of combination airway disorders, treatment of the contributing disorders may be necessary before treating the tracheal collapse.
Stenotic Nares are common in the French Bulldog breed. This is one of the many airway conditions which falls under “flat face” (brachycephalic syndrome).
Stenotic Nares in bulldogs is defined as narrowed nostrils. This narrowing causes a restriction in the amount of air that can flow into the nostrils. The diagnosis of stenotic nares is usually made during the physical exam via a visual inspection. Stenotic Nares can be surgically corrected in order to allow improved airflow through the nostrils. The procedure is performed by removing a wedge-shape piece of each nostril.
Stenotic Nares is more common in French bulldogs puppies then other bulldogs breeds. French Bulldog puppies with a mild case of stenotic nares will exhibit noisy breathing, especially with excitement, exercise, and stressful conditions, all of which increase the demand for oxygen. Most will snort when excited and snore when relaxed or asleep. Severely affected bulldogs will exhibit more pronounced airway noise, appear to tire easily with exercise, and may even collapse or faint after exercise. Symptoms can also include coughing, gagging, retching and vomiting.
When it comes to brachycephalic airway syndrome, weight control is instrumental in proper bulldog care. Bulldogs with mild stenotic nares symptoms will often show improvement with controlled exercise practiced in combination with avoidance of hot or humid conditions and stress. For short term relief of airway inflammation or respiratory distress, anti-inflammatory medications, tranquilizers, cooling down and oxygen therapy can be helpful. It’s important to note, however, that medical management of this condition does not correct the underlying anatomical abnormalities, but merely lessens the symptoms.
Cherry eye in french bulldogs is referred to medically as the prolapse or eversion of the gland of the nictitating membrane. Put simply, a fibrous membrane located in the lower inside corner of a dog’s eye becomes disconnected or the connecting material loses strength and allows the membrane to protrude from your dog’s eyelid. The protruding mass will remain in place until the condition is treated, giving the appearance of a cherry sticking out of the corner of your dog’s eye, hence the common referential name. What causes the connective tissue of the nictitating membrane to weaken or separate entirely is not well-known, although the condition is highly treatable by nearly any veterinarian.
Cherry eye is not lethal or fatal in French Bulldogs but it can cause an extreme amount of discomfort for your Frenchie. Often, dogs will claw at their eye with their dew claw, leading to corneal ulcers. Cherry eye almost always causes dry eyes and can be very itchy, causing inflammation and discomfort, and even severe pain for your dog. This is especially true in brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs, pugs, and Boston Terriers. The protruding eyes and shortened muzzles of these breeds naturally exposure them to more eye problems than other breeds. Like any French Bulldog eye problem, it is critical that you get your dog to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Your vet will likely prescribe a round of ocular antibiotics, regular twice-daily under-eye massages, ophthalmic ointments, an eye lubricant specifically for canines, and some NSAIDs to help with pain.
French Bulldog cherry eye symptoms are very obvious. Your Frenchie will paw and scratch at their eye. Their eye will appear dry, red, and irritated, too. Cherry can occur in one eye or in both eyes. Here are some very common cherry eye symptoms in French Bulldogs:
Eye redness (conjunctivitis)
Swelling around the eyes
Excessive tear production – signs of eye drainage
Abnormally dry eyes – insufficient tear production (yes, both too dry or too moist)
Rubbing/pawing at the eyes
Cherry eye is most prevalent in younger French Bulldogs. Normally, cherry eye will occur in dogs under two years of age. Some veterinarians speculate that cherry eye is genetic but no proof of that claim exists. Veterinarians do not agree entirely on what causes cherry eye in French Bulldogs. The condition is not fully understand, particularly the role of the nictitating membrane. That said, the condition is wholly treatable.
Cherry eye can be corrected using both surgical and non-surgical methods. Simple massage techniques can relieve the protrusion but will require constant veterinary monitoring. Surgical solutions include an attachment procedure in which the fleshly membrane of the everted tissue is anchored back to more hardy tissues in the lower corner of the eye socket. We recommend keeping a bottle of canine-only eye lubricant in your dog’s medicine cabinet to help with dry eyes. Remember, always take your French Bulldog to a veterinarian if you see any sign of eye problems. Many eye problems in french bulldogs can cause blindness.
