In A Nutshell
The English Bulldog has long been heralded as a symbol of strength and tenacity. Originally bred to do savage battle with bulls, these dogs are the mascots for dozens of schools and universities. Unfortunately, the bulldog has become a victim of its own popularity—its unique appearance causes it to suffer from a litany of health defects. Perhaps the most sickly of all dogs, the vast majority never make it to their 10th birthday.
The Whole Bushel
For fans of college football, there are few more familiar sights than that of Uga, the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot. As of this writing, we are currently on Uga IX. Unfortunately, the two previous Ugas had very short reigns—each about a year. Uga VII died of heart failure and Uga VIII of canine lymphoma. Unfortunately these were not isolated incidents—bulldogs in general are extremely unhealthy animals.
The bulldog’s strange physiology originally served a grim purpose. Its squat, bowlegged body was designed to be low to the ground so that while fighting, a bull would not be able to hook a horn beneath it. Its squashed face and wrinkles allowed it to maintain a firm bite and simultaneously breathe as the blood of its opponent ran away from the nostrils through the folds in the dog’s skin. Unfortunately, the bulldog’s “so ugly he’s cute” appearance caught on in a major way. Breeders began exaggerating these traits to a grotesque extreme.
Pictures of bulldogs from 100 years ago indicate a far more robust animal than we know today. Current bulldogs are a waddling mess of health problems. Their heads are so large that mothers can’t give natural birth—they are forced to have caesarean sections. The trademark wrinkles must be carefully cleaned or the skin will become infected. They have difficulty breathing and have the highest incidence of hip dysplasia among all dog breeds. Other problems commonly suffered include cherry eye, heart issues, soft palate, and slipped kneecaps among others.
While a few bulldogs might eke out good, long lives, the depressing reality is most of them die around age six. And that’s only after frequent, expensive visits to the veterinarian. In recent years, there has been a push by those who love the bulldog to improve its situation by crossbreeding it with other, healthier dogs like the pit bull and American bulldog (a large farm breed used to catch wild hogs). There are several strains, the most well-known of which is the Olde English Bulldogge, a strong, athletic animal developed in the 1970s by a breeder named David Leavitt.