French Bulldogs were bred to be companion dogs, they are stocky compact dogs with a friendly mild-mannered temperament. Unfortunately, they are genetically predisposed to a number of medical conditions and malformations, some of which include:
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS):
BOAS is a combination of upper airway problems seen in dogs that are bred to have short noses and high domed foreheads – Brachycephalic dogs like French Bulldogs. This breeding causes an excess of soft tissues in the upper airways that obstructs airflow and forces the animal to rely on open mouth breathing.
The nostrils may be narrow or completely closed.
The soft palate (at the back of the mouth) may be overlong and get dragged into the larynx when the dog breathes in.
Sometimes the tonsils are very large and inflamed and protrude into the back of the mouth.
The larynx may be swollen, and the mucosal lining of the sides may bulge into the airway contributing to airway obstruction (everted laryngeal ventricles). Brachycephalic or short nosed dogs, have noisy breathing, dogs affected with BOAS may have one or all of these structures affected and this means that the dog may snore very loudly when asleep, or even snore when awake and at rest.
When they exercise, they pant continuously and have difficulty exercising when the weather is warm. They often pant for a long time after exercise has finished as they cannot easily cool down or meet their oxygen requirements. Some dogs collapse when they exercise or get excited and may become so hypoxic (seen when the tongue turns a blue/purple colour) that they lose consciousness or even die. As dogs have to pant to lose heat, these dogs are also more prone to heat stroke which can also cause loss of consciousness or death.
Surgical correction to widen the nostrils and to shorten the soft palate into an anatomically correct position can help increase upper respiratory airflow. Sometimes it is also necessary to remove the tonsils and any everted laryngeal ventricles. Taking into account their heat intolerance and exercising at appropriate times is a necessary precaution. Keeping their weight within a healthy level is very important and other factors like mealtimes and amounts may help with secondary symptoms.
Medial Patella Luxation (MPL):
The condition is primarily of genetic cause and is the consequence of the selective breeding of dogs with a preferred (bow-legged) conformation. Animals are born with normal knees but begin to develop abnormalities of the bones and muscles of the hind limbs early in life. The commonest direction of inappropriate movement of the patella is to the medial (inside) aspect of the knee joint. When the powerful quadriceps mechanism starts to displace in this direction, it acts as a bowstring and causes the bones of the thigh (femur) and shin (tibia) to deform into a pronounced outwards bow. The groove that normally houses the patella does not develop properly, and the limb deformities become self-perpetuating at this stage.
There is a grading system for the luxation of a patella from Grade 1 to 4, which is based on the how mobile the kneecap is relative to the groove at the base of the femur.
In immature animals, surgical management may be more appropriate in order to try to prevent the development of severe limb deformities.
The cornerstones of non-surgical treatment are body weight management, physiotherapy, exercise modification, and medication (anti-inflammatory painkillers).
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) or Slipped Disc:
Common throughout short-legged dog breeds, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) affects the shock-absorbing discs between the vertebrates of the spine. As a dwarf breed, (chondrodystrophic) French bulldogs’ carry a gene that leads to early breakdown of the outer ring of intervertebral discs, their dwarfism causes deformities in the vertebral column as well as stress on the back from gait abnormalities. This means they are vulnerable to age-related degeneration. IVDD can also occur as a result of traumatic or repetitive injury, like a fall, jumping off furniture or climbing up or down stairs.
Commonly seen in French Bulldogs is Hansen Type I Intervertebral Disc Herniation – IVHD and are typically acute disc extrusions. They result from a drying out of the nucleus pulposus, making the disc more prone to rupturing. Discs typically herniate in the direction of the spinal cord, usually resulting in compressive and contusive injury to the cord.
The two most common locations of the French Bulldog IVDD are the Cervical (neck) and Thoracolumbar (mid-section). If the inner disc part herniates through its shell, it protrudes and compresses the delicate nerve tissue of the spinal cord, that in turn will inflict injury, brings on inflammation, pain, and swelling. Diagnosis is made through presentation and examination with either a CT or MRI. Dependent on location and severity of the herniation, depends where you see weakness or paralysis on presentation.
Paralysis may be gradual or sudden. They may be weak with a reluctance to exercise, have difficulty getting up, reluctance to move head up and down or holding head down. Painful back and sensitive to touch. Referral to a Neurologist and likely surgical treatment is required.
Cherry eye is the term for when the third eyelid (or Nicotinic membrane) prolapses or “pops out”. It is seen as an oval-shaped protrusion originating from the nasal corner, or medial canthus of the eye.
The third eyelid is a passive eyelid designed to physically protect the cornea as it acts as a windshield and distributes tears over the eye.
Cherry eye can occur in one or both eyes, usually in younger dogs. They vary in size from a very large obvious protrusion, to sometimes smaller and only intermittently visible. Usually they will be seen squinting, have excessive tear production and it may become red, dry and irritated thus causing your dog to scratch or rub at their eyes. This has secondary implications as the scratching may cause a corneal ulcer. They can be painful as well as irritating.
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the case. Massage and topical treatments may be advised, also surgical intervention to hold the membrane in place, but if there is significant diminished function from a chronic cherry eye, surgical removal may be required.