Food Allergies & Skin Allergies
In most cases GI problems in Frenchies are more likely to be due to parasites, viral, bacteria, indiscretion eating, etc. and your bulldog skin condition are more likely due to atopy (environmental allergens), fleas and bacteria. Proper wellness and diagnostic rule outs should be done before a hypoallergenic food trail begins. If your bulldog also has a skin allergy consistent with food allergies (i.e. itching year around rather than a seasonal spike) then food allergies should be higher on your rule out list. Milder forms of food allergy could present with only frequent rumbling and gas release (yes that kind of gas, the one everyone turns his nose away from), but your bully might also suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
In some cases food allergies could progress to something like IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).
Offering fresh, organic, unprocessed fruits and vegetables to your bully is great; remember to avoid onions and grapes (raisins). When food allergy is suspected, a minimum of 8 weeks hypoallergenic food trial is advised. Your compliance and strict dietary maintenance during the trial duration is critical. The hypoallergenic diet could be either a prescription novel protein, a prescription hydrolyzed protein diet or a home-cooked novel protein diet. If by the end of the trial duration you bully is greatly improved try to reintroduce your previous diet as a diagnostic challenge.
The GI problems (and itch if it’s also a skin allergy) will most likely start again within days to 2 weeks from the challenge start date. If the previous clinical problems re-emerge then you could be highly confident your bully has a food allergy.
Many bully owners associate food allergy with grain when in fact it is usually due to the protein source found in meat. The most common allergens are chicken (60%), then beef and fish. Also on the frequent allergens list are corn, soy, wheat, and dairy.
If you have a food allergy concern and you believe your bully allergies are due to grains, then your grain free dietary trial should last at least ten weeks.
Untreated gastrointestinal disease due to food allergy could eventually lead to
IBD-inflammatory bile disease.
Flank Alocepia-Seasonal Flank Baldness
One of our own Frenchies suffers from this after a long winter. Flank alopecia is associated with a shorter period of sunlight due to the changing of the seasons. The reduced sunlight exposure affects your Frenchie’s hair follicles, thus slowing or stopping your bulldog’s hair growth. This seasonal effect is thought to be influenced by melatonin and prolactin hormone production.
Flank alopecia is more of a cosmetic skin condition and is not generally associated with a medical problem. Thus, a therapeutic action is necessary, but for owners of Frenchies who opt to treat this condition, I suggest exposure to light (similar to the type of light used for humans with seasonal mood disorders). If you are compelled to do something, you can give a melatonin supplementation ; it’s harmless. In general you can ignore it; it’s a cosmetic, not a medical problem. Most of the time, it will improve and the hair will grow with the changing of the season.
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome – What you need to know
According to research, the proportion of BOAS in French bulldog is around 58.9% ( from the 2017 study of "Conformational risk factors of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) in pugs, French bulldogs, and bulldogs".
Your veterinarian may have already told you that your dog has something called “Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome” or better known as BOAS. Your veterinarian might also have mentioned that BOAS surgery can help your furbaby live more comfortably, since he/she will be able to breathe better. Before we go any further I have to say that in our 15 years of breeding we have never had to perform a surgery to fix any of our Frenchies for BOAS. However some vets will push the surgery for your Frenchie and you as the owner have to educate yourself about the possible risks. There are rare cases where the scar tissue from the elongates soft palate surgery grows/swells even larger and completely blocks off the airways requiring an emergency surgery.
What is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)?
Brachycephalic breeds are dog breeds with a short muzzle. Some of the breeds that are considered brachycephalic include:
BOAS refers to the unique way being squishy-faced (brachycephalic) affects breathing.
Signs of BOAS include:
Noisy breathing, especially with exercise
Tired easily with exercise
Most Frenchies, Bulldogs and Pugs have a degree of BOAS because of:
Size of their nostrils (very small opening)
Length of their soft palate (the piece of tissue that hangs over the back of their throats)
Small size of their trachea (windpipe)
The way their skull is shaped
The smaller nostrils reduces the amount of air that can flow through the nose, while the floppy soft palate prevents air from getting through the mouth.
