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8 Common English Bulldog Health Issues

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Last Updated: May 29, 2024 | 9 min read | Leave a Comment

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Vet examining English Bulldog, close-up.

English Bulldogs, aka Bulldogs, consistently make the AKC top 10 list of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. This breed is unmistakable for its wrinkled, ‘sour mug’ face, protruding lower jaw, and stout body. They’re beloved for their easygoing, friendly nature and loyalty to their owners. But are English Bulldogs a healthy breed? Or do Bulldogs have breathing problems and other serious health issues?

Sadly, Sourmugs (their unofficial nickname) are predisposed to a high number of health problems compared to many dog breeds. These medical concerns can end up costing you thousands of dollars in veterinary bills — and potential heartache dealing with an unhealthy furry friend. If you already own a Bulldog, keep in mind that early diagnosis is critical for many health issues.

I’ll share the most common conditions that affect this breed, along with symptoms to watch for so you can get veterinary care as early as possible. If you’re considering adopting an English Bulldog, all of my information can also help you understand the potential problems you may face.

8 Common English Bulldog Health Problems

A 2022 study by the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London found that English Bulldogs are twice as likely to have certain health conditions, particularly problems related to being flat-faced, than other dogs. Here’s a top 10 list of the most common health issues that affect this breed.

It’s so important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms so you can contact your vet as soon as you spot signs. However, with a healthy diet and early diagnosis and treatment of many conditions, English Bulldogs can live happy lives for many years.

1. Skin Problems

Wrinkled skin is a signature feature of Bulldogs, and while endearing, it causes the most common health issues in this breed. “I see English Bulldogs regularly in my clinic,” says Dr. Rebecca MacMillan, BVetMed MRCVS, a companion animal veterinarian and surgeon in the U.K. “They often come to see me because of their recurrent skin problems. Many of these dogs have underlying allergies but also other issues like extreme facial folds. This wrinkled skin is moist and warm, providing the ideal place for bacteria and yeasts to multiply.”

These skin folds, particularly around their faces, lead to frequent bouts of skin fold dermatitis and other skin infections. However, cleaning your pup’s skin folds can go a long way to preventing infections from developing. We recommend using Vetnique Labs Dermabliss Medicated Wipes regularly.

Another skin problem many Bullys face is allergies or intolerances to something in their environment or food ingredients. In fact, this breed is genetically predisposed to atopic dermatitis, which is caused by inhaling or having direct skin contact with environmental allergens (pollen, dust mites, grass, mold spores, etc.). Unlike humans, dog allergy symptoms typically present as skin problems.

Allergy Symptoms

  • Excessive scratching, licking, or chewing
  • Red and inflamed skin
  • Papules or pustules (pus-filled lesions on the skin that resemble human pimples)
  • Dry or flaky patches of skin
  • Patchy fur loss
  • Itchy ears
  • Swollen face and paws

It’s often tricky to figure out what’s causing your pup’s allergies, so consulting your veterinarian is the best course of action. Your vet can help determine possible causes through a systematic process of elimination and may even want to conduct allergy tests. Treatment options vary based on the cause, but testing and potential lifelong treatment, including allergy medications or prescription dog food, can get quite expensive.

Consider An At-Home Dog Allergy Test

An additional avenue to pinpoint the cause is to give your pup an at-home dog allergy test. These kits test for sensitivity or intolerance to food and environmental factors that develop over time. You send in a saliva or hair sample to the company’s lab and get results within a few weeks. You can then share these results with your vet to help further narrow down possible causes.

2. Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

A sad sleeping English Bulldog.

All brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced breeds like Pugs, Boston Terriers, English and French Bulldogs, etc.) have some form of genetically inherited BOAS. Breathing problems can range anywhere from mild to severe. However, 45% of Bulldogs have “clinically significant signs” of BOAS, according to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

“Most of the bulldogs I examine also have varying degrees of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS),” says Dr. MacMillon. “Their noisy breathing and constant panting are a symptom of this. Sadly, these dogs have multiple deformities that affect their breathing, including narrow slit-like nostrils, an overlong soft palate, and a narrow trachea (windpipe). Where possible, I try to refer these dogs for surgery to help improve their quality of life.” 

Symptoms

Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome can exhibit the following symptoms, which can range from mild to debilitating.

