English Bulldogs belong to a group of dogs know as "brachiocephalic" breeds or "short-nosed" breeds. Since dogs do not sweat to cool themselves as people do they rely on panting to help expel excess heat. The short nosed breeds cooling mechanism and air transfer is much less than other breeds making them very prone to over heating, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Temperament can also play a role in over heating. The very excitable Bulldog, or the under socialized Bulldog that gets nervous or "worked-up" is at a higher risk for breathing problems. Through excessive panting or barking Bulldogs can actually cause edema (swelling) to their throats and larynx causing severe respiratory distress. Start early with your puppy to get them used to different types of situations involving crowds, children, multiple dogs, veterinary hospitals, dog shows, etc. so they accept these as a normal part of their life. Many "old time" Bull dog breeders carry lemon juice to squirt in their dog's mouth to help clear their throats. Lemon juice is actually considered a mucolytic and is excellent at clearing mucus- so this might be worth a try if your pet has problems.
In certain individual Bulldogs the breathing problems are more pronounced and is known as "Brachiocephalic Syndrome." The first component of this is pinched nostrils (stenotic nares). The openings to the nostrils in these dogs can be no more than slits. Air sounds can frequently be heard with each breath. If you pinch your own nostrils and try to take a deep breath you will experience a feeling of negative pressure down near your larynx or voice box. This negative pressure does several things. It stretches or pulls on the soft palate which is the soft tissue just behind the hard palate (hard roof of the mouth). This condition is known as an elongated soft palate. These dogs will make excessive snorting or snoring noises. Often you can feel strong vibrations when lightly cupping your hand over the underside of their necks. Sometimes too, they will regularly spit up white frothy foam that becomes trapped in their throats. Pinched nostrils and elongated soft palates often go together and can only be helped by surgery. The nostrils can be opened with a "wedge resection" to remove tissue and create a wider opening. This can be done with very little scarring and the sooner it is performed on puppies the better. The soft palate is best shortened using a C02 laser. Lasers cause less swelling, bleeding, and pain allowing the pet to be discharged the same day. The benefits of these surgeries can be dramatic, and are greater in younger animals as compared to a dog that has been having problems for several years.
Two other components of the syndrome are everted laryngeal saccules and a hypo-plastic trachea. The saccules are located down within the openings of the trachea or windpipe. The negative pressure formed higher in the airways causes a sac on either side to get sucked out into the airway with every breath. These appear almost as little balloons and further occlude the airflow. These dogs are usually the ones that have had ongoing problems left untreated. They tend to have trouble breathing with the least amount of activity or excitement. The saccules should be excised (cut out) to correct the condition. The last feature of the syndrome known as hypo-plastic trachea simply means a very small trachea. Nearly all Bulldogs have a smaller diameter trachea (windpipe) than other dogs. The hypo-plastic trachea is excessively narrowed even to the point of collapsing. It is often no wider in diameter than a pencil in a full grown dog. This creates the problem of creating additional negative pressure from the trachea making dogs more prone to aspiration (inhaling food into the lungs). Aspiration then causes pneumonia which the smaller trachea then makes more difficult to clear. No specific treatment exists for hypo-plastic tracheas. All of these conditions are complicated by a dog that is too heavy! DON'T LET YOUR DOG GET TOO HEAVY.
Bulldogs are are prone to several eye conditions. The most common is known as "cherry eye" or more properly called prolapse of the gland of the nictitans. This appears as a red, swollen mass appearing out of the inside corner of the eye. The function of this gland is to make tear fluid. The correct method for repairing this problem is to replace the gland back to its proper position.
Keratitis Sicca, also known as "dry eye", results from not enough tear fluid production. A dry eye often becomes infected and develops a black pigment across the cornea and can result in blindness if left untreated. Cyclosporine drops is the most commonly prescribed treatment. Ophthalmologists believe that an increase in dry eye occurs when cherry eyes are cut out instead of repaired.
Entropion/ Ectropion is the rolling in/ rolling out of the upper and lower eyelids. This is commonly an inherited problem. The result is that hairs rub on the eyes and cause irritation resulting in corneal ulcers (scratches). These are best repaired surgically to correct the respective problem.
Ectopic cilia/Dystichia are hairs that grow out from along the eyelid margins or from within the conjunctiva of the eye. These can cause irritation and corneal ulcers. These can be treated either with cryosurgery or laser surgery. It is not uncommon to need several treatments to resolve the problem.
Bulldog's hip X-rays will never win any awards for conformation. What would be considered "awful" hips on almost any other breed will be acceptable on a bulldog. Occasionally, you can run into a bulldog whose hips are without acetabulum s (sockets) and these dogs do show clinical problems. Luxating patellas (knee caps) are also seen with the breed. This can be the slipping of the knee cap either to the medial (inside) or lateral (outside) of the normal groove. Bulldogs can also tear their anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL's). A full tear will generally require surgery while many Bulldogs with partial tears seem to do well with rest.
Hemivertebrae are much less common and usually found as an incidental finding on X-rays. Hemivertebrae are vertebrae that are shaped more like triangles than blocks. A more serious problem known as spinabifida involves deformities to the caudal aspect of the spinal column. The significance of these lesions can be from mild to severe.
Ingrown or corkscrew tails can become a serious problem. The tail grows backwards and down creating a deep crevice that can become painful and infected. In severe cases the tails need amputated. Milder cases require attention to keeping the area clean and dry to maintain the pet's comfort.
The most common concern to Bulldog owners is keeping the face wrinkles clean and dry. Many people have success with baby wipes, corn starch powder, neo-predef powder, or if a yeast infection exists malaseb pledgets. The staining seen in the white face is many times caused by the iron in the tear fluid. For adult dogs tetracycline binds up the iron and helps temporarily for severe staining. This is NOT for use in puppies and will damage their teeth.
Another disorder seen in Bulldogs is the loss of hair on each side over the flanks. While hypothyroid (low thyroid) should be ruled out with a blood test, what we see more commonly is known as seasonal flank alopecia. This is the loss of hair over the flanks usually associated with winter and shorter daylight. Biopsy can confirm this and the condition is not serious and usually self limiting. Some have seen results giving 6 mg of melatonin orally each day.
The ears are part of the skin, so make sure to keep them clean and free of yeast. This is not unique to Bulldogs but is very important to their health.
Most severe murmurs can be heard at 6 weeks of age. These can include ventricular septal defects, pulmonic stenosis, aortic stenosis, and valve problems. Some mild murmurs are "innocent" and go away as the puppy grows. Any murmur heard can be better diagnosed with a cardiac ultrasound usually performed by a veterinary cardiologist.