How do you fix BOAS?
There are a few key points to remember:
Weight control – weight loss is so important to reduce the severity of BOAS
Avoid hot humid weather – this can cause overheating
Keep cool indoors in summer
Surgery can involve:
Nostrils: Trimming the nostrils to help widen them.
Soft palate: Trimming the elongated soft palate. If the soft palate is thickened, a folded flap palatoplasty (to shorten and thin the soft palate) may be used.
Laryngeal saccules: Trimming of the laryngeal saccules which block the trachea (windpipe).
What's up Doc?
IVDD-Intervertebral Disc Disease
UC Davis has published data on the frequency of the mutation of the CDDY gene responsible for Chondrodystrophy. Chondrodystrophy is a short-legged phenotype characteristic of many dog breeds, such as French Bulldogs and Dachshunds. Chondrodystrophy includes a short-legged phenotype as well as susceptibility to intervertebral disc disease.
According to this data 79% of French Bulldogs carry 2 copies of CDDY, 20% carry 1 copy, and only 1% are clear. Please note that puppies from 2 clear parents have still gotten IVDD later in life.
The key in avoiding IVDD in your Frenchie is active prevention.
IVDD is a disease that effects the spinal cord over time, but it might not be apparent until there is a trigger. Unfortunately, a dog who appears to be completely healthy one day may take a fall or jump in such a way that a disc becomes ruptured. IVDD is a degenerative (gradual) process, but a jump or fall can damage a disc that has already been weakened by IVDD and bring on an acute phase of the disease.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include:
• Unwillingness to jump
• Pain and weakness in rear legs
• Knuckling under
• Crying out in pain
• Muscle spasms over back or neck
• Hunched back or neck with tense muscles
• Reduced appetite and activity level
• Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
Diagnosing and reversing/treating IVDD
A veterinary examination will generally include a neurological exam, X-rays, and/or special imaging (myelogram, CT scan, MRI) to locate the source of spinal injury. If the diagnosis reveals mild to moderate injury, treatment may include the administration of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain, with confined rest required for four to six weeks or so.
In more severe cases, surgery may be advised to open up the space around the spinal cord. Surgery has a better chance of being successful if the dog has not lost the ability to walk and if surgery is done very soon after diagnosis (within 24 hours). If a dog has already lost the ability to walk before surgery, the prognosis is not optimal.
Post-surgical physical rehabilitation is often recommended for muscle strengthening. If a surgery is not successful, a dog wheelchair is often recommended, which can give the dog a healthy, active life despite the disease.
We tell all our clients before they even bring their new puppy home to please not allow them to jump on and off furniture and not use flights of stairs.
So many IVDD cases result from 'normal' day-to-day activity. Many pups suddenly got IVDD after jumping off an arm chair and landing "wrong".
While some dogs are born jumpers, it's best to limit jumping Sudden shock to a dog's back, especially from jumping down, will put extra stress on a dog's spine.
Not sure how to limit your dog's jumping? Consider investing in a high quality pet ramp or pet stairs if your dog is able to jump on and off furniture including beds and sofas.
Don't play tug of war with your Frenchie as this also puts uneccessary strain on their spine.
Always use a harness and not a collar.
Keep your Frenchie lean, being overweight significantly increases their risk for spine issues.
Chondrodystrophic breeds genetically have sensitive backs. For this reason, it is incredibly important to "support the butt” whenever lifting your dog. It’s advised to never lift a dog by putting your hands beneath the front arms (i.e. lifting your pup like a human baby), as this will put stress on the spine.
So how should you pick up your IVDD-prone dog? Put one hand beneath the dog’s chest and cup your other hand around the dog’s tail and butt. Lift both arms together, ensuring the dog’s back remains straight. Make sure to place your dog back on the ground this same way, supporting both ends and keeping him or her horizontal.
To get an idea of how prevalant IVDD is in Frenchies, or if you need help with your Frenchie's IVDD please visit this IVDD French Bulldog support group:https://www.facebook.com/groups/178483559398659