  • Noisy breathing
  • Snuffling
  • Snoring when sleeping or relaxed
  • Coughing and raspiness
  • Reverse sneezing
  • Exercise intolerance (snorting with exercise)
  • Heat intolerance
  • Gagging and retching

Based on a DNA test I did for my dog Tiny, he is approximately 13% English Bulldog and has the genetic risk for Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. I can attest to the breathing issues, such as snoring, noisy breathing, snuffling, and reverse sneezing. Fortunately, he’s a mixed breed, so his BOAS isn’t too serious.

It’s important to have your vet check your Bulldog every one or two years for significant signs of BOAS, as this condition can progress during his lifetime. In serious cases, surgery can help improve airflow. Milder cases are usually managed with weight control, limited exercise, and avoiding hot temperatures and stress.

3. Heat Stroke

Due to the breathing problems associated with BOAS, English Bulldogs are very prone to heat stroke. Even in mild cases, Bullys can overheat quite easily. Dogs don’t sweat the same way humans do; they use panting as the primary way to cool down, and their flat faces make it difficult for this breed to pant. So, you should avoid hot weather and minimize exercise.

Symptoms

  • Excessive panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dry, sticky gums
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Disorientation and confusion

If your pup is panting excessively, take him to a cool area and give him plenty of water. You can also try to cool him down by giving him a cool bath, hosing him down, or placing a cold towel or bag of frozen veggies on his head. If you believe that your dog is suffering from a heat stroke, you must treat it as a medical emergency and immediately seek help. Your vet will administer intravenous (IV) fluids and oxygen therapy and continuously monitor your dog’s body temperature during treatment.

4. Obesity

English Bulldog wearing workout gear and tape measure around neck.

Dr. MacMillon shares that obesity worsens this breed’s already compromised breathing. “Most of the English Bulldogs I encounter are overweight, which puts extra pressure on their airways, heart, and joints.”

While an English Bulldog’s chunky body is adorable, it’s not healthy. Obesity or even being a bit overweight can lead to serious chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, liver and kidney disease, and an increased risk of developing certain cancers.

Are you not sure if your puppy needs to lose weight? Check out my article on overweight and obese dogs for tips on how to tell and what to do if he’s not at his ideal, healthy weight.

5. Orthopedic Diseases

Yet another genetically inherited issue in English Bulldogs, elbow and hip dysplasia are chronic joint conditions. Hip dysplasia causes the head of the femur bone to meet with the hip socket incorrectly. Canine hip and elbow dysplasia often leads to degenerative joint diseases like arthritis. Even if your Bully doesn’t have dysplasia, this breed is still prone to developing arthritis.

Symptoms

  • Pain or discomfort during exercise
  • Lameness
  • Stiff legs
  • “Bunny hop” like run
  • Stiffness getting up or running
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Muscle tone loss in legs
  • Lack of enjoyment with physical activities that were previously enjoyable

Treatment consists of your vet taking an x-ray of the dog’s hip or elbow sockets and deciding a course of treatment. In severe cases, dogs may need surgery. Other treatment methods include medications to treat inflammation, joint supplements, weight management, and physical therapy.

6. Multiple Eye Problems

Due to the shape of their skulls and eye sockets and genetics, English Bulldogs (and other flat-faced breeds) are at a high risk of ocular health problems. Also, because their eyes protrude, they’re more prone to injury and infections. The three most common eye disorders English Bulldogs typically experience are:

  1. Cherry eye (prolapsed nictitating membrane gland): often a recurring problem, cherry eye occurs when the tear gland of a dog’s third eyelid prolapses and protrudes from the eye socket. You’ll notice a large, pink or red mass in the corner of your pup’s eye. In most cases, surgery is recommended to keep the gland in place.
  2. Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca): a chronic condition that causes the inflammation of the cornea due to a lack of tear production. Treatment typically is the regular use of vet-prescribed tear-stimulating drops.
  3. Entropion (in-turned eyelids): a hereditary condition, entropion involves the inward rolling of the top and/or bottom eyelids. This causes the eyelashes to rub against the cornea, resulting in chronic irritation and corneal ulcers. Treatment requires surgery.

Symptoms

  • Eye sensitivity
  • Squinty eyes
  • Repeated blinking
  • Bloodshot or cloudy eyes
  • Yellow or green discharge
  • Pinkish/red tissue bulging in the corner of the eye (cherry eye)

7. Heart Defects

Bulldogs are prone to pulmonic stenosis, a congenital heart defect caused by the abnormal development of the heart’s pulmonic valve. The narrowed valve leads to obstruction of blood flow from the heart to the lungs. Typically, in mild cases, no treatment is needed, and dogs can live a full, symptom-free life. However, moderate to severe cases may cause symptoms and require treatment, including beta heart blockers or surgery. If left untreated, severe cases can lead to heart failure.

