He looked healthy and happy enough—5 years old going on 2, a rock-solid 65 pounds, a big fan of head rubs—but after introducing myself to Bosley at the vet’s office, I couldn’t help but wonder why he was there.
Was it because of his breathing? Bulldogs’ faces are so flat and their airways so short that they labor to walk or play fetch. Was it an orthopedic issue? These loyal, loving dogs suffer from crippling hip dysplasia more than any other breed and are susceptible to torn knee ligaments and disc disease.
Maybe his skin folds were infected. I hope it wasn’t heart disease—bulldogs are plagued by it.
They’re also prone to hypothyroidism, head tremors, kidney disease, chronic skin allergies, corneal ulcers, and paralysis of the larynx. Most bulldog puppies are born by C-section because their heads are so big. Birth defects are common, and the mortality rate for the breed is high.
Bulldogs don’t come by these health issues naturally. They’re the result of human arrogance and greed, and other dogs are paying the price, too.
Cavalier King Charles spaniels who suffer from syringomyelia scream in agony because their brains are too large for their unnaturally flattened skulls. With their sloping backs and angulated hind legs, German shepherds are prone to disabling hip and elbow dysplasia. Large dogs with narrow, deep chests are also at high risk of developing life-threatening bloat.
Bred to have disproportionately long spines and short legs, many dachshunds suffer from excruciating disc disease. Bred for long necks and large heads, Great Danes often develop “wobbler syndrome,” a crippling disease whose symptoms include a wobbly gait, pain, and paralysis. It can actually cause these gentle giants to topple over.
“Brachycephalic syndrome,” which makes breathing difficult, isn’t exclusive to bulldogs—it’s common among boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, and other dogs with flat faces and short airways.
That’s the fallout from playing God. Events that are essentially canine beauty pageants, like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and its U.K. counterpart, Crufts, reduce dogs to living mannequins by setting arbitrary “breed standards” that call for them to have flatter faces or longer torsos than they would normally—to be genetically manipulated into something that isn’t natural.
With their eyes on their bank accounts, breeders are only too happy to comply. They’ve resorted to canine incest, forcing mothers to mate with sons and daughters with fathers to ensure that a large head, deep chest, or other trait stays in the bloodline. The consequences can be dire: Inbreeding increases the likelihood that recessive genes will be passed down, resulting in a host of serious congenital defects, including epilepsy.
Bulldogs are so inbred that in 2016, researchers at the University of California, Davis, concluded that their popularity “can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime.” In the U.K., inbreeding is so rampant among the country’s more than 10,000 pugs that all of them are now descended from just 50 dogs.
The suffering, though, isn’t limited to the show ring.
By driving up demand for the latest “must-have” breed—like the bichon frisé (prone to deafness and neurological disease), who was named Best in Show this year at Westminster, or the whippet (prone to muscle disease and ruptured cervical discs), who was last month’s big winner at Crufts—dog shows seal the fates of countless animals waiting in shelters to be adopted.
When people buy from breeders, they deny good homes to dogs in shelters whose lives may depend upon being adopted. But there aren’t enough homes, so encouraging breeders to churn out even more puppies—some of whom will also end up in shelters once people realize what a commitment it is to raise and care for them properly—further reduces the chances that dogs in shelters will ever be adopted.
I share my home with three happy, healthy adoptees—Turk, who has lots of shiba inu in his family tree; Max, who is part dachshund and part basset hound (maybe); and Danny, who has the traits of two types of terrier: He jumps like a Jack Russell and runs like a Manchester. They may each be a different mix, but they have something in common: They’re all perfect.
That’s what happens when you let dogs just be themselves.
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