Symptoms

If your Bully’s pulmonic stenosis is severe, you may notice:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fatigue
  • Collapse
  • Arrhythmias

8. Cancer

While all dogs are at risk for cancer, English Bulldogs are particularly prone to mast cell tumors and lymphoma. Mast cell tumors, the most common type of skin cancer in dogs, appear as lumps or bumps on or just under your pup’s skin and can often look harmless. That’s why it’s extremely important to see your vet if you discover any abnormal skin lumps. When caught early, surgery is usually curative.

Lymphoma is a group of cancers of the lymph nodes and lymphatic system and often rapidly progresses. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, facial or leg swelling, and increased thirst and urination. Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for lymphoma in dogs and can extend your pup’s life for some time (however, the disease is eventually fatal).

Average Costs For English Bulldog Health Issues

An English Bulldog laying next to a pile of cash.

Embrace Pet Insurance lists pulmonic stenosis, elbow dysplasia, entropion, skin fold dermatitis, and GDV (bloat) as several common health issues this provider sees in insured English Bulldogs. The following average costs are based on claims.

  • Pulmonic Stenosis: $1,000-$7,000
  • Elbow dysplasia: $1,500-$4,000
  • Skin Fold Dermatitis: $300-$2,500
  • Entropin: $300-$1,500
  • Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat): $1,500-$7,500

How Pet Insurance Can Help

Of course, these are just a few of the many health problems your English Bulldog may face during his lifetime. You have the option to pay for these illnesses out of your own pocket, or you can sign your dog up for pet insurance and have a majority of the costs covered. Pet insurance prevents you from having to make the hard decision between your finances and getting the vet care your pup needs in an emergency. However, keep in mind that it’s best to get your pup covered when he’s young because most providers don’t cover pre-existing conditions.

“I always strongly recommend that all English Bulldog owners invest in good pet insurance from an early age so that they can easily access the appropriate treatment for their pet when they need it,” says Dr. MacMillon.

Fetch Pet Insurance Customer Testimonial For English Bulldog Medical Care

Fetch has been a life-saver! I have submitted numerous claims for my pet. All of which have been processed in a timely manner and have been approved without any complications. My English Bulldog has been going through a lot of medical issues, and Fetch has made this burden so much easier.

– Melissa K.

Frequently Asked Questions

English Bulldog laying in an orange dog bed.

Here are some questions our readers ask most often about English Bulldog health problems. If you don’t see yours here, ask us in the comments.

What Is The Life Expectancy Of An English Bulldog?

The average life expectancy of an English Bulldog is 8 to 10 years. However, several factors impact every pup’s lifespan, including genetics, overall health, and lifestyle.

What Do English Bulldogs Usually Die From?

Another study of English Bulldogs in the U.K. by the Royal Veterinary College reported that the leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, and brain disorders, such as brain tumors and spinal cord disorders.

Why Are English Bulldogs Predisposed To So Many Health Issues?

Decades of selective breeding have contributed to the multiple health problems that English Bulldogs and several other brachycephalic breeds face. An alarming 2016 study at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that the breed lacked the diversity in its gene pool to make much-needed health improvements, suggesting that crossbreeding was the only way to save the breed.

The Bulldog Club of America (BCA) maintains that it is “dedicated to preserving the breed and to continuing to work to improve the health of the dogs our members breed.” For example, the BCA has established a foundation to provide funds to support medical research to identify and remedy the causes of the breed’s underlying diseases. It also encourages breeders to conduct health screenings.  

What’s The Best Diet For English Bulldogs?

Feeding Sourmugs the healthiest diet possible can help keep disease symptoms at bay and boost their immune systems to fight off their risk for infections. See our top picks for the best dog food for English Bulldogs in all life stages. You may also want to check out our reviews of the best dog food for weight loss and the best dog food for allergies if these are health issues your pup faces.

What health problems has your Sourmug faced? Share in our comments.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Sally has over 20 years of experience in human health sciences communications, including 10 years as an expert on pet health conditions and treatment. She’s part of a dedicated team of canine professionals and long-time dog owners at Canine Journal. We spend countless hours researching the best care, training methods, and pet products, not only for our own pups but for all of our readers.

Vet examining English Bulldog, close-up.

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Best Pet Insurance For English Bulldogs

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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